Chefs Palmer of Palmerino’s and Vasquez of Cochi’s Kitchen develop culinary partnership

Tommy Palmer of Palmerino’s and Emanuel Vasquez of Cochi’s Kitchen are collaborating on a new farm-to-table eatery called Local on Main at the former Palmerino’s. Photo courtesy Local on Main

By Calvin Nuttall

The downtown culinary scene will soon be served something fresh with Local on Main, a new restaurant offering a farm-to-table experience Morgan Hill diners have never seen before.

The owners plan to unveil their eatery during Wine Week that runs April 23-29. They will hold a wine-pairing dinner April 23 and be a stop on the Downtown Wine Stroll April 29.

The brainchild of chefs Emanuel Vasquez of Cochi’s Kitchen and Tommy Palmer of Palmerino’s, Local on Main will serve only fresh selections from local sources such as South Valley Mushroom Farm, Spade and Plow Organics, LJB Farms, and Terra Amico. Wine will be served from local vineyards such as Lion Ranch and EmmaLily, and beer from breweries across the Bay Area.

“Tommy approached Emanuel to talk about a collaboration,” said Gabrielle Crescini, co-owner with Vasquez of Cochi’s Kitchen. “He wanted to work together so we could create something new in this town nobody has seen before. We thought putting two local chefs together with two different repertoires would be able to create something different and unique.”

A local foodie from a young age, Palmer attended the Italian Culinary Institute in Italy in 2019, where he studied every aspect of fine Italian cuisine.

“We did cooking, pastries, baking, gelato making, charcuterie, cheese-making, wine pairing, all of it,” he said. “It expanded my knowledge beyond what I grew up cooking and learning about with my family, and I wanted to bring it back to Morgan Hill and be able to offer a taste of something that is actually authentic as opposed to a watered-down, Americanized menu.”

Vasquez said he is looking forward to forging a fusion style through their collaboration, bringing elements of Mexican and Italian cuisine into the context of farm-to-table in order to create something new.

“I asked if they wanted to focus on a cuisine, and they said no,” Palmer said. “We’re just going to have fun with it and test new flavors. To maintain creative freedom, we’re going to run with the concept of farm-to-table and just rotate through menus as we want.”

Aside from offering fresh, healthy and affordable food, Local on Main also aims to provide a boutique-style dining experience, with a small, ever-changing menu of daily specials.

“You’re always going to get something different,” Crescini said. “You’re not going to get a massive dinner plate, but maybe four or five small bites that you’re sharing with someone. It really is craft food. Nothing comes from a can or jar. It is all made from scratch. Tommy makes all of the pasta fresh in-house, and Manny smokes all of the meat. Even our baker will have fresh-baked goods and desserts on the menu.”

The new restaurant will take over the current site of Palmerino’s, at 35 E. Main Ave., which will cease operations at the end of March. Palmer plans to shift his focus away from running daily business operations in order to direct his energy into creating delicious, real food, particularly his renowned fresh pasta.

“The incentive behind working with local farms was to show people what real ingredients are,” he said. “There is more to food than just consumption. Despite the fact that pasta is just egg and flour, there is so much more to it that makes it real food. And when you eat it, believe me, you’re going to taste the difference.”

The public’s appetite is changing, Crescini said. South Valley people are not looking for the same old options they are used to seeing on every restaurant menu.

“Women represent 80 percent of the buying decisions in every household,” she said. “What most moms in our 30s and 40s are looking for is something fresh, something healthy, something that we can afford, and that we can feed our family with. People are starting to listen to that. The old days of very big portions and limited options are over.”

Local on Main plans to be not only a restaurant, but a full-service event venue as well. It will have a room in the back of the site that can hold up to 60 people. The restaurant can accommodate wedding rehearsal dinners, bridal showers, anniversary and birthday parties, and other such events.

“It’s hard to find a place here in town to have a party,” Crescini said. “Well, we’ve got one, and we’re going to finish it up and make it a little bit more user-friendly. You can rent it for a party and your food is right there. Decorations to desert, we can make it happen.”

Local on Main will also continue to host the pasta-making classes currently offered at Palmerino’s, with the possibility of offering other types of cooking classes in the future, such as kids’ cooking classes and a couples’ night.

“The pasta classes have been a lot of fun,” Palmer said. “I think people are surprised at how educational it is. I will go into the whole science behind it. It’s about getting people back to the roots of food, whole ingredients, real food.”

In order to get the word out about their new venture, the partners have leaned heavily into social media, teasing the possible announcement of a new restaurant weeks ahead of time through their Facebook and Instagram accounts.

“In this business, you have to influence where you can, and social media plays a huge part,” Crescini said. “One slice of avocado toast can become somebody’s share on social media 55 times on a Sunday morning, if you’re making it right.”

Through their social network, they will have a greater reach in letting people know about their restaurant, Vasquez said.

“I’m going to continue to do what I’ve been doing, and people will eventually catch wind,” he said. “We know a lot of foodies and social media influencers, and we’re going to be working with those people a lot.”

Calvin Nuttall is a Morgan Hill resident and freelance reporter.