Contrary to popular belief, not all food at the California State Fair is fried, served on a stick or wrapped in bacon.
At the Dirt to Dish Demonstration Kitchen, nestled in the fair's sprawling 3-acre farm exhibit, chefs will pluck produce and prepare it on the spot Friday through July 28 (visit www.bigfun.org for specific times).
"It's cooking at its freshest," said Nancy Koch, State Fair exhibit supervisor. "Within minutes, you've gone from picking to cooking to eating."
The demo kitchen has been a fair staple since 2005, and for the first time, there will be action every day more than 35 demonstrations featuring local culinary standouts such as chef Patrick Mulvaney of Mulvaney's B&L, farmer Susan Hanks of Hanks Hens & All Things Good, and master gardener Bill Krycia.
Fairgoers can taste samples, pick up recipes and watch the show from the 60 available seats.
Making their first Dirt to Dish appearance are advocates from the California Food Literacy Center, a Sacramento-based nonprofit that aims to help people understand how food choices affect their health, community and environment.
Amber K. Stott, the literacy center's founding executive director, said her group wants to show home cooks that the farm-to-fork mentality shouldn't be intimidating.
Stott's demonstration at 6 p.m. Friday will showcase the tomato in all its glory via three quick recipes: an open-face pesto and tomato sandwich, a panzanella salad and a fresh tomato sauce that can be popped into the freezer for year-round enjoyment.
At 4 p.m Tuesday, Stott will be joined by 11-year-old Aidan Hennessey, who calls himself "the Short Order Cook," for a demo geared toward cooking with kids. Together, they'll whip up fish tacos topped with pico de gallo and a lime paprika sauce.
Working with kids is what Stott does on a regular basis with the Food Literacy Center. She said that kids aren't the picky eaters they're made out to be, citing a successful moment when a group of young people joined her in a feast of raw turnips.
"We get excited about every fruit and vegetable, and then they feel that excitement and want to try everything," she said. "They love to explore."
Meanwhile, Mulvaney said he'll probably serve a shaved squash salad with cherry tomatoes, lemon, olive oil and Sierra Nevada cheese at his 4 p.m. demo July 28. He will only say "probably," though, because the final dish will ultimately depend on what he sees growing onsite.
Mulvaney said he's looking forward to sharing stories, teaching technique and hopefully inspiring people to shop at their local farmers markets.
"It's a way to reach out to folks who have maybe never thought about where their food comes from before," he said.
The Dirt to Dish kitchen is just one part of The Farm, the fair's outdoor exhibit highlighting California's vast agricultural landscape. The exhibit features commercial crops, aquaculture, vertical gardens, a bug pavilion and a farmers market.
This year, Koch brought in a new urban farming section to demonstrate how to grow produce with limited space. The idea came about when she met resistance last year trying to hand out free poppy seeds.
"People tell me that they live in an apartment and can't grow anything," she said. "But you can grow anywhere. You can grow inside your house."
The urban farming exhibit, demonstration kitchen and California Food Literacy Center all share a common goal: to encourage people to cook local, seasonal and healthy meals.
As Stott said: "You think of the State Fair as fried food and rides, but there's a beautiful farm out there with a demo kitchen, and we're cooking up great food."
CALIFORNIA STATE FAIR
Where: 1600 Exposition Blvd., Sacramento
When: Friday through July 28
Open 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Mondays-Thursdays; 10 a.m.-10 p.m. Fridays-Sundays
Admission: $12 general, $10 ages 62-plus, $8 children 5-12, free for children 4 and younger
Call The Bee's Janelle Bitker, (916) 321-1027. Follow her in Twitter @JanelleBitker.