A dinner bell clanged in the middle of the Tower Bridge, signaling that Sunday evening’s $175-per-person feast was ready to roll.
More than 70 tables were strung together in a communal sit-down dinner, this one stretching the length of the Tower Bridge, a symbolic link for the shared agricultural histories of Sacramento and Yolo counties. The dinner, attended by a number of civic officials and business leaders, sought to give a red carpet-like treatment to locally raised pork and other ingredients.
The sold-out feast for 600 attendees marked the grand finale of Sacramento’s inaugural Farm to Fork Week, which kicked off Sept. 20 and included restaurant showcases, educational events and Saturday’s bustling Farm to Fork Festival on the Capitol Mall. These festivities sprung from a civic campaign, launched in October, that branded Sacramento as “America’s Farm to Fork Capital.” Its aim was to boost food tourism to the Sacramento area and recognize the area’s agricultural strengths.
Tickets for Sunday’s Tower Bridge dinner sold out briskly, and attendance throughout the day at Saturday’s Farm to Fork Festival was estimated by the Sacramento Convention and Visitor’s Bureau at more than 25,000. Other events included a Thursday “Legends of Wine” tasting on the west steps of the state Capitol and a cattle drive Monday near the Capitol Mall. The Tower Bridge finale raised money to pay for Saturday’s public festival, the cattle drive and other events.
“For our first year, I think it was very successful,” said Mike Testa, senior vice president of the Sacramento Convention & Visitors Bureau. “It’s been embraced by so many people, from the chefs community to the farmers and nonprofits. The biggest challenge now is the bar is very high for next year, but that’s a good problem to have.”
Sunday’s breezy Tower Bridge dinner included more than a dozen different appetizers, a four-course meal, 10 local wines to sample and desserts served on the nearby riverfront promenade. The flocks of pigeons that call the Tower Bridge home stayed on, apparently well-behaved.
Table sponsorships, which cost $3,000 and $5,000 for a table of eight, were purchased by Downtown Sacramento Partnership, McDonald’s, the Sacramento Municipal Utility District and others. Mayor Kevin Johnson, who proclaimed 2013 as Sacramento’s “year of food,” also attended.
“We’re on a roll in Sacramento,” said Johnson. “We believe we’re playing to our strengths, and we’re finding a way to do it big. You look at all the people out here having a great time. (The movement) is about all of us collectively doing our parts, and I’m really proud.”
The dinner prompted a closure of the Tower Bridge to traffic from 1 p.m. to 10 p.m., with police enforcing detours and private security directing pedestrians to the north side walkway of the bridge. One of the bridge’s pedestrian walkways remained open throughout the dinner.
A few looky-loos stopped on the pedestrian walkway to check out the scene, including Donald Caccamise of Sacramento, who was in the midst of an early evening stroll. As diners just a few feet away feasted on an opening salad course featuring local tomatoes, Caccamise mentioned he recently had become unemployed.
“With the way the economy’s gone and all that, and especially if you’re making minimum wage, a lot of people probably couldn’t afford it,” said Caccamise, after learning that dinner tickets cost $175 each. “I’d sure like to be there. But the event is good for Sacramento and West Sacramento. If it’s for the farmers, that’s all right.”
Some participating restaurateurs reported a slight uptick in business surrounding Farm to Fork Week. Kimio Bazett, a partner in midtown’s Hook & Ladder, estimated his restaurant received about a 10 percent business increase during the week due to its dinner specials.
The ravenous overall response to Farm to Fork Week left many local chefs and officials hopeful for the campaign’s future.
“We’re excited for the dialogue that’s begun and the success of the festival,” said Patrick Mulvaney, chef and proprietor of Mulvaney’s B&L and a key organizer of the Tower Bridge dinner. “We just want to keep making it bigger and bigger.”
Call The Bee’s Chris Macias, (916) 321-1253. Follow him on Twitter @chris_macias.