On a warm evening in July at Tahoe City’s Commons Beach, 100 people sat at elegant tables covered with blue-and-white checkered tablecloths and vases filled with orange and yellow flowers. But this was no souped-up picnic. Guests had shelled out $125 each for the chance to eat supper lakeside and be treated to food bought at the Foothill Farmers’ Market in town and prepared by local chefs.
The Tahoe City Downtown Association’s (TCDA) second annual farm-to-table dinner, which was held July 10, is one of many such dinners that are occurring in the area this summer and fall. The dinners are part of a growing nationwide trend that brings local food producers, chefs, and consumers together to better understand the field to fork process, and to support local and organic food and the growers who make it all happen.
“A lot of people who come to these care about where they eat, how it gets there, where it comes from,” said Chef Ben “Wyatt” Dufresne of PlumpJack Café, “and to meet the farmer who grows it and the chefs who cook it is cool for people.”
The TCDA’s farm-to-table dinner started out last year as a way to support the Foothills Farmers’ Market Association, which needed to raise money to pay for the traffic studies and permits associated with moving the market from Commons Beach to a new location. Even though the Tahoe City farmers market has found a temporary solution to its traffic problems — moving the market to Tahoe Lake Elementary during non-school months — there are still many fees involved. One hundred percent of the proceeds from the TCDA farm-to-table dinner (all chefs donate their time) go to a designated fund for sustaining the farmers market in Tahoe City.
“When the farmers market finds a permanent location in Tahoe City, the dinner will hopefully continue to … fund sustainability and green practices for a component of our community,” said TCDA Vice President Christin Hanna.
Joanne Neft, founder of the Foothills Farmer’ Market and author of the cookbook “Placer County Real Food,” kicked off the event by talking about the history of the farmers market.
Douglas Dale of Wolfdale’s Cuisine Unique, who holds farmers market workshops during the summer, was the head chef of the TCDA dinner. Other chefs included Scott Yorkey of Jake’s on the Lake, Elsa Corrigan from Mamasake, and Sunnyside’s Lee Kresy. Dessert was provided by Allison Sayles of Sugar Pine Cakery, and wine by the Placer County Vintner’s Association. All the items on the four-course menu were made from ingredients from the Tahoe City farmers market, including gazpacho with micro greens and king crab, mixed-color green beans and potato salad, flank steak with chimichurri and red wine sauce, and seafood paella.
This was the first year that PlumpJack Café jumped on the farm-to-table bandwagon. Chef Dufresne said he wanted to do a farm-to-table dinner to highlight the growers he works with and to make a statement about the importance of using local food.
“There is a large trend in the restaurant industry toward using local produce,” he said. “We wanted to show people that’s what we’re into.”
The café held its own farm-to-table dinner on June 21 featuring Elizabeth Reifers of Spanish Spring Greens located near Reno. Dufresne has been incorporating Reifers’ vegetables in his dishes for years.
For $85 with wine ($50 without), the 40 guests were treated to a four-course dinner. The dishes included a Sylvetta arugula and mizuna salad made with sugar snap peas, white beets, and cilantro vinaigrette; braised turnips and baby kohlrabi with watermelon radish, 63˚ Farm egg, and red mustard greens; and a Durham Ranch New York steak with braised greens, pearl onions, and baby carrots.
As each dish arrived, Reifers and Dufresne explained how the items were grown and cooked, and guests could ask questions.
“People appreciate knowing exactly where their food comes from,” said Dufresne.
Sierra Valley Farms
If meeting Gary Romano in person isn’t enough for you, you can’t get much closer to knowing where your food comes from than actually eating at his farm. The Dinner in the Barn series, which takes place on site at Sierra Valley Farms, uses vegetables grown on the spot by Romano and his team and prepared by Moody’s Catering.
“Everything Gary can provide us, we use,” said Chef Tom Marrin, co-owner of Moody’s Catering.
Because the menu is based on what’s available that day, each dinner is different. Marrin also shops at the Truckee farmers market on Tuesdays and Romano’s Farmers Market at Sierra Valley Farms on Fridays, and gets his meat from Sierra Valley ranchers.
“You feel better when you know where your food came from and you’re eating food that you can see right out the window,” Marrin said.
The dinner includes a tour by Romano of his two greenhouses, his farmers market area, and a number of gardens on his 65-acre organic farm, which was founded by his grandparents in 1936. During the dinner, which is served family style in an old hay and calving barn, Romano and Marrin explain each dish. The barn can seat up to 65 people, and the four-course meal costs $125 and includes beer and wine.
“The big push needs to be to support local farmers and understand what goes into farmers making food,” Marrin said. “Gary does 15-hour days.”
Squaw Valley Institute
With a new mission to “inspire uncommon conversations,” Squaw Valley Institute Executive Director Renee Koijane says that a farm-to-table dinner jives perfectly.
“Dinners like this is where real conversations happen, where different types of conversations unfold,” she said. “It’s a time to really connect, too, with people on a deeper and more intimate level.”
Squaw Valley Institute’s farm-to-table dinner on Aug. 18 is being curated by the Highlands Dinner Club, a mobile culinary and social laboratory based in New Jersey, at the Fink residence in Truckee. Food will be prepared by local chefs from PlumpJack Café, Moody’s, Wolfdale’s, Mamasake, and Six Peaks Grille. Brewer Emily Thomas of Santa Cruz Mountain Brewing will offer samples of her organic ales and porter bonbons.
To help get the conversation started, guests will be seated family style, and each chef will discuss his dish as it’s served. Polly Triplat, leader of Slow Food Lake Tahoe, will speak for a few minutes about the local Slow Food movement. After dinner, Napa-based husband-wife photojournalist team Peter Menzel and Faith D’Aluisio will present a slide-show and lecture about their James Beard Award-nominated book, “What I Eat: Around the World in 80 Diets.” The book features portrait essays of what 80 people from 30 countries eat in a day. Each guest will receive a copy of the book.
The institute has asked each chef to create a dish that is inspired by the diet of one person featured in the book.
Besides Sierra Valley Farms, one of the longest running farm-to-table dinners is the one put on by Wanderlust, the yoga and music festival that started in Squaw Valley four years ago and has since expanded to other locations.
“The farm-to-table dinner is a wonderful experience that Wanderlust Festival introduced as part of our mission to make sure each festival is completely localized in the community,” wrote Wanderlust spokeswoman Dania Jimenez in an email. “By working with local farmers and chefs, we’re able to make sure Wanderlust California is as much Wanderlust as it is California. “
The Wanderlust farm-to-table dinner, which was held at High Camp on July 27 and 28, was organized by Squaw Valley interim Executive Chef Christopher Patrick. It featured produce and meat from such local farms as Spanish Spring Greens, Girl Farm near Carson City, and Lattin Farms in Fallon, as well as Truckee Sourdough bread and Tahoe Creamery ice cream. The $70 dinner included two glasses of The Naked Grape wine out of Modesto.
“The appeal to people [of farm-to-table dinners] is knowing they have a really fresh product, and knowing it comes from local farmers,” Patrick said. “People like to see local places working together.”
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