Food & Drink

Feast Q&A: ‘Culinerd’ chef takes on the State Fair

Keith Breedlove will be the official chef of the 2015 State Fair.
Keith Breedlove will be the official chef of the 2015 State Fair. Sacramento Bee file

Sacramento’s Keith Breedlove, aka the “Culinerd,” has made a name for himself with his innovative food trucks, larger-than-life personality and multiple cooking-show appearances. Now he’s adding another accomplishment to his résumé – becoming the California State Fair’s first official chef.

At Cal Expo, Breedlove will be using produce from the fair’s garden – with its corn, artichokes, hops, herbs, tomatoes, zucchini, etc. – to prepare dishes and teach attendees a thing or two about local agriculture

According to Culinary Programs Coordinator Michelle Johnson, the fair’s food and agriculture program is tripling in size this year, moving to a larger building and expanding its offerings. The fair also has added an olive oil competition to accompany its existing wine, beer, and cheese competitions.

Johnson says these events will provide fairgoers with an education in food and agriculture that they might not find elsewhere. Breedlove, she adds, will be the face of the program. “He’s a natural,” she said. The Bee spoke with Breedlove about his upcoming work at the fair, which runs July 10-26.

Q: What will you be doing as the official State Fair chef?

A: It’ll be lectures, demos, discussions twice a day. I’ll be representing the fresh produce and the local farms (and) the (state’s) award-winning wines, beers, and olive oils and writing recipes for them. And highlighting what they’ve been doing there with the fresh produce.

We want to push eating healthy, eating fresh. The State Fair is known for bacon-wrapped everything and deep-fried everything. But that’s not what state fairs (were originally known for), which is homegrown food.

Q: You’ll be working with produce from the fair’s farm?

A: The fairgrounds has a working farm on it, and all of the food is donated to the food bank here in Sacramento. We really want to show that the farm is more than just for show – it’s actually working.

Q: So you’ll cook whatever is ripe and ready?

A: Whatever else the farm happens to give us. We’re doing a lot of stuff that’s fresh from the farm.

Q. Anything else in particular that visitors and cooks can expect at the fair?

A: We’ll be doing some smoking techniques, a lot of work with olive oil. We’ll see some smoked corn and some smoked cantaloupe. Definitely some heirloom tomatoes. We’ll be doing an “Ask the Chef” open forum. And every day I’ll have a guest – some local chefs, local winemakers, I’ve got a farmer coming in –and we’ll be recording (those discussions) for a podcast.

Q: What are you most excited about?

A: This year is the (fair’s) first olive oil competition. I’m excited to highlight those and show some fun ways to use olive oil. I got to taste the blue-ribbon olive oil today, and it’s unbelievable. It has a great body, and it really complements everything from tomatoes – we’re coming up on tomato season in Sacramento – to strawberries.

Q: How did you end up with this position?

A: Over the last few years, I’ve done quite a few demos in the (fair’s) theater kitchen, and last year I participated in the Pro Chef Challenge and the MRE Challenge. This year, (the fair) wanted to have a chef that could represent the award-winning products and feature the farm on the fairgrounds. I had a good relationship with them and with the local media, so it seemed like a good fit.

Q: Will you be back next year as well? Or is this a rotating position?

A: Every year there will be new ideas and new eyes.

Julia Calagiovanni: (916) 321-1136