Teaching kids how to feed themselves and how to live in a community responsibly is the center of an education. — Alice Waters
Fun fact — Having been a journalist since I was 17, I’ve gotten to pen some amazing stories through first-person experiences.
• won a reporters’ pool to be “co-pilot” on one of the Blue Angels
• camped with volcanologists in Honduras at the rim of an active volcano
• helped a veterinarian near Pecos round up and vaccinate wild mustangs
• took some veterans down Highway One in Vietnam on our motorcycles
• made several 250-foot dives with SCUBA-clad scientists in the Sea of Cortez
• one round of boxing with one of George Foreman’s sparring partners
• spelunked with cavers in Southern Arizona at a just-publicly announced cavern system
Then there are the articles about chefs, farms, wineries and breweries.
Spending hours on three occasions with JT — chef/ owner of Coast & Vine in Nye Beach — I dig back to my roots in sustainable farming, farm to fork activism and working around people who build the culture of healing mind and body with healthy, clean food.
Jonathan James Trusty (JT) is a 47-year-old master of many culinary arts, as a chef, sommelier and coffee expert. When we kick around a rural county like Lincoln and smallish towns like Newport and Lincoln City, stumbling upon a sustainable, healthy and socially/ethically conscious restaurant is a find.
JT’s serious about supporting local farms, food producers, foragers, cider, wine and mead purveyors.
The relationship between restaurant and grower is one JT not only encourages, but he believes a tsunami-risk area like Lincoln County should be developing deep, long-lasting socially-dynamic communities in order to build resiliency to stave off some of the disastrous effects of an earthquake and ocean deluge.
When he first started in the food and drink business, in 1990 near Sacramento, JT conjured up secrets of coffee growing-roasting-brokering by going down to the Bay Area to get his hands into those coffee beans.
“My mom will tell you this story how when I was 11 or 12, I was cooking meals . . . nothing like what she was cooking in our kitchen. You know, 1960s Betty Crocker stuff. It was the late ’80s and we were eating McDonald’s for lunches at school and we thought that was just wonderful,” JT says with a laugh, emphasizing the words “poisoning us” in many of our conversations stories recanting our broken food system.
He recalls mother Deborah (Toledo librarian) and dad Robert (director of the Blue Water Task Force) taking the kid JT into wine country — the renowned Napa and Sonoma valleys.
“You know, all of that stuck from age five on. In fact, this restaurant is actually the product of that early exposure and education.”
From espresso café to getting deep into the wine industry, to working with amazing chefs like Alice Waters, JT gives benediction to his mentors and his young staff, who he calls “the kids.”
Moon, sun, air, water, fire
While pouring some incredible Scribe Winery chardonnay (Sonoma Valley) and Day Wines pinot noir (Dundee, Oregon), JT rises to the occasion as both proponent and practitioner of biodynamic wine and food.
He tells me that biodynamics actually occur in the vineyard before winemaking takes place. “It’s simple –rain, sun, soil, moon.”
The bottom line is “clean, organic, natural,” which is how JT runs his kitchen – a dream started when he was a child stomping around those farms, orchards and vineyards in California, now a place ravaged by drought, fire, deluges.
We toast the fourth-generation of farmers and vineyard tenders at Scribe, for this amazing organic wine, a gift of 120 acres that include perennial crops and nut trees.
Deep Dive continues as I explore JT’s years in France; his US Coast Guard days; and the new iteration of Coast & Vine — the quintessential oyster bar. His big push is being part of the Central Coast Food Trail and connecting a foraging-to-fork ethos to his purchasing of products, to cooking, then connecting many aspects of our Native American brethren on the Coast and in the region to the entire food web.
“We are activists, engaging the revolution . . . who just happen to love food and imbibing . . . seeking to restore the basic connection between person and their food and drink.” — Jonathan (JT) Trusty, owner/chef, Coast & Vine, Nye Beach
You might catch JT mincing green apples and a variety of veggies for his house ferments, but you’ll never catch him mincing words.
I met JT almost a year ago as a journalist invited to attend a media conference put on by OSU at Hatfield Marine Science Center. He and his father, Robert, were the food caterers. The dining experience for the journalists and scientists alike was like a passage through time and cultures: Spanish, Mexican, Peruvian, Thai and Moroccan flavors and textures aroused our palates.
JT and I hit it off, trading our own sustainability and food stories and experiences. I knew at the time he was once in the US Coast Guard — he tells me now that he went in when he was in his mid-20s during the Gulf War. “The Coast Guard spoke to me. Helping my own country here on our shores. I didn’t want to see combat, fight a war for a business deal gone bad. I knew I’d be making a difference here at home in the Coast Guard.”
The truism throughout our conversation at Hatfield and then this most recent interview is everything tied to food, beverages, farming, cooking is political. Politics enters everything JT does because he is attempting to make food and serve wine that come from places of origin we can call clean, organic and with ethically-raised/farmed/harvested/processed practices.
Big Ag is part of Big Chem, Big Oil, Big Business and Big Pharma — all the things Coast & Vine is not about. That in itself, JT and I agree, makes food both a political decision and gourmet’s delight.
He was a political science/journalism major at a Sierra Community College, and wanted to attend Cal for an undergraduate degree. Food and wine, however, became his classroom, his avocation, sort of his post-doctorate work.
While he states joining the Coast Guard was an act of “putting away aprons and jumping off perfectly sound boats,” the mystique and allure of the wine business got to him.
His mother had different expectation for him, as a teacher, librarian and later published author of “The Kid from Valsetz.”
His father, Robert, was in the air force during the Vietnam War, and then became a hippie out in San Francisco. His mother was from Alabama and dad from Tennessee (where JT was born). They skedaddled to Marin County when JT was three.
Then they ended up moving to Newport in 2000, when JT made a go of it with two Nye Beach establishments — the Market Deli and the Wine Bar where he lived in an apartment upstairs. Live jazz, late nights and hard work paid off in terms of honing his chef-manager licks.
He says he is both lucky and inspired by the travels he made around the world. He ended up working in the Burgundy region of France and other places as a representative of Seguin Moreau cooperage, a barrel-maker that reaches all the way back to Charlemagne (Charles the Great, 768).
A test market
After a few more samples of wine like Petit Frog Bordeaux and Running Bare blend (25 percent Malbec, 25 percent Tannet, 50 percent Cabernet Fanc) while we drizzled Oli de Marges olive oil on some hearty bread, we get deeper into JT’s dream, vision, mission.
A typical question he confronts: “’Why did you pick one of the poorest counties in the state to open up an organic healthy café?’ I tell them you have to start somewhere.” He had at first eyed Corvallis for this eatery, but ended up out here where his parents live.
Coast & Vine has been open since April 2019, and JT, family and staff put the place together using reclaimed wood, repurposed items, sweat equity. The seating is communal on large plank tables he built. The food is presented on rustic plates. There are no deep fryers or open flames. It’s all through convection and induction.
This place (526 NW Coast Street) would make a killing in Portland, San Francisco, Sausalito or anywhere foodies and the health-conscious work, live and play.
However, for now, he’s found his niche here in Newport.
“Instead of getting onto all these boards and organizations, my goal is to bring the best tasty food to this place. This is what you can do — make it a bit of an education platform disguised as a wine oyster bar.”
He was quick to develop relationships, and act as a bridge between farmer, fisherman, rancher with chefs and the public. JT’s built ties with OSU staff and faculty, organizations like Surfrider, and people harvesting and growing the food that ends up in his restaurant.
“This is a marketing step for me,” he says of Coast & Vine. “It wasn’t built to be a standalone place.”
The five-year plan is ambitious — finding a building, sort of a warehouse, overlooking the Pacific. He wants to turn it into an incubator of education, cooking, baking and sustainability. His concept is “The Shed,” where there will be a bakery, restaurant, coffee house, fermentation station and a commercial kitchen.
He’s working with foster youth now, teaching them life skills, to include selecting clean food and learning how to prepare it. “This is something they can hold onto the rest of their lives.”
“The Shed,” JT envisions, will also be part of an ecotourism venture, where people can partake in heading out to the forests, estuaries, beaches and mountains to learn about how ecosystems work as “services” for humans in the food chain.
It’s a big impossible dream, the way JT rolls.
There are tunes always wafting at Coast & Vine, including ‘80s stuff, like Simple Minds and Depeche Mode. But also, classics like the Eagles, Dan Fogerty and others. The sound system also blasts new music to include psychedelic beach surf music like The Growlers, The Mermen, Crystal Stilts.
He has heroes, including John Muir, Wendell Barry, John Steinbeck, Henry David Thoreau and Cormac McCarthy. He says he has three mothers, to include his blood mother Deborah, and then Alice Waters the famous chef, and then mother sea.
Interestingly, his second wife (second ex-wife), Liz Rose who owns Salon Ethos, stopped by. Both JT and Liz said they are very good friends now.
I asked her what she thought of JT’s ethos: “His philosophy is about creating an environment that not only feeds the body in a holistic health sense, but he has also created a place where people can feel appreciated.”
Yes, JT and I talk about frozen fish versus fresh fish, as OSU’s food experimentation department is conducting food tastings of the two types of seafood. Frozen fish means fishermen can tackle the age-old problem of spoiling fresh fish and seafood. The perception, though, is fresh is tastier, but that is not what bears out with these OSU tastings.
JT and I talk about the antioxidants and cancer-fighting properties of the greens that Lil Swiss Farms brings to his kitchen. We talk about probiotics, gut health and such as JT is a proponent of fermented vegetables. Jacey is cutting up beets and packing them in mason jars with brine water for that process to happen.
At Coast & Vine, many delicacies are fermented on the spot, and as JT explains this simple process — lacto-fermentation — has nothing at all to do with lactose or dairy. It’s about lactic acid. Additionally, fruits and vegetables typically have the beneficial bacteria Lactobacillus on their surface.
Food as a gift
Growing up in that dynamic farm and vineyard country, JT thought all restaurants just went to their farmer’s markets or roadside stands to pick up the products to cook with. The cold reality of the industrialized, centralized and homogenized food system hit him hard when he went to work for restaurants that got their “foodstuffs” from big 18-wheeler Sysco deliveries.
He shows me how he raised the dishwasher so it would be more ergonomic. How counters are raised. He composts leftovers and gives it back to the farmers. Everything is used, and he throws very little food away. Small-batch cooking and on-the-spot preparing help him battle the proverbial restaurant industry bad rap — more than 50 percent of all cooked food and fresh ingredients is tossed away.
I asked him why he likes coming to work. “We built a place I would want to hang out in and where I’d want to drink coffee and drink wine. And I was tired of not finding options for vegans and vegetarians. I wanted a place with whole clean food.”
He tells me that he feels it is his duty to share his knowledge and skills to the community. “It would be very selfish of me to keep them to myself.”
While this is a business, the margins are leaner when making fresh organic “clean” food and serving biodynamic wines. “We do it because there’s a mission, a drive to bring this type of cooking to this county.”
There is that spiritual cohesion when JT and I hoist a rosé wine, and then he explains how food and wine are some of the most intimate things we share as Homo Sapiens. He reminds me how all the labor put into growing, harvesting and producing products has to be respected, honored and loved while cooking and preparing it.
“To me the definition of integrity is doing the right thing even if people aren’t looking.”
I end up taking the last bites of my Red Apple & Onion Melt (grilled onion, roasted apple, herbed vegan cheese, sorrel) before ordering a bottle of Cidre Fermier, a 5.5-percent alcohol apple cider from France.
JT hands me a book from his coffee roaster, Verve, titled, “Farm Level Digest/Panama.” He gives me a reading list:
“The Farm Shop Cookbook” by Christine McFadden; “Bouchon Cookbook” by Thomas Keller and Jeff Cerciello; “Coming to My Senses: The Making of a Counterculture Cook” by Alice Waters.
I read the statement at the bottom of the Coast & Vine menu: “We go the distance to source fresh, organic ingredients.” That says it all for a long day of food, wine and conversation!
Central Coast Food Trail
For a business, a restaurant in trendy and tourist-influenced Nye Beach, JT finds opening up an oyster bar is his best way to fill his restaurant and stay afloat. His first big event is a sustainable crab and wine event this Saturday, Feb. 15.
We talk about the value of a “food trail,” a big multi-pronged push by many groups, including Travel Oregon and the various local visitors associations along our coast.
For $55, Coast & Vine offers five flights of regional wines and all these plates tied to the fishers getting those crabs.
JT mentions how winter business has picked up, and a raw oyster bar will be the first in Newport. He wants those bivalves coming from places like Winchester Bay and Netarts.
No matter where our conversations end up, JT is consistent. He’s dedicated to supporting local foragers, fishermen and farmers. He’s dedicated to the regional and local food sources telling the story of place, people, cultures and our shared desire for healthy tasty food.
While his Coast & Vine has gone through evolutions — no more juice bar and complex coffee service offerings — JT says his catering gigs are growing with wineries booking his delicacies for big release weekends.
“I’m really getting a lot of catering gigs in The Valley,” he said, emphasizing he’s serving food for 600 walk-by wine consumers during some weekend winery events. “I’m open from 12 to 8 pm, Thursday through Sunday. I’m dedicated to seasonable cooking. I believe an oyster bar will really be popular here.”
Note: First appeared in Oregon Coast Today.