Welcome back to Snickerdoodle Sunday!
I had the most marvelous time last Wednesday. I did something that every foodie who lives in or visits Sacramento this summer should do. I took a very special food tour.
I read a blurb in the Sacramento Magazine that the Follow the Chef Farmers’ Market Tours were happening every Wednesday this summer from May to October. Chef Ridgeway, Executive Chef of the Grange Restaurant & Bar, would personally lead walking tours through the market for a small group of guests followed by a farm-to-fork, three-course lunch crafted from items purchased at the market. I love farmers markets with the colorful fruits and veggies, but the added bonus of exploring it with a chef and learning how he finds and chooses produce for the creative dishes that highlight the daily menus was an opportunity too good to miss!
Pat (my sister), Sela (my daughter), and I took the short trip down to Sacramento. The Grange is located in the Citizen Hotel, a classic downtown boutique hotel with lots of charm. The exterior is an early 1900’s classic design. The interiors celebrate the history of California. The restaurant is tucked into a corner of the hotel at street-level.
One thing you need to know is that Sacramento takes fresh food seriously. It is known as the Farm-to-Fork Capitol. The city is surrounded by 1.5 million acres of farmland producing some of the nation’s most delicious food. It has a year-round growing season that produces more than 120 crops. We have had many wonderful meals in Sacramento and we were really looking forward to our tour and meal. (We were not disappointed!)
The group meet at the restaurant, received reusable market bags (for our purchases at the market) and as a group we walked across the street to Cesar Chavez Plaza. On Wednesdays the Plaza is the site of a Certified Farmers Market (one of several in Sacramento.)
It turned out our guide was not Chef Ridgeway but a charming young man, Chef Dane Blom. (The restaurant gave no explanation for the change but we heard from a strawberry vendor that Chef Oliver was in London doing a presentation on game meat.)
Chef Dane introduced himself, told us a little bit about his background, and spoke about the relationship the restaurant builds with the growers. As we strolled the market, we would stop at the vendors the restaurant deals with. Chef Dane would share with us what he liked to purchase and why, then introduce us to the grower. The grower then shared information about their farm, answered our questions, and offered us samples. Chef Dane talked about cooking and the benefits of knowing where your ingredients come from. The Grange supports the local farming community by purchasing much of the restaurant’s produce and meat from local farms. If they run out of something they might get a delivery from the grower or they modify the menu.
At one of our last stops in the market, the strawberry vendor asked Chef Dane “what’s for lunch?” His answer was that he wasn’t sure yet. He was going to get back into the kitchen and see what he could “throw together.” We went back to the restaurant for our market-inspired meal.
Waiting for us at our table was a refreshing spritzer made from strawberries, avocado, cilantro, and seltzer water. Our waiter, Rob, told me that each week the restaurant makes a different spritzer. (Pat doesn’t like avocado but she liked the spritzer.) We sipped our spritzers, got to know our fellow guests, and waited in anticipation of our exclusive off-menu, market-inspired meal.
Chef Dane took his place in the kitchen while we were served a glass of local chardonnay wine in anticipation of what was to come. Our waiter queried us about food allergies, religious and dietary preferences and relayed the information to the kitchen. The Grange serves farm-to-fork meals every day but ours was an exclusive meal showcasing items in season and sold that day in the farmers market.
We started our meal with a collection of produce hand selected at the market that day—zebra-striped heirloom tomatoes, luscious nectarines, generously topped with the most delicious goat cheese, garnished with mandolin-thin slices of artisan bread (I’ll never look at a crouton the same way again), and dabs of avocado mousse. The salad was dressed with a splash of olive oil (with a distinctive flavor I remembered tasting in the market.)
The entree was poached trout, rolled to resemble a sausage sitting atop mashed fingerling potatoes garnished with pickled onions and dill. Visually I wasn’t WOWed but the taste was outstanding. (I think it would have been just as tasty looking like a fish instead of a fat German sausage.) My sister said she’s not a big trout eater but she cleaned her plate as did the rest of the guests. As each course was served Chef Dane would step out of the kitchen, explain what we were being served, and answer our questions.
Lastly, was dessert! We were served an ice cream sandwich, but what an ice cream sandwich! The Grange’s pastry chef crafted a simple affair of creamy vanilla ice cream sandwiched between shortbread cookies. It was topped with peaches, raspberries, slivered almonds, and chi blossoms. there was an added bonus of a lovely raspberry sorbet. Simply beautiful! Wonderfully satisfying!
The meal was elegant, filling, and fresh! It was perfect and I am definitely going to do it again. Each Follow the Chef Tour is unique. The experience depends on what’s in season. Touring the farmers market was fun and inspiring but you can’t always do it with an acclaimed chef as your guide. Here are some of the tips Chef Dane shared with us:
Tip 1 Talk to the farmers and get to know the products they are selling. They have special insight on how to eat and store their products, plus they have a passion that you won’t find anywhere else. They’ll even share tips on how to prepare their produce.
Tip 2 Forget those hothouse veggies from Mexico. Buy in season. Look for what’s ripe and in season. Not only is it the best tasting, but it is the best way to find and try new products.
Tip 3 Educate yourself on what is grown locally and seasonally. The taste is better and it supports the local farmers. (The Sacramento region has the unique ability to grow products year-round.)
Tip 4 Taste everything! How do you know if you like something if you have never tried it? And, chances are, you will fall in love with all of the products sold at each farmers market.
(From the Grange’s website here is a list of those farms )
I would do this tour again and again. Different things come into season each month and the menu changes with what available. That means no tour is the same. The Follow the Chef tour is every Wednesday between May and October and each tour is completely unique based on the season and the market. For more information or to make a reservation, call (916) 492-4450.
After such a love “farm-to-fork foodie” experience it is natural that my choice of feature this week would be Strawberry Box Greenhouses from Cristine at Ava’s Alphabet where she shares fun and easy tips, ideas and inspiration to bring more joy and creativity into your days.
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