Full Of Life Flatbread
By Cathe Olson

If you’re at the Wednesday morning Farmers’ Market in Arroyo Grande, chances are you’ll spot Clark Staub, Executive Chef and owner of Full of Life Flatbread Restaurant, and Brian Collins, Chef de Cuisine, lugging bags and boxes of fresh SLO County produce toward Staub’s Prius. This is just the first of the many markets they’ll visit as they plan the menu for the Friday, Saturday and Sunday dinners at the Los Alamos eatery.

Staub opened Full of Life Flatbread five years ago because he wanted a place to connect people with flavorful food. He believes that rustic cooking and simple ingredients will bring back a desire for real food.

Owner Clark Staub stands in front of his primitive wood fired oven. Photo by Carole Topalian.

“People have forgotten how to eat,” Staub said. “We live in a culture that’s taught people to forget what taste really is.”

Collins, a graduate of the California Culinary Academy in San Francisco and former Lead Cook at Chez Panisse, joined Full of Life Flatbread a year ago. Collins is passionate about good food and using fresh local ingredients. In fact, he believes freshness is its own flavor. According to Collins, the food at Full of Life is “sparkling fresh.” All of the produce, meat, seafood, and cheese are local – most from within 40 miles of the restaurant. Staub and Collins are choosy about how the food is produced as well. They look for fruit and vegetables grown without pesticides, cheese that is rBGH-free, and meat that is raised without hormones. The seafood is always fresh and local, as well.

“You can’t fool the customers,” Collins said. “They can taste real ingredients.”

Although the specials change each week depending on what’s in season and available, a typical (if one can even use that word in association with Full of Life Flatbread) menu might include salads made from Windrose Farm baby greens with fennel, black olives, and Ricotta, and drizzled with Rancho La Viña walnut oil, or Finley Farms red butter lettuce with black cod from Avila Beach. A specialty flatbread might be topped with
 slow-braised Windrose Farm lamb, smoked mozzarella, and wild nettles. A vegetarian flatbread could feature local asparagus, leeks, scallions, green garlic, onions, shallots, and goat cheese.

Desserts are made from local ingredients as well, like the Double Lemon Tart with Blood Orange Whipped Cream, and the Lavender and Duck-Egg Ice Cream. The restaurant has become known for offering some out-of-the-ordinary ingredients like nettles and other wild foods.

“We’ve earned our customers’ trust, and they want to taste more uncommon foods,” Staub commented. “In fact, the restaurant usually sells out of those items.”

Staub also wants his restaurant to encourage community. Regular customers come from as far as San Francisco and Los Angeles and everywhere in between to relax on the decks and eat in the rustic dining room around the brick oven. Regular customers feel ownership for the establishment and often drop off lemons, figs or other produce from their own gardens. Staub nurtures his relationships with local farmers, ranchers, fisherman, and producers of local wine, beer, cheeses, and oils. Just as he supports them, they support him, and even grow special varieties just for Full of Life Flatbread.

Staff members are enthusiastic about the restaurant as well. They take pride in giving excellent service, and some volunteer on their own time to learn more about the food and how it’s prepared. And though preparing two unique menus every week is challenging, Collins said he and the staff like the excitement. “I wouldn’t trade it for anything,” he stated.

During the week, when the restaurant is not open, the staff prepares flatbreads to be frozen and packaged. Each is handmade and certified organic. Staub said he constantly receives comments and emails about how tasty the frozen flatbreads are. “Although it’s a contradiction to what we’re doing in the restaurant, it’s a small effort to bring taste to processed food.” Those who don’t live close enough to visit Full of Life Flatbread restaurant can get a little taste of the Central Coast wherever they are.

Full of Life Flatbread Restaurant is open Friday and Saturday from 5 to 10 pm. and Sundays from 4 to 8 pm. It is located at 225 West Bell Street, Los Alamos (just west of Hwy 101, 16 miles south of Santa Maria). Call (805) 344-4400 or visit www.fulloflifefoods.com for more information. Frozen Full of Life Flatbreads are available at well-stocked supermarkets and natural foods stores nationwide.

Cathe Olson is the author of the new nondairy ice cream cookbook: Lick It! Cream Dreamy Vegan Ice Cream Your Mouth Will Love, as well as Simply Natural Baby Food and The Vegetarian Mother’s Cookbook. Visit Cathe’s Web site at www.simplynaturalbooks.com and her blog at http://catheolson.blogspot.com.