A Visual Feast

Posted online: November 2016

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 “A celebration for the New Year is a time to acknowledge the past and cherish memories while gathering with friends and loved ones and realizing collective intentions for our future,” says chef Ariane Aumont, the mind behind Ojai-based boutique catering company Le Picnic. Given a blank slate to envision a stylish New Year’s Eve soiree, she chose Black Walnut Ranch in upper Ojai as the backdrop, both for its proximity to the majestic Topa Topa Mountains and the magical Pink Moment that ushers in sunsets in the valley as well as the property’s bucolic indoor-outdoor setting—replete with natural wood surfaces and rustic furnishings.

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Known for her playful yet elegant aesthetic, Aumont’s opulent culinary creations for this fete are an homage to the dishes she was inspired by while frequenting Europe as a kid as well as those she enjoyed throughout the year. “Fingerling potatoes with crème fraîche and caviar was a fixture on New Years Eve when I was a child; the yellowtail tartare with kaffir lime and coconut creme is a deconstructed version of a phenomenal dish I had on a recent trip to Australia. The chocolate and roasted chestnut pot de crème brings me back to trips to France as a child and the discovery of creme de marron (chestnut puree), which I would delightfully consume by the heaping spoonful while star gazing with my best friend…. The creation of this menu was definitely fueled by nostalgia,” says Aumont, who adds, “Like my textured, soulful, and beautiful friendships, I endeavor to create food that is layered to enchant the senses.”

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Each of the dishes—mainly Japanese influenced but with a nod to her European roots and some Thai flavors—indeed appealed to all five senses. “I’ve always been drawn to foods that invoke a feeling of sensuality,” Aumont says of the dinner and drinks that engaged sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch. “The soba noodle bird’s nests look playful. The spot prawns fresh off the grill with aromatic herbs smell delicious. The exciting taste of the Thai yellowtail, the joyful clinking of the glasses, the urchin shooter ice cup cold on your fingertips…. When I think about creating a menu, I like to consider how the ingredients will form a play of color, texture, and aroma.”

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The seafood-based spread was situated in a renovated barn that opened to sweeping views of the Ojai Valley. Guests sporting chic black-and-white ensembles arrived to sounds of reggae at the ranch and enjoyed champagne aperitifs, sake cocktails, and appetizers during dusk outside around the fire pit while Aumont put the finishing touches on the barn’s table clad with decor borrowed from Otis + Pearl Vintage Rentals. A formal sit-down dinner is not what she envisioned, but rather “the shared motion of socializing while grazing on food prepared in a style to be eaten with fingers is to me the best way to enjoy a meal with friends.” After mingling and indulging in the modern fruits de mer, the friends got grooving in the barn turned dance floor before moving out to the walnut orchard to “celebrate the year past and the many years of gatherings to come” with sparklers that lit up the night. The festive, sensual evening ended on a high note with dancing, hilarity, and, says Aumont with a wink, “a little debauchery—for good measure.”

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One Comment


  1. julie de wolff

    Att: Dining editor

    We are a family of 5 grandparents coming from Pennsylvania, parents and 12 year grandaughter from Burbank spending New Years Eve in Santa Barbara. What would you recommend for dinner New Years Eve? Need not go all the way to midnight. Near to Upham Hotel if possible. Thank you

    December 15th, 2016 at 4:43 am (Reply)

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