Chef’s Corner: Charlie Ayers of Calafia Cafe and Market A Go Go

Chef’s Corner: Charlie Ayers of Calafia Cafe and Market A Go Go

The man who fed Google now operates a new, fresh & local focused restaurant in Palo Alto

The peninsula is bursting with fantastic restaurants, most of which are dedicated to using local and fresh ingredients, just like what we carry at our store! Each Chef’s Corner will feature a local restaurant, chef and a recipe or two in the hopes that you’ll grow to love the chef’s passion for food, and their restaurant, as much as we do! Enjoy! — Carmelo Sigona


Starting off our Chef’s Corner feature is Chef Charlie Ayers of Calafia Cafe and Market A Go Go in downtown Palo Alto. I’m absolutely loving this restaurant and loving Charlie’s way of putting local, healthy and high-quality ingredients in his dishes.

Charlie and Carmelo make pizza

Charlie has complimented our store quite a few times on our selection of local and organic products.

I spent a morning at Calafia earlier this fall with Chef Charlie and Christine Thompson, our marketing manager. We used this time to learn more about his cooking techniques, food practices and help make (and sample!) his irresistible pizzas…delicious! We also snagged some fantastic recipes (below).

Chef Charlie Ayers of Calafia Cafe and Market A Go Go in downtown Palo Alto operates his new café under the mantra “Slow Food, Served Fast.” Chef Charlie, as you may know, is the former chef for world-renowned music events and bands, including the Grateful Dead, though he is most famously known for holding the title of executive chef at Google. Yes, the Google.


Charlie makes one of his delicious pizzas, "A Simple Pizza," with mozzarella, tomato sauce & fresh basil.

Chef Charlie started with Google in 1999 when the company was young and only about 40 employees strong. Being in the Silicon Valley, you’re probably familiar with the Google story and know that from what started in a garage near Menlo Park, Google now occupies a sprawling campus in Mountain View. When Charlie left the company in 2005 he had five sous chefs and 150 employees working for across 10 campus-based cafes that fed more than 1,500 Googlers!

During his time at Google, Chef Charlie established a new standard of “fine food for the fast crowd,” using the highest-quality organic and sustainably-sourced ingredients — ingredients that are good not only for you but for the community and entire planet. Chef Charlie also applies the same dedication at Calafia, and of all the things I admire about Charlie, I just love his standards and food practices.


I met Charlie a few years ago when he started buying Micro Greens from us. He also participated in a TV shoot at our Redwood City store about how he uses local and organic products in his cooking!

“I’ve said it before, but I do what I think to be right using the freshest produce and organic ingredients to make the most exciting menu options,” said Charlie. “I source most of my products from small vendors and farmers markets to get the most unique, fresh and local items, and Sigona’s is on my list.”

At Sigona’s, we’ve always focused on sourcing as locally as possible, and Charlie applies the same “local radius” and mentality to sourcing food as we do:

“I like to impose a 150-mile (240-kilometer) travel limit on my food as much as possible. If you buy food that has been grown or raised locally, it will be fresher, cheaper and more delicious…buying local products will help sustain and nourish your local marketplace to ensure that bountiful fresh, local, clean food will continue to be available to you.” (Charlie Ayers, Food 2.0).

I chose to make the "Wolfgang’s Pizza" with shredded duck leg, pumpkin-hempseed pesto, mozzarella & goat cheese. Absolutely fantastic!

Charlie’s cookbook, Food 2.0, is packed with more than just recipes. The introduction, which starts by asking, “You’re smart. So why don’t you eat that way?” is composed of more of his thoughts, food beliefs & practices and tips on making smart choices about what you eat. We carry the books at both of our locations, too!

Charlie designed Calafia Cafe & Market A Go Go to appeal to a wide range of audiences, from students to busy professionals and parents looking for wholesome, affordable fare for their families. His design has certainly worked because Calafia recently won three awards in the Palo Alto Weekly reader poll: “Best New Restaurant,” “Best Organic Eats,” and “Best Vegetarian/Vegan Restaurant! If you haven’t tried out Calafia yet, we most certainly recommend you do soon! Until then, try out one of the following three recipes Charlie uses at Calafia. See below!

finished product

Finished product! The "A Simple Pizza" and "Wolfgang’s Pizza." The Wolfgang pizza is one of my absolute favorites. That and the Calafia Quinoa Salad (recipe below).

Calafia location

Recipes from Charlie Ayers

Calafia Quinoa Salad Recipe

This salad has a fantastic, high-flavor profile.

  • 2 cup water
  • ½ tsp cumin
  • 1 cup quinoa, well rinsed and drained
  • 1 cup chopped celery, blanched lightly
  • ½ cup dried currants
  • 1 cup roasted beets, diced small
  • ½ cup beet puree (recipe follows)
  • 1 TBL lemon zest
  • ½ cup chopped parsley
  • ½ red onion, minced
  • 2-3 TBL olive oil
  • Handful arugula
  • 1 good squirt of red wine vinaigrette

Directions: Place water, cumin and rinsed quinoa in a saucepan and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat, cover and simmer until all of the liquid is absorbed, approximately 15 minutes. Cool and transfer quinoa to a large mixing bowl, add in beet puree (recipe follows), add in cooled roasted diced beets, celery and lemon zest and currants. Season with salt pepper, mix well and refrigerate, covered, at least 1 hour.

Remove from refrigerator; add in chopped parsley and red onion and olive oil.

Toss arugula with red wine vinaigrette arrange on plate, followed by quinoa beet salad. Serve.

To make beet puree: Add 2 cups diced medium beets to 2 cups cold vegetable stock, place in bar blender and puree until ultra smooth, taste, add salt if needed. Keep in refrigerator covered when not in use.

Calafia Glamour Smoothie

Following is a list of ingredients and equipment needed to make this drink.

  • ½ ripe avocado, peeled, no pit
  • ¼ Honeydew melon, skinned and seeded
  • ½  English cucumber, peeled
  • 1 lemon, peeled
  • A well made vegetable juicer. I recommend the Breville vegetable juicer.
  • A well made bar blender / food blender. I recommend Vita Mixer.

Directions: After manipulating your ingredients according to the recipe, place everything in the juicer, one at a time, EXCEPT the avocado.

Once all of your juice is contained in the vegetable juicer pitcher, pour into the bar blender along with the avocado ½ and 12 oz of ice cubes.

Cover blender and blend away until you have a smoothie texture. Pour into wine glasses or juice glasses or on the go with a lid and a straw.

Calafia Lamb and Garbanzo Bean Saute


  • 6 oz ground fully cooked lamb sausage
  • ½ cup fully cooked garbanzo beans
  • 1 ½ cup pea shoots
  • 3 TBL medium diced carrots
  • 3 TBL sliced cherry tomatoes
  • 2 TBL sliced Kalamata olives
  • 1 tsp Harissa paste
  • 1 cup oz chicken stock
  • 1 TBL extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 TBL whole butter
  • ½ TBL chiffonade of mint (thin ribbons of mint)
  • 1 oz Queso Fresco, for garnish
  • Salt and pepper, to taste

Directions: Heat saute pan with small amount of oil, add in ground lamb sausage brown a bit more, add in garbanzo beans, carrots, season to order, followed by Harissa paste. Toss a couple times and add chicken stock. Allow to simmer for a moment and reduce. Finish with pea shoots, olives and tomatoes and mint and one TBL whole butter.

Serve in large bowl, sprinkle with small amount of Queso Fresco on top.

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