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- SUSTAIN YOURSELF:  Sustenance Studio, 234-1691, is located at 2033 Santa Barbara St. in SLO. Visit them online at sustenance-studio.com -
  • SUSTAIN YOURSELF: Sustenance Studio, 234-1691, is located at 2033 Santa Barbara St. in SLO. Visit them online at sustenance-studio.com
When a couple of friends suggested that I check out Sustenance Cooking Studio in SLO, I thought it was a restaurant offering cooking classes. I was wrong: it is not a restaurant. Though the latter is partially correct, I didn’t realize that Sustenance is a private club. However, this is no country club. You don’t have to be rich to afford membership; it’s open for all to join. What’s really nice about it is you can buy a day pass for $8 that includes lunch. It’s a very good deal for a delicious meal by chef Dan Berkeland, and provides an enlightening opportunity to see just how well this club supports its family of friends. A tagline on their newsletter states: “We look forward to eating with you soon!”

 

click to enlarge COZY :  Sustenance Cooking Studio in SLO is much more a charming social club than school. - PHOTO BY STEVE E. MILLER
  • PHOTO BY STEVE E. MILLER
  • COZY : Sustenance Cooking Studio in SLO is much more a charming social club than school.
The next time I heard about Sustenance was in an e-mail invitation from owner Seamus Finn inviting me to come check it out. Curious, I accepted immediately so he generously invited me over for the following Wednesday lunch and that night’s cooking class. I arrived at 11:30 a.m. and found Berkeland ready to serve my meal. The menu du jour was Thai cuisine with fried spring rolls filled with pork and glass noodles, “Tom Ka Gai soup” and green salad with Asian dressing. I hummed over the first sip of that delightful, complex chicken and coconut milk soup with chicken, shitakes, tomato, and cilantro. I also enjoyed the crispy spring rolls with the sweet and spicy dipping sauce.

 

click to enlarge PHOTO BY STEVE E. MILLER
  • PHOTO BY STEVE E. MILLER
Finn explained his objective: “In a well traveled life, the kitchen table is the gathering point for new and old friends and a growing family. Cooking, entertaining, and sharing food together is a unifying language in an international world, bridging cultures, building community, strengthening relationships and connecting us, which is so very necessary. This is the Sustenance philosophy.” I sat at the bar so I could observe Berkeland and Finn cooking and serving lunch. We tried to talk but by noon the large dining room was packed with hungry members, some of whom brought guests, for that Thai lunch. In fact, Finn had to explain to a few people at the door that Sustenance isn’t a restaurant where they could simply walk in and order lunch.

 

click to enlarge PHOTO BY STEVE E. MILLER
  • PHOTO BY STEVE E. MILLER
At lunch I was offered a choice of green tea or coffee, all included in the $8 day pass: what a bargain. For members, it’s even better; lunch is $4. The bar was filled with members chatting among themselves while enjoying their meals. Some members went behind the bar to help themselves to silverware, or to deposit their empty plates. The latter mostly because Finn and Berkeland were slammed trying to get everyone served. I found it interesting that the owner and chef do everything: the shopping, cooking, serving, and cleaning up, all while interacting with everyone as though we were all longtime friends.

 

click to enlarge PHOTO BY STEVE E. MILLER
  • PHOTO BY STEVE E. MILLER
“We’re not a cooking school, we’re a cooking studio. It’s all about creating a community, sharing and understanding each other,” Finn pointed out. “Cooking here is like being in your own kitchen with friends, then gathering together around the table to talk about your lives.” Finn also noted that they’re willing to take on students who will help prep, cook, serve, and clean up afterward, the experience and meal serving as reward for their labor. As a student at the California Culinary Academy in San Francisco, we spent one month of our senior semester providing free labor in SF restaurants. I was fortunate to get into a good restaurant, Campton Place, for an awesome learning experience.

 

click to enlarge PHOTO BY STEVE E. MILLER
  • PHOTO BY STEVE E. MILLER
When I returned to Sustenance for the Spanish tapas demonstration and dinner, I arrived early to interview Finn and Berkeland. The chef studied architecture at Cal Poly but moved to Tuscany after graduating in 1996. Finn complimented Berkeland: “He’s brilliant in a number of ways. The most important in that he’s a family man and an excellent artist.” The chef’s vibrant, multi-hued paintings adorn the studio’s walls. His art is also sold at Fiona Bleu in Morro Bay and The Vault in Cambria. Berkeland is a passionate cook whose professional cooking experience began at a villa with 60 beds in Reggello, Italy, where he stayed five years. “I know Tuscan food and I do it well, but I don’t know everything.” He admitted my lunch was his first attempt cooking Thai cuisine professionally, and he did a great job.

 

click to enlarge PHOTO BY STEVE E. MILLER
  • PHOTO BY STEVE E. MILLER
The property is owned by brothers Chad and Lyle Brooks, owners of Brooks Woodcraft next door. Finn helped construct the building and designed the kitchen and dining room for Sustenance. An old apartment that sat on the backside of the property was relocated atop the studio building. Finn plans to make it a private wine, beer, and tapas bar for members in the future. Although he’s the owner, Finn is empathic when explaining Sustenance is about its family of members. “I’m the soul of the place but I don’t like being the face of Sustenance; it’s truly about creating a community.”

 

click to enlarge PHOTO BY STEVE E. MILLER
  • PHOTO BY STEVE E. MILLER
I thoroughly enjoyed the cooking demonstration, which was both informative and delicious. Interesting classes include: wine country dinners; children’s cooking workshops; and ethnic cooking. They also rent the place for private parties, business meetings, and corporate team-building events. Classes cost $65 per person, but it’s only $35 for members. Their menus typically feature locally grown ingredients and wines, showcasing the region’s bounty.

 

click to enlarge PHOTO BY STEVE E. MILLER
  • PHOTO BY STEVE E. MILLER
For more information about membership visit Sustenance-studio.com. There you can sign up for e-mails to receive updates about Sustenance, view the weekly lunch menu, get Berkeland’s recipes, and sign up for cooking demonstrations with dinner and wine. “You know what really made tonight exceptional besides the good food?” Finn concluded.
“You made new friends. We didn’t treat you like a reporter; we treated you like you were one of us.”

 

click to enlarge PHOTO BY STEVE E. MILLER
  • PHOTO BY STEVE E. MILLER
You can reach New Times’ Cuisine columnist at khardesty@newtimesslo.com.

 

 

Chef Dan Berkeland’s Roasted Asparagus with Serrano Ham with Aioli [recipe follows]


6 slices Serrano ham (or Prosciutto)
12 asparagus spears
Olive oil
Pepper


Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Coat roasting pan with olive oil. Cut each slice of ham in half lengthwise. Trim ends on asparagus and peel ends to remove woody fibers. Wrap a slice around each spear. Arrange wrapped spears in single layer in pan, brush with olive oil, and season to taste with pepper. Roast in oven about 10 minutes. Serve with aioli for dipping.


click to enlarge PHOTO BY STEVE E. MILLER
  • PHOTO BY STEVE E. MILLER
click to enlarge PHOTO BY STEVE E. MILLER
  • PHOTO BY STEVE E. MILLER
Aioli Sauce


2 large egg yolks
1 T. fresh lemon juice
1 tsp. Dijon mustard
2 – 3 garlic cloves minced
1 / 4 tsp. salt
Pepper
3 / 4 cup vegetable oil
3 / 4 cup olive oil


Combine yolks through pepper in food processor and mix together. Combine vegetable and olive oils and add to running processor in a slow, steady stream until emulsified. Once thickened the color changes from bright yellow to opaque cream.

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