As Love Cafe, owned by Tricia Louise Tracy, made Madera County on March 6, Oakhurst also became home to a dynamic seasoned chef, Rob Halpern.
Tuesday at 7 a.m., the doors opened to Madera’s first vegan restaurant giving locals and Yosemite tourists a healthy and exciting dining option that boasts ingredients sourced from a 45 mile radius (one of the largest suppliers is North Fork’s own Kern Family Farm) and seasonal menu items.
It has been a journey of hard work, team work, and searching to make Tracy’s dream of a locally sourced vegan restaurant with low to zero waste realized. All of this began with the renovation of the space which Tracy claims would not have been possible with out her husband, Kent.
“With his ingenuity, Kent turned one of the oldest buildings in Oakhurst into a fresh space that looks new and modern.”
Recycling and up-cycling materials, from tiles to stove, the Tracy’s have created a vibrant and welcoming space- a space that shares the same dynamic energy as its new chef, Rob Halpern.
Tracy cast a wide net to find the perfect chef. After receiving applications from from around the world including, London, South Africa and Hawaii, Tracy held onto hope that a chef from her favorite restaurant, Shine Cafe, of Morro Bay, would apply. She had taken matters in her own hands and drove to the coast to plant the seed.
“I went inside and whispered in the kitchen’s ear, who wants to relocate to a great mountain community?”
Her actions were rewarded when Halpern submitted his resume- and his resume was impressive.
In California, Halpern won Best Seasonal Soup for California’s central coast, with a butternut squash cappuccino bisque with coconut cashew cream and cinnamon froth (a version will be served at Love Cafe) competing against his meat loving foes. Outside of the state, he hails from some of the nations most renowned vegetarian restaurants. Halpern has cooked for Moosewood in Ithaca, New York and the Coyote Cafe in Santa Fe, New Mexico. He also owned an acclaimed fine dining restaurant, the Marigold Kitchen in Philadelphia, that served up a 10+ course tasting menu for meat lovers and vegetarians that received stellar reviews and a Best of Philly nod.
Halpern fell in love with cooking while working at Moosewood, from there his curiosity eventually led him to open Marigold, to master carnivore dishes, molecular gastronomy and food as art. According to Halpern it was also really a ploy to find a wife.
“One day a customer came in to my restaurant and ordered the mac and cheese. She told the server she wanted to marry whoever cooked the dish - True story, lo and behold we got married.”
After the wedding they decided to start a new life on the west coast. Halpern sold his restaurant and they landed in Paso Robles, where Halpern put Shine Cafe’s soups on the map.
One of Halpern’s goals at Love Cafe is to bring his avant-garde past forward while also delivering good hearty comfort food. According to Halpern the menu will dawn “stick to your ribs” fare, like rubens and faux pulled pork sandwiches, as well as, nuanced cuisine that is shaped by seasonally available local produce.
“It’s exciting, now I find myself full circle and now food to me is not just an art form or craft, it is also about good nutrition, happiness and all the things good health brings.”
Halpern and his wife Rinna accepted the invitation to the Mountain Area because they believed it would be a good place to start a family. They are expecting their first child in August.
Details: Love Cafe serves breakfast and lunch from 7 a.m. - 3 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday, (559) 642-5683, 39993 Highway 41, Oakhurst.