Creative types

Creative types

Power in numbers
Listed in the 1996-1998 National Directory of Who’s Who of Executives and Professionals and in the Who’s Who in California since 1981; Thirty-six years of meditation, some of it under the tutelage of a 72nd generation Taoist master; drift diving at 80 feet below the surface of the open sea amid hundreds of hammerhead sharks and sans the benefit of a cage, for three straight summers; 15-years teaching Conceptual Thinking and Visual Communication in Graphic Design at Ventura College; 10 days x 2 on a deserted island in the Sea of Cortez, living entirely off the ocean; more than 30 years as an award-winning designer/conceptualist with a laundry list of big name clients; 12 years giving The Art of CREATIVITY workshop at locations around the world; 300 feet underground and eight chambers deep into an ancient Mayan cave = one full life.

Streams of consciousness
At some point during his teaching tenure at Ventura College, James Graca noticed that his students, though talented and able, were complacent — happy to take a formulaic approach to creativity. Envisioning a path of self-discovery for his students rather than a rote learning process, Graca’s workshop was born. It’s the difference, he says, between knowledge and wisdom. “Knowledge is reading out of a book, or parroting back,” he explains. “It’s just in your mind.

Wisdom is when you find your own truth, and no one can take that away.”

War & Peace
At only 18 years of age, Graca found himself fully immersed in the brutality of the Vietnam War. As a machine gun squad leader and platoon sergeant, he was exposed to things unimaginable to many. After being sent home with three purple hearts, he realized he wanted to live every moment 100 percent to its fullest. He likens it to a past-life experience that was necessary in order to experience life as the warrior and life on a sage path. “Totally direct opposites, and I experienced what each one was — very yin and yang,” he says.

Nothing to fear
Graca’s workshop is designed to be a safe place to explore and unleash the creative force that sometimes gets suppressed by self-censorship, distraction, etc. “This course is about becoming creatively fearless and self-expressed,” says Graca. “Stepping out of your thoughts of you, your identity, and becoming the state of being creativity 24/7.”

And it’s not limited to artistic expression, he says. It’s very much about the whole life experience and approaching everything with “wonderment.” To quote someone whose name escapes him, “It’s not resorting back to childhood; it’s an emptying of adulthood.” And it’s not something you forget a week after you finish the workshop. “People just live this,” he says.

The journey is the reward
Among the numerous success stories to emerge from Graca’s workshop, is that of Aaron Boyd, who Graca says “reinvented” himself as a result of his experience. He went from waiting tables in Ventura to running an eco-tourism business in Latin America, a vocation that ultimately led him and Graca to an Indiana Jones-meets-the-Dalai Lama-style vision quest to sacred and largely unknown Mayan locations in the remotest parts of the rainforest last month. Recently, Graca learned that four graduates of the workshop just won all four top honors in an Ojai photography competition. This kind of news is not unusual for Graca, who receives e-mail on a regular basis from former students about their continued success and happiness. “It’s a true adventure of stepping off the edge of the cliff into the mystery, and in that mystery is where you find yourself and your creativity every moment.”   

The next The Art of CREATIVITY workshop with James Graca begins Aug. 10. The deadline to register is Tuesday, Aug. 3. Send an E-mail to with the word WORKSHOP in the subject field. 

Creative types

Creative types

Sweet (and spicy) tooth
These aren’t your grandmother’s truffles, though she might have loved them. Such exotic flavors as honey chipotle lavender, Chinese five spice or wasabi ginger — like nothing you’ve tasted before — it’s all part of Kate Dunbar’s wildly imaginative plan to set your sweet tooth on its ear.

Mother of invention
When Dunbar enrolled in business training at Women’s Economic Ventures (WEV), it was with every intention of starting a business — just not this one. Discovering that a permit for her infused spirits venture would not be forthcoming, and facing a deadline to announce the venture, she saw very few options. “So I just stood up and said, ‘My name is Kate Dunbar, and I specialize in awakening your five senses through food.’  I didn’t know what I was saying, it just came out: ‘I’m the owner of Petite Rêve Chocolates.’ I didn’t even realize it was going to be the name until then, but it’s always been something I loved. Petite Rêve is French for little dream. It’s like every dream; it starts out little, then we make it grow bigger.”

Imitations need not apply
Dunbar hails from the deep roots of Ventura’s farming families — McGrath and Coultas — a pedigree that informs every choice she makes in her kitchen.  “I come from a farming family; we started Ventura County 145 years ago, so getting food from farmers and making something from it — it’s who I am,” she explains. It’s a simple idea that proves revolutionary to some. “One competitor came over to me and said, ‘What do you mean you only use fresh ingredients? We just buy the flavors and the additives and the pre-made ganache.’ That stuff is available, the salesmen keep calling me — I’m just not interested.”

Dare to dream . . .
Petite Rêve’s official coming-out party was the recent Casa Pacifica Wine & Food Festival, and Dunbar’s unusual blends were a smash hit with both patrons and purveyors. “I knew I’d created something really good when the prep chefs were sent over to my table to grab desserts for some of the head chefs — and then a few minutes later the head chefs themselves came over to see what was going on.”
. . . Then dream big

In a market replete with treats, Dunbar’s recipe for success comes from the freshness of her fare and a determination to do things her own way. “In the planning stage I wondered, ‘who’s going to buy them?’ ” she recalls. “Well, people who don’t want crap in their food, who are tired of preservatives, who want to eat fresh food.”  In an age of exploding nutritional awareness, it’s a market that will surely keep growing. “Part of my plan is to go into restaurants that want something created for them if their pastry chef doesn’t have time,” she explains, “or can’t afford a pastry chef and want something special outsourced.  The bridal market is another target, with our spice brownies and French macaroons — and our crepe cakes for Mother’s Day, they’re fantastic.”

Eat, drink and be merry
“I hate seeing women bored in the grocery store,” she confides. “I just want to put my arm around them and say, ‘Oh, come on, let’s go find some stuff together! Let’s do something, because that box you’re holding, that’s just bad for you.’ ”   

Petite Rêve  Chocolates may be ordered online by visiting Dunbar hand-delivers orders to residents in Ventura County and other addresses in So Cal.

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