Once upon a time in the Wenas, a breeze blew through a hop field. The lingering smoke that had been hanging in the air for days was finally clearing, and the triple digit heat was noticeably down to normal summertime levels. It was good. A bus load of beer lovers was kicking up dust out in the hop rows, learning a thing or two about the surrounding strobiles in their raw state. Dinner was awaiting them just outside the baling room at the Wenas Hop Company farm where Guerra’s Gourmet had set up shop to prepare some fresh valley vittles for the group. Rooted, who put the event together for the Children’s Village auction, was standing by to make sure it all went down smoothly. Imbibe, eat, enjoy. Check, check, check.
With everything ready and set, we were in that unique middle space where we were neither preparing the food nor attending the party. This gave us the opportunity to be flies on the wall. I have to say, watching the Guerras at work on a lovely summer evening in the breeze of a hop field was something special to see.
Last year in a vineyard, we met Chris Guerra as he was serving up wood fired pizzas at the Dineen Vineyards in Zillah. Sensory Nirvana in Wine Country ensued. He talked at length about how he places a high value on sourcing locally for his creations. He resides in that enviable culinary position of being obsessed with premium ingredients, and living in a place where he can get them—directly, from the farmers themselves. It is a relationship he cherishes and relies on, and it absolutely shines in his food. Everything he makes is done with such great thought and care. Of course, we at rooted were instantly smitten.
The Guerras drove up to the Wenas on this day in their 1951 Chevy truck, where the truck bed has been converted into a wood burning oven and grill. All fired up, cast iron pans in a row, it was on. A big box of Imperial corn sat on the table. Fresh tomatillo salsa sat at the ready, a peck of picked peppers was waiting to be stuffed. Handmade bread was baking in the wood oven, while all sorts of other grinds were being prepped. As the dinner took shape, Chris, his dad Lino and their friend Nefi Alcazar all moved in rhythm to get the nosh on the table. It wasn’t all done at once, it rolled off the fires one course at a time, flavorful and ready.
As the event dinner was winding down, we were sitting on the back of a pickup truck, adjacent to their “kitchen” when they must have heard our stomachs growl. Next thing we knew they were bringing us boards of tacos with homemade wood fired tortillas, roasted, seasoned corn, fire roasted baby potatoes with fresh tomatoes, and a wood fire oven baked blueberry galette. It was sensational. The staff after party as it were.
As we sat there in the soft evening light, swinging our legs off the back of the truck munching down this amazing food which was all grown locally, we were struck by what an exceptional experience this was. It was an accidental tailgate. Sometimes you can find and count your blessings at times and places you don’t expect. We found ours at that moment right there in the Wenas. Full hops topping the trellis gently swaying in the dusk air all around us, and homemade food made with fire and love in the back of a ’51 Chevrolet. Only in the Yakima Valley.