At Home with Ana Sortun:
Ana Sortun, chef and owner of Oleana in Cambridge, says with full confidence that she cooks with the best vegetables around. "They're all fresh, all organic, and grown by my fiance," she says about Chris Kurth, the farmer she shares her life with.
Kurth is the "veggie grower out at The Farm School in Athol," he says. The pair met when he sought the restaurant's account.
For her, it was love at first sight. "I've always joked with my Mom that I'd marry a farmer," she says. Within six months, he'd proposed.
They will marry in September, planned around harvesting season. "Everything we'll be eating, he'll have grown," she says about the menu she is coordinating with caterer Marie Mulhern.
At home, Sortun, 36, and Kurth, 29 make beautiful meals together. That is, when they're both there. "My restaurant is my life," says Sortun, a 2004 James Beard Nominee for Best Chef of the Northeast. Last year, the James Beard Foundation nominated Oleana Best New Restaurant in the United States. Kurth also works long hours during the growing season. "Since we don't have a lot of time together, when we're home we just hang out reading, watching movies, cooking, and sharing a meal."
For a recent dinner, she cooked a "chicken stew, like a coq au vin, and rice cakes that I make at the restaurant." Kurth prepared the greens.
"He's the salad king, using his fresh arugula, spinach, and nasturtiums," she says.
The couple rent a tiny house on a farm that has one bedroom and bathroom, a combined cooking, dining, and living area, and a patio. One of their two cats polices the local mouse and chipmunk populations in an adjacent old tractor barn.
Sortun, originally from Seattle, and Kurth, who grew up in Sudbury, planned to purchase a house, but were discouraged when everything they saw required substantial renovations, particularly to the kitchen.
"I wanted a place that is aesthetically pleasing, and this is," she says, adding, "It's such a pleasure to cook in this kitchen."
She loves the Italian-made convection oven with a built-in rotisserie for roasting, the plentiful counter space, and the cleverly designed Ikea cabinets that house her pots and pans.
The owners intended to install a microwave, until Sortun spoke up. "I don't even know how to use a microwave."
The home is situated on 15 acres of rolling hills, grass, fields, and a stream, and abuts conservation land.
"If those trees were olive trees, we'd be in Italy," says Sortun of the striking resemblance to a European setting. And she should know: She's traveled throughout several Mediterranean countries, which heavily influences Oleana's cuisine.
"Even though we want to own a home, I can't leave," she says. "It's small, but it looks big because we look out on all this land."
What she most enjoys is sitting on one of the two couches facing the outdoors. At dusk, she likes to watch deer grazing.
"I'm marrying a farmer whose biggest enemy is deer -- he wants to get a rifle out, but I love to just watch and watch," she says.
"It's very peaceful here, which is exactly what I'm looking for at home. A lot of people like to be social on their days off; I'm very antisocial because I've been social all week at work."
When friends do come over, they dine on the patio around a Moroccan-style table, or inside on a wooden table surrounded by wrought-iron and leather chairs made in India. A few small Turkish rugs dot the wooden floors.
On a tall shelving unit, Sortun displays her many plates and platters, purchased on trips. Her collection includes an Ottoman serving platter, a Moroccan tagine, alabaster from Turkey, and terra cotta wine storage bins from Portugal.
Adhering to a Mediterranean belief, Sortun has at least three "evil eyes" to "keep the bad out" of her home. They seem to be working well.
"When I wake up, I'm just so happy to see what I see," she says.