Two farm-to-fork dinners show the art of real food

As Sacramento’s farm-to-fork movement continues to gain traction, more special opportunities arise to learn about the local riches available to foodies, kitchenistas and professional chefs alike.

For proof and a taste, join fellow diners at two upcoming farm-to-fork demonstration dinners co-sponsored by The Sacramento Bee. The multicourse family-style meals will be based on seasonal recipes from the cookbook “The Art of Real Food” (In Season Publishing, $27.95, 300 pages; photos by Keith Sutter, artwork by Paula Amerine ). It was written by local author-chefs and longtime advocates for local agriculture Joanne Neft and Laura Kenny. All the meals’ ingredients, as well as the wines, will be sourced from Placer County.

The dinners will be educational as well as imaginative. Neft and Kenny will demonstrate meal preparation, offer cooking techniques and tips (what do you do with green tomatoes?), explain the finer points of menu development and give guidance on where to find seasonal, farm-fresh ingredients in Placer County. Also, diners can join the conversation on farm-to-fork issues and opportunities, and participate in a question-and-answer session.

Each dinner will have its own menu, based literally on what’s in season at farmers markets a few days before each event. In that regard, they’ve been works in progress for a while.

For part of tonight’s dinner, look for chili verde as the main course. The heritage pork was sourced from Dinner Bell Farm near Grass Valley, and the tomatillos for the sauce were frozen last summer. The chili verde “will have traditional accompaniments like radishes and cilantro (and maybe avocado), and a seasonal salad with romanesco,” said Kenny.

“We’re intuitive cooks, and we like to play around with what’s local and in season,” she said. “It’s a practice we’ve been doing for a long time, and we like to show people how to do it. Our bodies crave what’s in season.”

Kenny will be the lead cook for the dinners, leaving most of the speaking to Neft. “I’ll talk about how to eat healthier in our lives,” said Neft, who pioneered farmers markets in Placer County more than 20 years ago. “My mission is to help people understand that by eating locally, fresh and in season, we will have healthier bodies.”

How about a cooking tip?

“The majority of nutrients in vegetables and fruits are in the skins,” Neft said. “When you trim vegetables, save the peels, the tops and bottoms to make a stock. There’s no recipe for this, it’s whatever’s in the kitchen that day.”

Neft’s technique is to put the trimmings into a pot and almost cover them with water. Add a teaspoon of salt, stir, cover and simmer overnight. In the morning, strain the mixture through a sieve.

“You will have the most amazing vegetable stock,” she said. “I froze two quarts of it last night. I use it (as the liquid) for cooking rice and beans, and as (a base) for gravy.”

The Art of Real Food dinners

What: Two farm-to-fork dinners, featuring foods and wines sourced from Placer County

When and where: 6 p.m. today at Rocklin Event Center, 2650 Sunset Blvd., Rocklin, (916) 625-5227; and 6 p.m. Nov. 14 at the Maidu Community Center, 1550 Maidu Drive, Roseville, (916) 774-5950.

Cost: $40 per person; $70 with a copy of “The Art of Real Food” cookbook.

Information and reservations:,, (916) 321-1308