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  • Sacramento Stakes Claim as America's Farm-to-Fork Capital

    Farm to Fork 2013 Gala Dinner Night PicmonkeyOver-the-water dinner setting

    by Dan Clarke

    Sacramento has declared itself the leader in a category which has no universal definition, no absolute standards. However, a persuasive case can be made that this city in the most agriculturally productive state in the U.S. deserves the title “America's Farm-to-Fork Capital.” Sacramento is surrounded by farmland. Chefs in Sacramento have ready access to raw ingredients that their brethren in bigger and more glamorous locations could only dream about.

    In the past Sacramento suffered the reputation of being a cultural and culinary backwater. Local radio personalities called the city “Sacra-Tomato” (and this was not meant as a compliment). Chain restaurants predominated and residents looking for a good meal would often drive to San Francisco, rather than patronize local options.

    Times change, though. As Sacramento shed its inferiority complex, it began to realize that things weren't really so bad. In fact, for those who enjoyed their food, things were pretty special.

    Josh Nelson at Sellands Mkt PicmonkeyJosh Nelson got it started“Josh Nelson approached us in late summer of 2012, announcing that we should be 'the Farm to Fork Capital of America',” recalled Mike Testa, who's in charge of business development for the Sacramento Convention and Visitors Bureau. In a matter of hours the Mayor had been contacted and soon agreement had been reached to promote the concept with “four really special events” to involve the community. Confessing to some apprehension, Testa remembers thinking, “If the locals don't buy in, then the rest of the world won't.”

    Nelson is proud of his home town and is a good spokesman for it. He's part of a team that operates two fine dining restaurants in Sacramento, The Kitchen and Ella, and two wine market and deli operations. While he's quick to point out that his father, Randall Selland, is the chef in the family, Nelson has grown up in the restaurant business. “We always shopped small family farms for The Kitchen,” he recalled. “Since 1991 we've done this—not to be a 'locavore,' but to source the best product. We have a bounty of local crops. We have great product in the area.”Farm-to-Fork Festival 2013 Capitol Mall PicmonkeyEvent on Mall drew 25,000

    Years ago Los Angeles Laker coach Phil Jackson dismissed Sacramento as “a cow town.” The city puckishly embraced that identity last September with a cattle drive up Capitol Mall, the first of their four Farm-to-Fork Week events. Ostensibly celebrating the availability of high quality proteins in the area, it was a natural made-for-media opportunity and created national news.

    A second occasion, a tasting on the Capitol lawn dubbed “Legends of Wine,” honored Darrell Corti and David Berkeley, locals with international reputations. The Convention and Visitor's Bureau considers itself a regional marketer and, especially for the purposes of defining itself as the Farm-to-Fork Capital, includes much of the surrounding area as parts of the whole. Yolo County, just across the Sacramento River to the west, is home to the UC Davis College of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences and lots of farm acreage.

    In another gathering that was both symbolic and attention grabbing, authorities closed the Tower Bridge for a gala dinner with diners seated on the span that links the City of Sacramento and all that land to the west providing so much goodness for the table. Six hundred tickets to the $175 a plate meal went on sale in July of 2013 and sold out in a matter of hours.

    The fourth and final event was the Festival on Capitol Mall and it surely was proof that locals were intrigued. The event was free and open to the public, who could meet growers, see cooking demonstrations and buy food if they liked. “We'd hoped for 10,000 people,” explained Mike Testa. “We got 25,000. The crowd was educated, engaged and eager to celebrate the Farm-to-Fork concept.”

    Jim Mills in Produce Express Whse PicmonkeyJim MillsAs a former chef, Produce Express' Sales Manager Jim Mills has close ties to the area's restaurant community. “We have over 1200 accounts in the Sacramento Valley,” he commented. “These range from taquerias to the area's finest restaurants.” Mills has been pivotal in creating a liaison between specialty growers and an appreciative corps of area chefs.

    One of those chefs is Patrick Mulvaney, whose Mulvaney's B&L has been in the forefront of Sacramento restaurants sourcing high-quality ingredients from nearby farms. A native of Long Island, Mulvaney worked as waiter in New York restaurants after taking a degree in English at Union College. Realizing that if he were to reach his goal of owning a restaurant, he'd need to understand how a kitchen worked, Patrick headed off to Ireland. There he apprenticed to a man who'd been Executive Chef for the P & O Cruise Line. On his return to the States, Mulvaney gained experience in the kitchens of several New York restaurants before working his way west. Eventually Mulvaney achieved a second degree in Food Science and Technology at UC Davis and later worked in the Napa Valley with the famed teaching chef, Madeleine Kammen. By this time, says Mulvaney, he had fallen in love with California and with the access to the fresh ingredients he found there. The menu at his midtown Sacramento restaurant changes daily and the chef is acutely aware of the ever-developing bounty available to him. “I moved here in 1994. It's now 2014,” he commented. “Has the percentage of iceberg lettuce to mixed baby salad greens changed in that time?”Patrick Mulvaney late May 2014 PicmonkeyPatrick Mulvaney champions local products

    Earlier this year Mulvaney was invited to create a dinner for the Beard House in New York City. Named for the late chef and cookbook author, the James Beard Foundation operates a restaurant that features notable chefs who bring their own culinary styles for one-night appearances. On March 13th, he and his Mulvaney's B&L kitchen crew presented a dinner there billed as A Promise of Spring: Savoring Sacramento. “It was a seven course meal,” explained Mulvaney. “Everything but the water, bread and Irish whiskey (served with dessert) came from California and most of that from within 50 miles of Sacramento. On a cold, rainy night in New York we were giving them food they wouldn't see for months—things like green garlic, asparagus from the delta and fava beans grown at Sac High's garden. It was a proud day for California, a proud day for Sacramento.”

    Special events such as cattle drives and dinners on bridges capture public attention for a while, but the goal is to create an ongoing reputation for Sacramento as America's Farm-to-Fork Capital. “The model we looked at for success was Austin, Texas, which bills itself as “The Live Music Capitol of the World,” said Mike Testa. “This year we'll spend over half-a-million dollars on this issue, though some of that we hope will be offset (by participating businesses). Year two must be more than just the four special events,” he stressed. To that end, the Convention and Visitors Bureau has hired two full-time employees, Nicole Rogers and Kari Miskit, to develop the concept. “Nicole's job is to find the next steps to move this forward. Kari's is to make sure the story's being told,” said Testa.

    This September, Farm-to-Fork Week will actually expand to two weeks. No cattle will be seen on downtown streets this year, but the Capitol Mall will again be the site of an expanded food festival open to the public (Latest updates on this September's events can be found at farmtofork.com).

    Farm-to-Fork is undoubtedly a clever marketing concept, but underlying the hoopla of Sacramento's branding campaign there's plenty of substance. Jim Mills of Produce Express admits there's “a little bit of smoke and mirrors,” but emphasizes there is also “a whole lot of sincerity.” Patrick Mulvaney says “My goal is just to promote the wonderful work of the farmers. In an earlier era, the rock-stars were the chefs. Now we think that in the future the stars will be the farmers. As we begin to embrace our agricultural heritage and interact with the farmers, it lifts the spirit of the whole region.”

    Editor's note: If you're planning on visiting this part of California's heartland, check out the Central Valley listings in Taste California Travel's Resource Directory. There you will find links to the websites of hundreds of Lodging and Dining options, as well as links to area craft beer purveyors and to nearby wineries.

  • Six Spots to Picnic in the Fog

    People Dogs Romp by GG Bridge PicmonkeyPeople and dogs romp by Golden Gate Bridge

    TASTE News Service July 21, 2014 - When visitors in other cities swelter in summer's heat and picnic plans are abandoned for air conditioned cafes, San Francisco's typical weather report is an invitation to gather up the picnic basket, blanket and head out. For a new take on the traditional picnic lunch in the sun, visitors can orchestrate their al fresco dining around San Francisco's fabulous spectacle of summer fog. 

    Summer fog is common, but not an everyday event, so a bit of spontaneity works in favor of those in pursuit of a fog adventure.  Morning and evening fog rolls into San Francisco Bay from June to August, pushing its way through the Golden Gate Bridge towers, drifting and swirling up and over the Marin Headlands, and nestling up against shoreline piers.  Then, more often than not, it magically stops before consuming the city itself. Timing is essential, and layers are key.  By mid-day the sun has burned off the white wispy stuff so people shed their jackets and sweaters to bask in the sun before the fog rolls in again by late afternoon.

    Here are a few suggestions on where to find fog-viewing spots.

    Battery East
    A grass-covered earthen work fortification built in the 1870s, Battery East offers pristine vistas of the Golden Gate Bridge and the Pacific Ocean. Stake out one of the picnic tables located off parking area from Lincoln Boulevard in the Presidio and watch the curtains part on one of Nature’s most dramatic scenes.  www.nps.gov/prsf/planyourvisit/battery-east.htm

    Crissy Field

    This quiet stretch of shoreline is the gateway to San Francisco. Opened to the public in the spring of 2001, the West Bluff and East Beach picnic areas offer bayside tables. From Marina Boulevard, drive past Marina Green to the Presidio and bear right on to Mason Street. Not only is Crissy Field famed as a windsurfing site, it also offers some of the most remarkable views of the bridge, bay and city to be had.  www.presidio.gov/explore/Pages/crissy-field.aspx

    East Fort Baker
    Just below the northern end of the Golden Gate Bridge and Vista Point lies East Fort Baker.  This secluded recreation area with views of the bay is often sunny when the western park areas are fogged in.

    Walk from the nearby Golden Gate Transit bus stop or drive down Bunker Road to East Fort Baker to find this treasure complete with a fishing pier, the innovative Bay Area Discovery Museum, historical brick fortifications of Battery Cavallo and concrete gun emplacements of Battery Yates.

    The grassy parade grounds and coastal bluffs of East Fort Baker combine to make a protected picnic spot that is out of the wind, but still offers pristine fog bank views. www.nps.gov/goga/planyourvisit/fort-baker.htm

    Angel Island, Sausalito and Alcatraz     
    The weather at Angel Island, Sausalito and Alcatraz isn't as predictable for fog fans; they can be terrific view spots or be totally socked in.  However, baycruise companies offer a choice of destinations and can usually give sure-fire suggestions for getting into or out of a fog bank.  www.angelisland.com. www.sausalito.org www.nps.gov/alca/index.htm.

    Mt. Tamalpais
    Just 15 minutes north of the Golden Gate Bridge and Marin Headlands, Mt. Tamalpais' summit is less than a half-mile high.  But, the mountain rises almost straight up from sea level and offers 360¡ views of the entire Bay Area and west to the Pacific Ocean.  On foggy days, the meadows, grasslands, forests and creeks at lower elevations are sometimes enveloped in a dreamlike fog, yet other peaks are visible just above.  The park has numerous parking areas, trailheads, scenic overlooks and two drive-in picnic areas with day-use facilities.

    The 20-minute descent on West Ridgecrest Boulevard on the northern flank of "Mt. Tam" affords a great road for a sunset drive when the fog is in. www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=471

    Tilden Regional Park
    Across the bay and atop the Berkeley-Oakland Hills lies Tilden Regional Park.  Magnificent views are the reward for ascending the Sea View Trail.  Eucalyptus and Monterey pine trees line the trail that runs south from Inspiration Point off Wildcat Canyon Road and can be reached by car or AC Transit from the Berkeley BART station.  www.ebparks.org/parks/tilden.htm

    Editor's note: If you're planning a visit to the San Francisco Bay Area, we suggest you check out the San Francisco and Bay Area listings in Taste California Travel's Resource Directory. There you'll find links to the websites of hundreds of Lodging and Dining options, as well as links to craft beer purveyors and nearby wineries.

  • Stone Brewing to Open First American Craft Brewery in Europe

    Stone Brewing Berlin smallStone Brewing Berlin at Marienpark

    ESCONDIDO, CA--(Marketwired - July 19, 2014) - The 10th largest craft brewer in the United States, Stone Brewing Co., today announced plans to open a production brewery and expansive destination restaurant in Berlin, Germany. With an anticipated opening in late 2015 or early 2016, the San Diego County operation is making an initial investment of more than $25 million to renovate a historic gasworks complex in Marienpark Berlin, turning the more than two acres (9,290 square meters) of indoor and outdoor space into a world-class operation that will welcome beer enthusiasts from around the globe. Stone will be the first American craft brewer to independently own and operate a brewery in Europe. Stone Brewing Co. - Berlin will encompass three components: a brewery and packaging hall, a Stone Brewing World Bistro & Gardens restaurant and a Stone Company Store.

    "This is a historic moment for Stone. I've wanted to say these next words for many years now: We're coming to Europe. We're coming to Germany. We are coming to Berlin!" said Stone CEO and Co-founder Greg Koch. "It has been a long time coming and I couldn't be more proud to say that we are finally on our way to being the first American craft brewer to own and operate our own brewery in Europe. Once open, we will bring Germany and the rest of Europe a taste of our craft beer vision, and look forward to sharing the unique beers that we have spent the last 18 years brewing."

    "Stone's future European home will serve as the company's international hub; a central location promoting goodwill and quality craft beer spanning the globe," said Stone President and Co-founder Steve Wagner. "With this expansion comes our commitment to brewing bold, aggressive, hop-forward beers in a country with a long history rooted in the art of brewing."

    The company will transform the setting into a one-of-a-kind destination that includes:

    • A spectacular, historic, red brick main hall built in 1901 measuring 43,000-plus square feet (3,994 square meters), featuring a vaulted ceiling that will house a custom-built, stainless steel brewhouse, an eclectic farm-to-table restaurant, and retail store featuring specialty Stone beers and merchandise. 

    • A second 20,775-square-foot (1,930 square meters) building that will be utilized for brewing operations and house fermenters, bright tanks, and packaging equipment and materials. Ultimately, the company's signature ales will be packaged and distributed throughout Europe from the facility.

    • A third 1,300-square-foot (120 square meters) building, situated in what will be the expansive gardens, to be utilized as event space.

    Stone saison-bottle PicmonkeyThe property's brewhouse will produce year-round and special-release Stone beers to be packaged, kegged and enjoyed on site and eventually distributed. Stone Brewing World Bistro & Gardens - Berlin will highlight locally grown, organic food that complements the harmonious nature and seasonality of the location's surroundings. As proud supporters of the international Slow Food movement, Stone will ensure that every dish is made from ingredients adhering to Slow Food's principles of good, clean, fair food. An ambassador of the craft beer movement, Stone will serve an extensive array of exceptional craft and specialty beers from other breweries in Germany, Europe and across the world, both on tap and in bottles.

    Additionally, the company launched an Indiegogo crowd-participation campaign today, so fans can participate in the venture by purchasing special collaboration beers to be brewed with award-winning, renowned craft brewers from around the world at Stone Brewing Co. - Berlin once the facility is operational. 

    About Stone Brewing Co.
    Founded by Greg Koch and Steve Wagner in 1996, San Diego-based Stone Brewing Co. is the 10th largest craft brewer in the United States. Stone has been listed on the Inc. 500 | 5,000 Fastest-Growing Private Companies list nine times, and has been called the "All-time Top Brewery on Planet Earth" by BeerAdvocate magazine, twice. The multi-faceted company will be the first American craft brewer to independently own and operate facilities in Berlin, Germany, and also has plans to open a brewery and restaurant east of the Mississippi. Known for its bold, flavorful and largely hop-centric beers, Stone has built a reputation on brewing outstanding, unique ales while maintaining an unwavering commitment to sustainability, business ethics, philanthropy and the art of brewing.

    Editor's note: While we don't have a section devoted to European breweries, we do have links to the websites of nearly all the craft beer purveyors in California. You'll find them in the Taste California Travel's Resource Directory.

  • Malibu Coast Receives American Viticultural Area Status

    MalibuAVAmap Picmonkey

    TASTE News Service, July 18, 2014 — Elliott Dolin, proprietor of Dolin Malibu Estate Vineyards, joins 51 other Malibu-based wine grape growers who today become classified as part of the official Malibu Coast American Viticultural Area (AVA). In 2011 Dolin helped initiate the AVA application, a three-year process that concluded this week.

    "This is a historic day because the formation of the Malibu Coast AVA finally allows wines from Malibu to identify a 'sense of place' on their labels," says Dolin. "Malibu is world-famous, yet very few people are aware of our wine grape growing history which dates back two centuries. While people sunbathe on the beaches, up here in the hills, our vines have been catching some rays of their own."

    Through the AVA application process, a comprehensive study of the region was completed and submitted to the TTB for approval. The region is approximately 46 miles long and 8 miles wide, comprised mainly of the Santa Monica Mountains with 198 acres of vines in production. Elevations range from sea level to 3,111-feet atop Sandstone Peak. The coastal, Mediterranean climate heavily influences the region, offering a large diurnal shift from day to night, with warm dry summers and cool, moist winters. The National Agricultural Statistics Service's "California Grape Acreage Report Crop 2012" documented the most widely planted varietals in Los Angeles County as Cabernet Sauvignon (54 acres), Syrah (15 acres), Merlot (13 acres), and Chardonnay (six acres). The Malibu Coast AVA is also home to two previously established appellations, Saddle-Rock Malibu and Malibu-Newton Canyon.

    The Dolin Malibu Estate Vineyards parcel is located near the western boundary in the hills above the Pacific Coast Highway. The area is relatively cooler in climate compared to the rest of the AVA, and ideal for growing Chardonnay. Proprietor Elliott Dolin and his family planted the site in 2006. Dolin Malibu Estate Vineyards currently produces one Malibu wine, an estate Chardonnay. Later this year, Dolin will welcome the addition of a Malibu proprietary red blend. More information on the wines can be found at www.dolinestate.com.