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Still Cooking

After the fire, Farmer's Wife Kendra Kolling soldiers on


PILED HIGH  Sonoma County’s Kendra Kolling has earned a following for her famed sandwiches.
  • PILED HIGH Sonoma County‚Äôs Kendra Kolling has earned a following for her famed sandwiches.

The week after her house burned down in last month's fires, Kendra Kolling came back to her regular gig at the San Francisco Ferry Building farmers market, making her signature sandwiches at the Farmer's Wife.

"I find great comfort in the markets," Kolling says. "To experience the familiar, the normal, has been very helpful."

It was the second week after the fire that grief set in and Kolling decided to take a break. She and her family fled their Kenwood home on Oct. 8 and evacuated to Rohnert Park. The following day, they came back to find their home, barn, catering van and guesthouse burned to the ground. Trees around their property were still on fire.

A month later, she's come to terms with the disaster and is doing her best to move forward. "I'm not crying when I tell the story anymore, at least."

Fans of her sandwiches are happy she's still in business. Last year, Kolling's braised greens, egg and cheese sandwich was voted "Best Breakfast Sandwich in the Country" by the Time Inc. Media Group and other of her creations have been featured nationwide in online sites like Extra Crispy and on the Food Network.

Kolling has worked in the food and wine industry for most of her life, and called Sonoma County home for 30 years. Her husband, Paul Kolling, is an apple grower and the founder of Nana Mae's Organics. She founded the Farmer's Wife in a portable 10-by-10-foot tent seven years ago as she prepared to send her two oldest kids to college.

"I started by serving omelettes, oatmeal—you name it—but I quickly realized sandwiches were the most sought-after," she says.

To simplify even further, Kolling got rid of most of her bread varieties, sticking to Full Circle Baking Company's organic sourdough, the perfect vehicle for her fresh and local ingredients, she says. The menu changes seasonally, and past standouts includes a mission fig, honey, lavender, bacon and Gravenstein apple cheese melt, and a toasted fennel sausage, kimchi and avocado grilled cheese super sandwich. The equation couldn't be more simple: good cheese, fruits and vegetables and a meaty twist.

She came close to opening a restaurant at the Barlow in Sebastopol—twice—but the deals fell through.

"When I started my business, my vision was, 'I really want to pay the electric bill, send my kids to birthday parties, send them on soccer teams.' All the money goes into the kids' education. I don't have the overhead to open a shop. It's a risk I can't afford," she says.

Now, with the losses suffered in the fire, this dream is even further away, but Kolling's calendar is filling up with holiday catering opportunities, and she's still at the Ferry Building on Saturdays and the Marin Civic Center's farmers market on Sundays.

"If there's anything being a farmer's wife taught me, it's that life is hard," she says. "I've had 20 years of training to navigate through this difficult time with grace and calm."

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