Randy Pench / Sacramento Bee

The Tower Bridge that links Sacramento and West Sacramento will be the ultimate on-the-river dining spot Sunday.

Farm-to-Fork Tower Bridge Dinner to include many Sacramento movers and shakers

Published: Tuesday, Sep. 24, 2013 - 10:33 am
Last Modified: Wednesday, Sep. 25, 2013 - 9:53 am

It’s an event that’s generated its fair share of excitement and controversy.

Sunday’s sold-out Farm-to-Fork Tower Bridge Dinner will cap a week of festivities surrounding Sacramento’s self-minted identity as America’s Farm-to-Fork Capital, with an all-star cast of area chefs cooking locally sourced dishes for a crowd of 600.

Diners at the $175-per-ticket event will be seated at a long, communal table that spans the bridge’s length and symbolically links the agricultural heritages of Sacramento and Yolo counties. The Tower Bridge itself will be closed for nine hours to accommodate the event.

While proceeds from the dinner are being used to fund free public events during Farm-to-Fork Week — including a cattle drive held Monday near the state Capitol and a festival coming up Saturday on Capitol Mall — the Sacramento food community has debated the exclusive dinner’s ticket cost and overall benefits for months.

“We’re trying to generate money in order to do the free cattle drive and free festival,” Mike Testa, senior vice president of the Sacramento Convention & Visitors Bureau, said of the dinner.

However, scoring a much-coveted ticket to the Tower Bridge feast may have been more difficult than originally thought — at least as far as John Q. Foodie is concerned.

A recent press release sent on behalf of the Sacramento Convention and Visitors Bureau, the event’s primary organizer, stated that the dinner will be attended by “(s)ix hundred guests lucky enough to have purchased tickets when they first became available.”

Approximately 200 individual tickets were made available to the general public, the bureau later clarified. Sponsored tables of eight, many of which were solicited before the dinner’s July 1 on-sale date, account for 346 attendees. Thirty-four pre-sale tickets were held for key participants and their guests, including chef Patrick Mulvaney, who’s taken a lead role in organizing the culinary end of the dinner, Ella Dining Room & Bar executive chef Ravin Patel and Brian May, former deputy general manager of the California State Fair.

The RSVP list includes movers and shakers in area industries and such civic officials as Christopher Cabaldon, mayor of West Sacramento, and Don Saylor, Yolo County supervisor for District 2. Also scheduled to attend are real estate developers Sotiris Kolokotronis and Roman Benvenuti, grandson of the late Sacramento developer Joe Benvenuti. Food truck advocates Paul Somerhausen and Catherine Enfield also purchased tickets, as did Bill Easton of Terre Rouge & Easton Wines of Plymouth.

A waiting list for tickets was capped at 200 potential diners after the event was declared a sellout July 1. Additional tickets are expected to be released before Sunday, organizers said.

The sponsored tables of eight, which sold for $3,000 and $5,000 each, feature a mix of businesses from corporate America and the greater Sacramento area. The fast food giant McDonald’s and Chipotle each purchased a table of eight. Jiffy Lube, Merrill Lynch and the Sacramento branch of Sysco, the national food distributor, also claimed tables.

A table of eight was also reserved for the California Department of Food and Agriculture and guests. Karen Ross, secretary of the department and former president of the California Association of Winegrape Growers, is scheduled to attend with her husband and other associates. Testa said each seat at the table was paid for with a personal check, not department funds.

“They are attending as private citizens,” said Steve Lyle, spokesman for the department. “As far as I know, the only one going (from the department) is the secretary and her husband.”

Among businesses that bought a table sponsorship: Nugget Markets; the Sacramento Kings; UC Davis; Sacramento magazine; The Sacramento Bee; and Capital Public Radio. Some reduced-rate tables were offered to local media organizations in exchange for advertising. (The Bee did not pay a reduced rate for its table.)

“You’re not seeing any sponsors there for free,” Testa said.

Sunday’s dinner has required a mammoth amount of planning. The Tower Bridge will be closed to traffic from 1 to 10 p.m., though pedestrian walkways will remain open. Along with the 600 diners, a 250-person staff will be required for setup, cleanup and service needs. A test run of the dishes, including roasted pork with blistered peppers, was held Sept. 16 at Mulvaney’s B&L restaurant with 20 chefs and other staff members.

The Sacramento Convention & Visitors Bureau and other entities have been working out the logistics since the beginning of the year. Given that the bridge is owned by the state, organizers have had to coordinate with the California Highway Patrol, along with the police departments of Sacramento and West Sacramento.

“It wasn’t easy,” Testa said about closing the bridge to traffic during the dinner. “We had a little precedence in that we do shut it down on New Year’s Eve for fireworks. Part of what factored in was this was a Sunday and you won’t have that office traffic. (This) certainly may cause some inconvenience, but it won’t be insurmountable.”

The dinner has raised $142,900 through ticket sales and table sponsorships, while the event itself will cost more than $92,000 to produce. Expenses include paying close to a dozen police officers at $58 an hour, plus the cost of road closures and paying service staff members. The net of approximately $50,000 will be used toward funding the cattle drive and free public festival, Testa said.

Though rain’s not in the forecast for Sunday, showers would cause a postponement of the dinner. Tenting the bridge isn’t a practical option. Organizers are meanwhile confident that the Tower Bridge dinner will play a perfect host for the gala feast.

“It’s the region’s icon, and this was the right venue to do it,” Testa said.

Call The Bee’s Chris Macias, (916) 321-1253. Follow him on Twitter @chris_macias

Read more articles by Chris Macias

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