Food memories are a powerful thing. Just ask restaurateur Juan Barajas, who operates Savory Café in Woodland with his wife, Kristin Hansen. “My mom comes from a large family, so having a lot of family around almost demands feeding people for large gatherings,” says Barajas. “My mom and grandma have always been great cooks, and we have always had locally grown, locally sourced foods. I consider myself a blessed individual for having grown up in that way.”
Barajas, who talks longingly about the homemade queso fresco he savored in his youth, was inspired by those early experiences to open a restaurant where the connection to the food is personal. “Farmers are on a first-name basis in our kitchen. We always respect the ingredients they produce,” says Barajas. “Our eggs come from Dan and Annette; our asparagus comes from Deborah and Jim. They are very passionate and proud of the ingredients that they grow.”
Barajas is just as passionate about how the ingredients are used in his kitchen. Take the huevos rancheros, one of the cafe’s most popular dishes. “It starts with the corn tortillas, that’s the staple, then the farm-fresh eggs,” says Barajas, reciting the ingredients in a manner that suggests he has an intimate connection with each element. “Our recipes are built from ingredients grown around us, but they’re also based on the memories that we have.”
Barajas has a long connection to agriculture—his father was a crop duster who once swooped above the verdant fields of Yolo County. Now, he’s embarking on a project to connect customers to ingredients through gardening. He installed a 500-square-foot greenhouse in front of the restaurant where, in addition to seating diners, he grows seedlings for what he calls “to-grow boxes” of greens and edible flowers. “Our goal is to have people engaged in starting their own gardens,” he says.
As Barajas puts it, running a restaurant is about more than serving great food. “Our philosophy is that we have to provide more than a business service. The restaurant is a platform for us to serve the community in a bigger way.” 722 Main St., Woodland; (530) 668-4009; savorycafeonmain.com