Visit Sacramento has selected the chefs for the 2017 edition of the Tower Bridge Dinner, a high-profile and pricy outdoor gala that celebrates the region’s agricultural bounty while generating national media attention for its successful farm-to-fork marketing campaign.
This year’s dream team for the Sept. 24 dinner includes diversity in size and style, from the chef/owner of a tiny midtown bistro to the chef and general manager of the massive food and beverage program at the new downtown arena.
The chefs for the fifth annual dinner in late September are: Chris Barnum-Dann of Localis; Ernesto Delgado of Mayahuel, La Cosecha and Mesa Mercado; Casey Shideler of Taylor’s Kitchen; Michael Tuohy and Santana Diaz of Legends Hospitality at Golden 1 Center; and Kurt Spataro of Paragary Restaurant Group. Continuing a concept started last year, each chef will select a farmer to partner with for the dinner. Those farmers will be announced in the coming days by Visit Sacramento, formerly the Sacramento Convention & Visitors Bureau.
“I’m very honored to be part of it,” said Diaz, a Yuba City native who was recently promoted as executive chef at Golden 1. “It’s a very Sacramento-esque event.”
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A major part of the new arena’s food program was its 90/150 pledge – sourcing 90 percent of its ingredients from within 150 miles of the Golden 1 Center. The arena’s food blueprint is a reflection of the city’s ongoing marketing campaign as “America’s Farm-to-Fork Capital.”
“We’re still in the process of planning for this dinner, but the sky’s the limit. The bounty that’s offered for the Mediterranean climate that we have here is unmatched anywhere else in the country,” added Diaz.
Since it began five years ago, the Tower Bridge dinner has been the focal point of the annual Farm-to-Fork Festival, which now attracts tens of thousands downtown. The dinner, which routinely sells out in minutes, has also become a major event on the social calendar. The quest for the $200 tickets has become so intense that last year organizers set up a lottery system to even the playing field.
Details on tickets and pricing are expected to be announced sometime in June. In years past, the outdoor setting on the Tower Bridge has seated 784 guests. Last year marked the first price increase – from $175 to $199 – but the event continued to sell out almost immediately.
Though many have criticized the steep price tag and some have pegged the dinner as elitist, organizers note that the money raised from the multi-course gala pays for the rest of the Farm-to-Fork events, all of which are free to the public.
“It’s all about Sacramento and the uniqueness that we have here, celebrating food and our region,” said Tuohy. “It’s great for Sacramento to be able to bring the community together. The festival is now attracting 50,000 people to the Capitol Mall.”
In contrast to Tuohy and Diaz at the arena, Barnum-Dann runs a tiny midtown bistro that has made a major splash for its progressive take on local/seasonal cooking since he bought the restaurant seven months ago.
“It means a lot to me,” he said of being selected to help lead the dinner. “I’m really excited about the national press that this dinner brings. In Sacramento, it’s good to be written about in this way.
“It’s going to be really good for Sacramento in general to be continuing to push the farm to fork (way of cooking and eating),” the chef said. “Hopefully, we can continue to bring more authenticity to the brand.”
Noting that “every Michelin-starred restaurant in America buys its produce from Northern California,” Barnum-Dann says there’s no reason that caliber of restaurant can’t thrive in Sacramento.
“Once we realize how cool we are here, everything is going to change. I have never been more excited to cook here,” he added.