Gia Baiocchi has been passionate about food since childhood. Now, this homegrown vegan goddess is working her culinary magic at The Nectary at The Barlow in Sebastopol, elevating fruits and vegetables to a higher level.
The story of her deep connection with health-giving food began when her childhood neighbors, pianist Elaine Langlois and violinist Mark Sokol, would hold classical concerts in their home and serve delicious vegetarian food to their guests. Nine-year-old Gia, a student of Elaine’s, would help out. “Elaine and Mark became my ‘spirit parents.’ They opened my eyes and tastes; they seasoned me,” she said.
After graduating from high school, Gia learned about culinary herbs and food as medicine from Rosemary Gladstar and Catherine Abby Rich, master herbalists and herbal educators. Following her heart and bliss, she became a trail guide in Yosemite, explored Costa Rica and lived in a yurt in West Sebastopol.
In 2003, Gia moved to Kaua’i where she raised vegetables, sold goat cheese at the Farmers’ Market and eventually worked as a line cook at the Blossoming Lotus, an all-vegan and raw foods restaurant. with a juice bar, bakery and catering kitchen, that made the little town of Kapa’a a culinary hot spot for the entire island. “That’s where I grew my entrepreneurial spirit. There were seven of us hippie kids in our 20s. It’s a miracle we stayed in business as long as we did,” she laughed. “And we’re all still friends. It was an epic experience.”
Eight years later, she returned to the mainland, lived in a remote paradise on the North Coast with frequent visits to her home turf of Sebastopol and contemplated the next phase of her life. She knew what she wanted—a healthy, sustainable lifestyle in alignment with the highest good for all beings and to be of service—but didn’t yet have a clear picture of what that might look like.
Then, in September 2013, she met a friend for coffee at Taylor Maid Farms in the new Barlow complex and noticed an empty space designated for a juice shack; the business had been approved and was ready for build-out. The location resonated with her—and sensing that this spot might be the answer to her prayer of right livelihood and right relations, she tapped into her higher consciousness—the universe—with the thought, “If this project isn’t for the highest good for everyone, keep me in mind. And then I just let it go.”
The following January 2014, she returned to The Barlow and found, instead of a juice shack, an empty shell. “I had an ‘aha!’ moment. Just complete clarity. ‘I’m going to open a juice bar.’ I picked up the phone and called my friend Jeffrey [Hustler]. And he was super enthusiastic about it and onboard [to partner up with her financially]. Barlow developer Barney Aldridge had lived in Kaua’i and knew of The Blossoming Lotus, so it was a real ‘aloha in’ for us,” Gia said.
Things moved very quickly from that point. Gia and Jeffrey worked together to design the space; Jeffrey supervised the build-out, while Gia developed the menu. On July 3rd, they opened The Nectary—a juice and smoothie apothecary bar offering, simply put, artisanal raw and dehydrated foods, both sweet and savory, prepared in small batches to retain the highest integrity.
But Gia’s intention in creating the menu held a deeper and more complex vision. According to the mission statement on The Nectary website: In harmonizing with the ancient lineage of Nature’s self-organizing intelligence (aka flowering plants), we create an exhilarating opportunity for you to restore, rebalance, regenerate, rejuvenate, replenish, revitalize your body by imbibing the elemental power of plants, herbs, flowers, cultures and microbes . . . raising the consciousness of our community by providing Pranic nourishment in the form of liquid sunlight, that truly feeds your body.mind.spirit . . . infusing every cell of your evolutionary being with bioavailable, phytonutrient dense, enzyme-rich vitamins and minerals intentionally prepared into mouth-watering and soul-satisfying alchemical creations of pure food and drink.
Gia believes in the Hippocratic philosophy: Let food be thy medicine. “What’s important to me is empowering people to make changes in their own health,” she said. “Health and wellness are what I’m passionate about. This is my self-expression, my art. I’m kind of an alchemist. I love to experiment in the kitchen; put together things that sound good, taste good and look good. It has to be a superior product—made with love and intention—those are ingredients.”
Inside The Nectary
The Nectary’s menu is guided by seasonal local produce and tropical fruits like pineapple and mango, with specific recipes, refined over time, for a balance of flavors. The Superfood Smoothies were developed with sustainable energy in mind, a balance of healthy proteins, fats and sugars, and high quality supplements. Wellness Shots have ginger juice, coconut kefir and trace minerals. Fermented drinks have probiotics for boosting immunity, promoting the growth of beneficial microflora in the gut. Stimulating hot tonics are made with apple juice, ginger, lemon and cayenne or reishi mushrooms and coconuts. Golden cashew milk is flavored with vanilla and honey. There are four different kinds of nut and seed milks sweetened with yacon and mesquite for sugar-sensitive folks.
The Nectary space feels warm and intimate, with gleaming stainless steel work areas, a copper-clad bar, wooden bar seats and cabinets. A surfboard is propped up in the corner, and a giant mandala depicting the sun and earth overlooks the kitchen. In the retail section, nut butters, raw granola and dehydrated crackers share the shelves with healing herbs, vitality boosters and dehydrated snacks, all with compostable or recyclable packaging. A refrigerator is stocked with rows of vibrantly colored, cold-pressed juices in reusable glass bottles, labeled with whimsical names and health-supporting properties, all ready to grab and go.
Customers can sit at the bar and have a smoothie or wellness shot made to order. As I sipped a refreshing, pale pink, 2-ounce Shakti Silver Rose wellness shot (raw coconut water, rose, fulvic acid, and ionic silver and gold for immune system support), I watched one of the staff blend up a Pura Vida Acai Coconut Smoothie (menu ingredients: acai berries, strawberries, banana, date, kale, house-made raw coconut-hemp mylk, coconut water and full spectrum antioxidant superfood powder), while another staff member pressed locally sourced organic produce into juice on the Good Nature X-l, which has center stage behind the copper clad bar.
This impressive industrial juicer, nicknamed “Buffy the Vegetable Slayer,” has a low-RPM blade that grinds the produce and drops it into a bag, which is pressed between two plates with a hydraulic press. The juice is extracted slowly and will retain nutritive value for three to five days with just refrigeration. The remaining residue is collected in buckets for vermiculture compost.
Having eaten Gia’s food at the Blossoming Lotus and happily in my own kitchen, where she transformed produce gathered from my garden and from the local grocery into a beautiful, flavorful, imaginative feast, and now in this current venue, I can personally vouch for her deep commitment to food as both medicine and art. The mouth-watering photos on The Nectary’s website and postings on its Facebook page of inspired daily creations will entice you to try them.
Now that The Nectary is up and running at The Barlow, Gia is looking ahead toward growing the business, perhaps opening branches in the greater Bay Area. With her creative vision and an assist from the universe, it will surely happen. SD