Pork products may have reached their tipping point, but that doesn’t mean you can’t celebrate their existence. The second annual Sacramento Baconfest, held January 20-27, pays tribute to “pork from pigs who lived healthy, happy lives at farms where farmers value ethical and sustainable food production.” I’ll scarf some pork belly to that.
All bacon and other charcuterie served at Baconfest are made in-house by “Sacramento chefs who give a damn about quality natural foods.”
So besides cured meat products produced by introverted industry people with tats of butcher’s charts on their forearms, what can you expect at Baconfest? Besides lots of saturated fat? For starters, there’s an opening night party at Hook & Ladder Manufacturing Co., featuring a special menu by chef Brian Mizner. There there’s the BLT Bike Crawl; Baconfest-vs-Sacramento Beer Week; a Chef’s Competition; a “secret event,” and a multitude of special dinners and happy hours. And let’s not forget the “Second Annual Kevin Bacon Tribute Night,” which features local bands playing songs from the actor’s films (“to the first degree.”).
Sounds like a blast, and the makings of a swine time. And hey, check this out: most of the events are free; those that do charge minimal fees give back to local chefs, restaurateurs and the very fine Center for Land-Based Learning in nearby Winters.
The locavore turn seems to be everywhere in evidence. An intensified interest in local food products, the rediscovery of forgotten local food traditions and creative attempts to merge various culinary heritages with modern preparation techniques all fuel this turn.
One side effect of this movement is the increased prominence, in many places, of local food products – on menus, in markets and in the profusion of food tours.
In August, I took a fantastic locavore tour in the form of a northern Iceland culinary tour, put together by Akureyri‘s Saga Travel. Iceland, despite its northerly position, is no agricultural wasteland. The country is self-sufficient in fish, meat and dairy and also produces vegetables.
The entire tour is worthwhile, though its first three stops are especially compelling. First up on the tour’s August incarnation: Hrísey, a quiet island to the north of Akureyri whose surrounding waters are used to farm beautiful fat, organic blue mussels. We boarded a fishing vessel and checked out submerged ropes used to farm the mussels before motoring on to the island itself. Here, we sat down to a simple and delicious lunch of mussels served with a garlic sauce and bread. These orange-hued mussels are richly flavorful, a real revelation after years of soggy, near-tasteless mussels.
Next up on the tour was a stop at Kaldi, Iceland’s first microbrewery, in the small town of Árskógssandur. Beer was actually banned in Iceland from 1915 until 1989. Perhaps it’s not a surprise then that the microbrewery explosion present in many locations has been slow to develop here.
Kaldi’s founders hired a Czech brewmaster to get the brewery off the ground. Today, demand for the company’s brews is so high that the company doesn’t yet see the need to export. (An Icelandic resident abroad told me that the seasonal Christmas brew sells out so quickly that he has to ask his parents to buy it so that he will be able to enjoy it when he returns for Christmas.) Kaldi beer is not pasteurized, nor does it contain preservatives. It is also delicious.
There is one jokey part of the tour, a stop at the Ekta factory to sample hákarl, the rotten shark for which Iceland is notorious. Our sample was provided by the company’s hilarious manager, Elvar Reykjalin, who also graciously facilitated passage of the stinking flesh down our convulsed throats with a shot of bright red liqueur. Hákarl, with its aggressive ammonia aftertaste, might be the worst thing I have ever tasted. A nice light meal followed, centered around Ekta’s very good salted cod.
Subsequent stops included Kaffi Kú for beef carpaccio and Holtsel for ice cream. The local food tour is offered year-round, with the itinerary varying from season to season. Pricing is not cheap, at 24,500 Icelandic kronur ($200), though in the context of Iceland’s high cost index, it seems relatively reasonable.
I’ll be the first to raise my hand and say I despise most of the food shows currently on television and online. That’s why I got so excited when I heard about “The Perennial Plate,” a weekly online documentary series, “dedicated to socially responsible and adventurous eating.”
That angle by virtue does not a good show make. But Daniel Klein and Mirra Fine, the team behind the show, have the ideal background to make this concept work, which it does. Throw in a collaboration with well-regarded Australian adventure company Intrepid Travel, and you have the makings of a cult classic.
In case you’re thinking this is another “No Reservations,” or “Bizarre Foods,” the focus is different in that the duo explores the increasingly connected global food system, minus the machismo. That said, there’s plenty for those more interested in armchair travel.
Klein has an impressive resume as a chef, filmmaker and activist, while “camera girl” Fine has a background in graphic design and writing, and has previously released short, food-based films. Together, the two have completed two seasons. The first took place over the course of a calendar year in their home state of Minnesota. The second was filmed across America, taking viewers on a journey of “where good food comes from, and how to enjoy it.”
Season three, which premieres in October (check their site for dates), is the first since joining with Intrepid Travel. The season kicks off with a tour of Vietnam. Future episodes will include China, Japan, India, Argentina and Italy.
From where I stood on the roof of Bastille Cafe & Bar in Seattle’s Ballard neighborhood, I could see flocks of seagulls circling nearby fishing boats, as I catch whiffs of brine, gasoline and eau de canal water.
Despite the industrial marine supplies and salmon canneries across the way, up here I was surrounded by buzzing honeybees and dozens of varieties of produce, from heirloom French beans and petit pois to herbs, tomato starts, lettuces and cucumber vines.
Bastille is part of an emerging breed of urban restaurant (many of which are located in hotels) popping up across America. Not content to just source food locally, today’s seasonally- and sustainably-driven chefs and restaurateurs are installing rooftop gardens and beehives to augment the product they purchase from family farms.
Many of these restaurants offer public tours of their rooftop gardens, greenhouses and hives, so even city-dwellers (or line cooks) no longer have an excuse to remain clueless about where their food comes from – and the public can’t get enough. With the urban farming movement – backyard produce, chickens, bees, even dairy goats – at critical mass, savvy chefs, concerned about their carbon footprint and wanting more control over the production and quality of their ingredients, have turned their rooftops into kitchen gardens.
Few restaurants can spare the labor or have staff experienced in cultivating crops, which is where small businesses like Seattle Urban Farm Company and Ballard Bee Company come in. The Urban Farm Company’s services include construction and maintenance of residential backyard farms, rooftop gardens, educational school gardens, and on-site gardens at restaurants and businesses. With regard to the latter, chefs and cooks receive education as well, and become involved in caring for and harvesting crops and collaborating on plantings based on menu ideas.
Corky Luster of Ballard Bee offers hive hosting or rental, where homeowners keep hives on their property, in exchange for maintenance, harvesting, and a share of the honey. Bastille keeps hives, and uses the honey in cocktails and dishes ranging from vinaigrette’s to desserts.
Following is the short list of rooftop garden restaurants that have served as inspiration for imitators, nationwide. Here’s to dirty cooks, everywhere.Bastille Cafe & Bar, Seattle
Seattle Urban Farm Company owner/founder Colin McCrate and his business partner Brad Halm and staff conceptualized Bastille’s garden with the restaurant’s owners three years ago. After substantial roof retrofitting, rectangular garden beds were installed. Over time, beehives were introduced, and this past year, plastic children’s swimming pools were reinforced with landscape fabric and UV-protective cloth, expanding the garden space to 4,500 feet.
In summer and fall, the garden supplies chef Jason Stoneburner and his staff with 25 percent of their produce for Bastille’s French-inspired seasonal cuisine. Housed in a lavishly restored, historic 1920s building, it has the vibe of a traditional Parisian brasserie, but here you’ll find an emphasis on lighter dishes as well as cocktails crafted from boutique spirits and rooftop ingredients.
Every Wednesday, Rooftop Garden Tours are hosted by Seattle Urban Farm Company, and include a complimentary Rum Fizz, made with Jamaican rum, mint, sparkling wine, bitters and (of course) rooftop honey. Cost is $10 per person; limit 10 people. Contact the restaurant for reservations.
flour + water, and Central Kitchen, San Francisco
Thomas McNaughton of popular Mission pizzeria flour + water opened his newest venture on May 9. Both restaurants have rooftop gardens, and Central Kitchen is a lovely, modern rustic sanctuary serving simple, seasonal fare that highlights Northern California ingredients.
In addition to beehives, Central Kitchen is producing peppers, zucchini, tomatoes, berries, figs, citrus and herbs in a 2,000-square-foot space. Lexans (heavy-weight plastic storage containers used in professional kitchens) serve as garden beds, while herbs flourish in a converted Foosball table. Talk about recycling!
Uncommon Ground on Clark, Chicago
This big sister to the new Edgewater location features a 2,500-square-foot garden with solar panels to heat water used in the restaurant. Everything from beets, eggplant, okra and bush beans are cultivated, including rare seed varieties from the Slow Food “Ark of Taste.” The Ark is dedicated to preserving the “economic, social, and cultural heritage of fruits and vegetables,” as well as promoting genetic diversity. Expect refined crunchy granola fare with ethnic flourishes. Roberta’s, Brooklyn
This insanely popular Bushwick restaurant made national headlines when chef Carlo Mirarchi was named a 2011 Best New Chef by Food & Wine magazine for his wood-fired pizzas and way with rooftop produce, including some heirloom varieties.
Mirarchi, who is passionate about urban farming and community involvement, uses two repurposed cargo containers on the restaurant’s roof for cultivating crops, and keeps a blog about the evolution of the garden.
[Photo credits: honeycomb; Laurel Miller; tomatoes, Flickr user Muffet]
In this video, Chef Robert Gerstenecker of Park 75 restaurant at the Four Seasons Hotel, Atlanta, talks rooftop gardening and beekeeping. He grew up on a family farm and dairy in Ohio.
Anyone who’s ever snagged fruit off of their neighbor’s trees or bushes (oh,don’t look at me like that) will appreciate the new online Edible Cities guide from Berkeleyite Cristian Ionescu-Zanetti.
Berkeley is ground zero for the localized food movement, and “urban foraging” has been growing in popularity amongst local chefs as well as home cooks.
As a former resident and recent subletter, I can attest to just how many tasty treats grow in this region, which is composed of many microclimates. All manner of citrus – most notably Meyer lemons – heirloom varieties of plums, cherries, loquats, avocado, raspberries, blackberries, pomegranates, persimmons, rosemary, wild fennel, miner’s lettuce, wild watercress, mustard plants…they all flourish here, sometimes in backyards, but often in public spaces.
Hence, Edible Cities, which uses a Google Maps interface that denotes where specific species are free for the picking. In a recent interview inBerkeleyside, Inoescu-Zanetti, who is originally from Romania, stated that urban foraging’s “most important aspect is education: Kids need to learn where food comes from, and adults need a refresher, as well.” Here, here!
According to its mission statement, Edible Cities’ goal is to promote local food security by “mapping publicly available food sources” and “enable a more sustainable mode of food production that lessens our environmental impact.” In plain English, you can have free fruit and preserves year-round, instead of buying tasteless, imported crap sprayed with God knows what.
Oakland has a similar program, Forage Oakland, which began in 2008. Los Angeles, Portland, Seattle and Tampa also have fruit gleaning projects, which are variously used for residents and to provide fresh food for those in need.