Growing a Love for Garden-Fresh Cooking
Ollie George Cigliano planted her roots here in Long Beach when her mom unexpectedly gave birth on Ocean Boulevard. She’s been growing things ever since!
You might recognize Ollie from her farmers market stand, Ollie’s Kitchen, which serves delicious, farm-fresh sandwiches the way she likes them: with good tomato and plenty of everything! Her consistent use of seasonal ingredients elevates the taste of food in incredible ways.
One item from her menu, the Caprese sandwich, is made from scratch using organic tomatoes, fresh basil, mozzarella, and homemade pesto. However, Ollie doesn’t always include the tomato depending on the season, because she looks for quality.
“A lot of people have never really had a tomato,” Ollie said. “They’ve maybe had a tomato from the store and it’s all grainy, from a hot house, and bread to be perfectly round and a certain shade of red. Then they bite into it and there’s no flavor.”
Another item she often uses are watermelon radishes, which she grows at her 600-square foot plot at the Long Beach Community Gardens.
“The thing with radishes…once you harvest them there are no more. It’s like a beet: it grows in the ground and as soon as it’s ready you take the whole thing out and there’s none left,” Ollie said.
Whenever Ollie needs to supplement produce, she turns to her network of farmers. After working in and around the markets for the last six years, she knows quite a few.
“For me, it’s always been about interacting with the farmers,” Ollie said. “I love being able to have that relationship with them. I’ve visited all of their farms but working side by side with them is great.”
It’s clear Ollie cares about local farmers and sustainable produce. Next to her check out, she has a calendar that tells you when to plant, grow, and harvest.
“When you’re using commercially grown things, you’re supporting a different business chain, which I don’t think there’s anything wrong with,” Ollie said. “Fresh food is good. But when you’re supporting small family farms that have barely any product that doesn’t taste like anything else, that’s pretty special.”
Ollie’s passion for growing and cooking fresh produce is rooted in everything she does.
She not only serves farm-fresh paninis at Long Beach farmers markets, but she also teaches gardening and cooking and loves working with kids.
At Little Owl Preschool in Long Beach, Ollie incorporated farm to preschool principles. As a chef and food educator, she used a combination of produce from the preschool’s garden and local farmers to feed 80 kids!
“The idea was, I worked with the garden teacher and we would make sure everything was planted seasonally,” she said.
Ollie enjoyed seeing a part of life first-hand and saw how much kids enjoyed working in the garden. She said the kids’ questions were endless, as one could imagine. She also taught children with autism and said that interacting with food really helped them!
“Kids can get concrete ideas of math and science through [cooking and gardening]. Even writing instead of being out of the textbook, it was actually real-life experiences,” Ollie said.
This month, Ollie transitioned from serving food out of her stand to teaching again. This month, Ollie transitioned from serving food out of her stand to teaching again. She continues to empower the Long Beach community by sharing her love for growing and cooking food thoughtfully. She offers cooking lessons at her home and around the Long Beach area.
Ollie also offers advice to anyone trying to improve their chef skills.
“The recipe’s a guideline, but taste the food and don’t work so much on timers...In Italian we have a word it’s called ‘fiducia’ and it means to trust and have confidence.”
Next time you’re deciding what produce to buy, think of this piece of advice, the seasons, and your local farmers. And may you always have more fiducia!
To learn more about Ollie and her farm-fresh goods, visit her Instagram.