Chefs, farmers offer preview of Tower Bridge dinner
Monday’s press preview of the Sept. 25 Tower Bridge dinner – pinnacle of Sacramento’s fourth Farm-to-Fork celebration – emphasized dirt-caked boots as much as chef’s clogs.
As chefs in charge of the sold-out, $199-per-ticket dinner stepped up to introduce their dishes at Sacramento’s Hawks Provisions & Public House, they were accompanied by the farmers and producers behind their charred tomatoes, slow-poached eggs, smoked catfish, braised lamb and zabuton steak.
Monday’s event put faces to names common on local, high-end restaurant menus – tomato grower Heidi Watanabe and fish rancher Michael Passmore among them – who for the first time this year were integral to the menu planning of the six-course dinner, a fundraiser for Sept. 24’s free Farm-to-Fork Festival on Capitol Mall.
Sacramento’s 4-year-old farm-to-fork marketing push has raised the city’s profile in California and the nation and also has helped local food producers up their games, Rancho Murieta cattle rancher Stan Van Vleck said. His 160-year-old family ranch’s recent decision to raise what he calls “ultra-premium product” was “driven by the farm-to-fork push,” he said.
Van Vleck’s wagyu is the centerpiece of the bridge dinner’s fourth course, a grilled zabuton steak, with Jimmy Nardello peppers from Pleasant Grove’s Azolla Farms, crafted by Hawks chefs Molly Hawks and Mike Fagnoni.
Passmore, emcee of Monday’s preview, pointed out Sacramento’s farm-to-fork reach “has spread” to Las Vegas and celebrity chef Rick Moonen, guest chef at the bridge dinner. Moonen’s RM Seafood has used Passmore’s product for a few years, and that relationship helped bring Moonen a-bridge for the event, Passmore said.
Moonen and Passmore collaborated on the second course, catfish on German-style potato salad and caviar cream. This dish was not previewed for the press, because Moonen has yet to arrive in town.
But Kru chef Billy Ngo showed off the dinner’s third course, a chicken-and-rice bowl with poached eggs and pickles, featuring poultry from Yolo County’s Riverdog Farm and rice from Yuba County’s Rue & Forsman Ranch.
Kelly McCown, executive chef at the Kitchen, previewed the fifth course, of braised Emigh lamb, out of Dixon, with a summer tomato jam. For the jam, McCown cured Watanabe roma tomatoes – a preservation effort partly inspired, McCown said, by Watanabe’s recent announcement that this is the last season she and her husband, Clark, will grow their beloved tomatoes.
Allyson Harvie, chef at the forthcoming The Patriot in Carmichael’s Milagro Center, designed the menu’s first course, a chilled and smoked green-bean dish with green beans from Winters’ Terra Firma Farm and tomatoes from Terra Firma and Sacramento’s R Kelley Farms.
“My inspiration for the dish – and I might get in trouble for this – was kind of a play on green-bean casserole,” Harvie said. Her version of the dish associated with Minnesota moms in kitty sweaters omitted the mushroom soup to highlight the freshness of the tomatoes and smoked, al dente green beans served with smoked burrata.
Harvie and Hawks are the first female chefs to lead the dinner in its history.
“There aren’t a lot of women in our industry, so it’s always fun when people take note of the women,” Hawks said. “For me – and no disrespect to pastry chefs – but people are always like, ‘Oh so you’re the pastry chef,’ ” Hawks said. “This time, it’s women on the savory side, and Ramon is doing the dessert.”
Ramon Perez of Sacramento’s Puur Chocolat served a miso mochi ice cream Monday that will morph into a lemon mochi ice cream for the for 784 guests at the bridge dinner. Perez will go yard-to-fork by using citrus grown on his own tree.