BY ADAM PECHAL
CHEF/OWNER OF TULI BISTRO, RESTAURANT THIR13EN AND TULI CATERING.
If you pay even cursory attention to the local media, you've heard the phrase "Farm To Fork." You've likely heard some good, maybe heard some bad, and hopefully missed the ugly as it all has permeated our local media-sphere.
At its core, "Farm to Fork" is a term that has been around for some time, at least since the 70's when the indispensable Alice Waters came on the Berkeley culinary scene. Farm to table, organic, local, seasonal, sustainable; marketing clichés that have been littering restaurant menus as long as I've been in the trade, but "Farm to Fork" is different. . . isn't it?
I sat down with six locals who eat, drink and breathe Farm to Fork every day to discuss how the concept is changing our local scene. What better place than Geoff's Curtis Park brewery Track 7 to lubricate the conversation! Their newly released "Hoppy Palm Pale" is a pale style ale made with Cascade hops grown on Geoff"s uncle's farm in nearby Hood, Ca.
GEOFF SCOTT: BREWER/OWNER, TRACK 7 BREWING
CHRIS MACIAS:FOOD & WINE WRITER, THE SACRAMENTO BEE
BILLY NGO: CHEF/OWNER, KRU RESTAURANT
MICHAEL PASSMORE: OWNER/FISH-WRANGLER, PASSMORE RANCH
BRIAN GUIDO: MICROFILM TECH AT CALIFORNIA STATE ARCHIVES/ FREELANCE BACON PROMOTER
CURTIS FONG: PRINT SHOP OWNER/MASTER EATER
ME: CHEF/OWNER, TULI BISTRO, RESTAURANT THIR13EN
AP "Now that's 'Farm To Glass' right there. . . These hops came directly from your family's farm, right?"
GS "My family's owned the land since the 40's. We've been growing pears and apples on the ranch, and some other row crops like corn and tomatoes and safflower. It started out as an asparagus farm, and my great grandfather had one of the first shipments of fresh asparagus back to New York from California. They were putting in I-5, and so he apparently figured out he would get paid more if I-5 went through his land if it were an orchard."
AP "So you and your family have been Farm to Fork for decades now! That's really interesting, and something I'm sure the average consumer doesn't always consider.
(TO CF) You're one of my best customers, and an impressive eater. As a guy who goes out all the time, do you think about what's Farm to Fork when you go out?"
CF "That' what is great about Sacramento; the local food culture here is a lot of small individual restaurants that are willing to use fresh local produce and meats and fishes. Everything is fresh, it's innovative, it's creative, and that's what people are looking for. . . That's what I look for when I go out to eat, definitely."
AP(TO MP) "As the local sturgeon peddler, how's it been trying to move such an unconventional fish such as sturgeon to local restaurants?"
MP "Sacramento diners have changed in the past three years. We've been serving chefs about three years now, from the time I first brought in a sturgeon to Randall (Selland). I was pleasantly surprised. . . and not because it's our fish, but I know if our fish is out there, it's not all salmon and halibut anymore. I think it's cool as heck that it's not just dominated by the major three fish."
CF "I had never tried sturgeon. Actually, I tried it at Kru first. It was just the seared. . . "
BN "Oh, it was the sashimi."
CF "Yeah and it was just like 'Whoa! Why haven't I had this before?' And then I've had it at other places like Grange on Friday night. It was incredible! The whole Sacramento food culture has changed."
CM "People love to eat, especially in Sac. Also, just like the variety of foods that you find down here too; it's not just like one thing. Bacon can be interpreted in so many different ways, whether it's some Korean bulgogi or whatever, but I think it always comes down to that accessibility."
AP "Speaking of accessibility, there's been a lot of talk about this bridge dinner and who it was for. Do you think this movement is targeting only certain demographics? Or can anybody Farm to Fork?"
MP "It was a pricey dinner. Right now my budget would not have allowed me to really go there, and I chose to work instead."
AP "Same here, although I honestly was happier to be on the bridge cooking and watching the whole thing go down."
CM "I think that the issue a lot of people have – they're not all foodies. People have felt the economic pinch here in a lot of ways, and some people haven't. When there's this perception that some people have access to the good stuff and it's not an even playing field, y'know Joe and Mary Public from Rocklin would love to have dinner on the bridge with all of these people, that's $350, that's a lot out of a typical family budget."
BG "That's really important to us when we do things like BaconFest and BLT Week. We only really have one event that we charge money for, and even that's a bargain. I mean its only 30 to 35 bucks, and you get all these bites, you get a few drinks out of it, and we pretty much give everything we make to, like the Center For Land Based Learning or something like that."
AP "Events like that can get tricky, though. Charities need money, people want a low price but the chefs want to give it their best and we often get caught holding the bag.
(TO BN) You know, you're at a lot of these events with me. At least you're bringing rice."
BN "We donate our time, but you have to pay your staff members to go out and make the product. You make a joke about my rice, but product isn't cheap. . ."
AP "Right, of course, you're probably not using the cheap stuff ."
BN "My rice is not cheap."
CM "Where do you get your rice from?"
BN "Michael Bosworth. Next Generation Foods, out by Sleep Train Amphitheater. 100% organic, single lot. Most brands of rice there, it's all mixing groves and stuff. You hear that term with wine, but rice, typically, rice grows and they'll just grow like that and mix harvests together or sell to the big brands. They'll buy from different farmers, different lots but. . . "
AP "Like a field blend, if you will?"
BN "Yeah. So, y'know, you know where it's coming from."
CM "I'm just curious, as far as the restaurant goes, what's the difference in price? And I'm not talking in exact dollars and cents, but in getting that awesome rice out near Sleep Train versus getting Nishiki?"
BN "Oh, double the price."
AP "And that's just the thing; I hear people ask, "Where's all this money going to?" And the fact is, at the very least, some of it is paying for the local product, and going to the farmers, right?
(TO MP) "I mean, did you cut a deal for those fish for the dinner, those 75 sturgeon?"
MP "No, I didn't. None was asked for, none was given." AP "So you made a bunch of money?"
MP "I did, actually."
AP "Good for you!"
MP "That was the other cool thing. My wife and I were walking out of there, I see all of the toilets, I see all of the rental companies, I see the folks on their bikes grabbing all the bottles for recycling, and I'm thinking about how big just the impact was from that dinner alone on the local economy. It was completely unexpected, but not a bad thing."
CM "It's a little tough, especially when you have a movement that's trying to be populous about everything; the 'salt of the earth.' This is about the farmers, this is about local eating, and then when it looks like certain people have more access than others, that's where people get ruffled. I think that ultimately, though, it was really cool to see everybody coming together, good vibes, and just the camaraderie is what it comes down to. I don't really know if you find that a lot in other cities."
AP "No, you really don't."