A blood orange supermoon hung in the sky above the Tower Bridge Sunday night as guests of the third annual Farm-to-Fork Gala Dinner, one of Sacramento’s most glamorous events of the year, tasted bite-sized rounds of steak tartare on puff pastry and soy-ginger marinated quail eggs.
Over chatter and throwback tunes such as The Clash’s “Rock the Casbah,” a woman dressed in a silky, knee-length skirt held up an appetizer of endive and chicharrones and muttered, “What is this?”
To which a server responded, “Delicious.”
Several of the guests – who each paid $175 per ticket – took selfies with the iconic yellow bridge and rows of neatly adorned dinner tables as a backdrop.
The Sacramento Convention & Visitors Bureau, in collaboration with local chefs Oliver Ridgeway of Grange and Ravin Patel of Selland Family Restaurants, served about 775 guests including Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson and former state Senate pro Tempore Darrell Steinberg. Tickets went to the very lucky - and lightning fast - with the event selling out after seconds of their online release.
The dinner was a pinnacle event for Sacramento’s Farm-to-Fork Weeks, a celebration of farmers and restaurateurs from across the region that spanned from Sept. 10 to 27.
“We founded this dinner as a way to celebrate the richest agricultural region in the world and put food at its focal point,” said Mulvaney’s B&L restaurant owner and chef Patrick Mulvaney, who helped launch the Gala Dinner three years ago. “Having dinner on a bridge with one end in Sacramento and the other in Yolo County is pretty profound. It really resonates with folks who attend, as well as the event’s chefs and farmers and restaurateurs.”
Saturday’s Farm-to-Fork Festival, a mainstay of the celebrations that was held on the Capitol Mall, drew more than 50,000 attendees, far surpassing the previous year’s 35,000.
“I attribute such a significant growth to the momentum farm-to-fork has picked up in Sacramento,” said visitors bureau CEO Steve Hammond. “Farm-to-fork isn’t something we’ve had to manufacture. We’re just putting more of an emphasis on promoting it now and letting visitors to the area know they will have a food and wine experience second to none.”
More than 60 regional farmers supplied ingredients for the five-course meal, said Patel, who designed the dinner’s menu alongside Ridgeway. Sous-chefs prepared main course dishes to the west of the bridge, in a swath of the Raley Field overflow parking lot.
First up was an array of appetizers from local restaurants, followed by a spread of cheeses and meats, olives and nuts, mustard and preserves. Next came an autumn squash panzanella, then sturgeon pastrami with beets and sturgeon skin chicharrones, then mesquite grilled chicken over summer succotash, and finally grass-fed beef ragu over polenta and cherry tomatoes.
An array of local chocolatiers and bakeries offered desserts on the Old Town boardwalk as the night came to a close.
“The event is a great opportunity to try the best of the best in the region,” said Stacy Hussey, who was trying appetizers with a coworker.
The dinner was served family-style, with large platters, rather than individual plates, laid out in front of guests - an attempt to foster community and conversation, Patel said.
“Since the idea is farm-to-fork, we wanted it to feel like guests are having a feast in a farm in an open setting like this bridge,” said Patel. “The biggest goal is to bring people together even more whether it be local patrons, farmers, cheese makers, brewers or whoever.”
That communal spirit may explain why the trend has taken off, Mulvaney said. Hammond and event coordinators hope to meet increasing demand in coming years by teaming up with Sacramento venues to provide alternative satellite dinners simultaneously.
“Ten years ago, when I was having a conversation about sourcing, say, baby carrots or grapes, it was a conversation between just me and the farmer,” he said. “Now so many others are included: Educators, healthcare workers, journalists, doctors, lawyers, the list keeps going.”
“As America focuses on healthy, local eating more, Sacramento is a focal point of the movement – and this event just draws on that.”