Chrysa Robertson of Rancho Pinot

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When Chef Chrysa Robertson decided a few weeks ago to launch lunch at her restaurant Rancho Pinot, her restaurateur friends thought she had lost her mind. Not so, says Robertson. Her inspiration: The economy. Her vision: Keep it simple, do it well, and it just might work.

We're rooting for you, Robertson, and your root vegetables, too! Especially that vegetable frittata you say is your favorite thing on the menu: loads of veggies, a wedge of grated hard cheese, and a side salad. You had us at favorite. We're hoping to sample that with a little keg wine.

Yep, you heard us right: Robertson's honing down Rancho Pinot's excessively extensive wines by the bottle list in favor of a few "super-premium wines" by the glass out of an Italian-engineered keg built by a personal friend. Talk about upping the ante on bags-o-wine.

Robertson tells us more about her farm-to-table style including her gardening tips, the chickens she raises at home, the fall foods she's dying to cook and her would-die-without ingredient combination. Plus, we really geek out about the whole wine-in-a-keg bit.

Click through to find out all the dirty details, literally, we're talking trash.

So you do lots of gardening and raise chickens at home, right? I have an herb garden at home. Gardening is a lot of work, and since I have such good sources around here, I don't bother with the veggies. But I do grow all of the herbs for the restaurant. And I have about 21 hens right now, and we use the eggs and desserts and ice creams we make here. I'd rather be working outside than in the kitchen, truth be known.

Any gardening tips? Compost, lots of compost. We compost anything from here. Well, the chickens are first. Anything that the hens won't eat goes to compost. As y cooks say, "Nothing is garbage at Rancho Pinot." I have a huge, huge compost pile. My partner Russ takes care of it. He's very diligent about the compost.

So you only use the chickens for their eggs? Yes, they're just layer hens. Not for meat. We were going to ask how you part with them. Oh, God no. It's bad enough when they get sick, and we have to do them in. It's gruesome, but that's the way it is. They're spoiled rotten. They live in quite a palace.

What're your tips for people who want to eat more local, sustainable, seasonal food in the Valley? Go to farmers' markets. That scene has changed a lot; it's gotten much much better, a lot more choices. There's so many articles and recipes in all the food magazines right now. It's a huge movement, so if you want to learn how to cook that way, it's pretty easy now.

Ingredient combination you couldn't live without? Lemon zest, parsley and garlic. And olive oil. You gotta have olive oil. I have to add that.

What's happening with the wine and food pairings at Rancho Pinot? We're moving away from the huge wine list. I like to focus on simpler, really, really good wines that go with the food I do. I'm kind of an acid freak. I love sauvignon blancs. I like some of those interesting Italian whites. And, of course, I love pinot noir. We're starting our new wine-in-a-keg program: keg wines.

Tell us more about this keg wine program. My friend Jimmy who I used to cook with now makes wine, and he bottles it also. He's putting wine in kegs, but not as you would beer. He uses inert gas to displace it. He has specialty dispensing taps for it: They're winery grade, stainless, so they're no oxidation or spoilage of the wine. From Italy, he got these great impervious tubes to bring the wine up. A lot of the others you have to bring the wine up and you have to purge a lot of the wine as you dispense it because it's oxidized in those tubes. We're waiting for those to be built, so I think the middle of October, we're getting them. And we have a dual temperature cooler, so one side is for red wines and one side is for whites. The temperature's right. You don't have the waste and spoilage you get by having wines by the glass from the bottle. We're really excited about that. I think it's nicer to have sound wine by the glass than this huge selection, that's just my personal opinion.

What're you most looking forward to cooking as we move into fall? Tuscan kale. I can't wait for that. Meyer lemons. All the root vegetables. I just love all that kinds of stuff: the beets, the turnips. But mostly the delicious greens and all the local citrus together. I could live on kale and lemon. And the winter squashes, ohhh.

What's the trick to cooking vegetables properly? Well, there's lots of different ways to cook them, but my favorite way is to roast them in the oven with olive oil, salt, and pepper. I think with most root vegetables that brings out their sweetness without losing the nutrients and goodies to water. We love to sauté greens with olive oil, garlic and a little lemon. That's how I like them the best: The more natural the better.

There's more to come... Check back tomorrow when Robertson talks fryer oil nightmares, her hard-to-swallow slice of humble pie, and parenting tips for healthier kids. And get a Robertson recipe Thursday.

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