How To Eat Your Way Through Northern California
“Take a look at this beauty,” shouts Peter Rudolph as he jumps from the back of a vintage truck at the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market, a rosy red apple balanced in his palm. The vehicle belongs to Heirloom Organics, just one of around 100 producers who peddle their locally grown wares at the tri-weekly outdoors market on San Francisco’s famous waterfront. It’s one of the country’s biggest and best farmers markets, and 40,000 people flock here to graze each week.
Peter, a well-known local chef and longtime proponent of the region’s farm-to-table movement, has sourced ingredients from this bustling bazaar every Saturday for more than a decade. It’s a carnival of larger-than-life characters, and Peter darts between stalls shaking hands, backslapping and bantering with his ruddy-cheeked farmer friends. “Meet Dave,” he says, throwing an arm around the shoulder of the Heirloom Organics owner. “I buy everything from this guy—arugula, root vegetables, leafy greens, edible flowers.”
Joanne from Little Apple Treats has brown paper bags full of apple cider caramels and toffees awaiting Peter’s arrival. “I’m addicted to these,” he says, unwrapping three and popping them all into his mouth. “Spritz me, Janet,” he demands as we storm into Allstar Organics, a fragrant-smelling marquee stocked with essential oils and facial mists all grown and distilled in neighbouring Marin County. Then there’s the cowboy hat-wearing Mark Pasternak from Devil’s Gulch Ranch with his rabbit-fur bikinis…
It’s Peter’s love of the land and encyclopaedic knowledge of the region’s agriculture and viticulture that makes him the perfect tour guide for day one of our curated culinary tour of northern California organised by Rosewood Hotels and Resorts. Peter shares Rosewood’s commitment to supporting local, seasonal and sustainable produce, and was formerly the executive chef at Rosewood Sand Hill, 55 kilometres south of San Francisco. Private tours such as this are available at many Rosewood properties around the world. Called A Sense of Taste, these journeys are led by homegrown experts who eschew tourist hotspots and showcase local culture instead.
We tour the market on a Saturday morning when a bumper crop of stalls attracts the biggest crowds. Smaller markets takes place on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Peter’s food safari starts with freshly baked delights at Acme Bread’s booth, followed by a jolt of caffeine from independent local specialists Sightglass Coffee. Next we stock up on cheese from Cowgirl Creamery and browse endless varieties of chutneys, sauces and marinades. Fruit and vegetables gleam in the sunlight like still life tableaus waiting to be painted, while fresh-cut flowers, fat bundles of herbs and baskets full of pungent spices add a hint of sweetness to the salty sea breeze.
By closing time at 2pm we are laden with cloth bags stuffed with walnut butter from Old Dog Ranch, Sciabica & Sons olive oil, Marshall’s Farm natural honey and coffee beans galore. Peter heads off to collect a pyramid of wooden crates and boxes that have been wheeled off to the Veggie Valet, a free service for bulk buyers. “I hope you’ve saved space for dessert,” he says as our driver appears. “Next stop: Bi-Rite ice-cream parlour!”
Although best known for the vibrant public murals painted on the walls of its buildings, San Francisco’s Mission district is fast-developing into one of the city’s coolest hangouts for those wanting to sip, snack and shoot the breeze. Queues at Bi-Rite Creamery’s fashionable ice-cream parlour on 18th Street snake around the block. Its dairy delights are hand-made with organic milk from nearby Straus Family Creamery, and extra treats such as peanut brittle, brownies and marshmallows are conjured up in the adjoining bakery.
Bestsellers include salted caramel and balsamic strawberry ice cream, but more unusual concoctions like Bombay spice, white chocolate with miso caramel swirl, Earl Grey, orange cardamom and roasted banana are equally lick-tastic, as are the fresh fruit popsicles and extravagant sundaes—try the honey lavender ice cream topped with hot fudge, drizzled with blood orange olive oil and sprinkled with sea salt. Stroll across the road to the beautiful and bustling Dolores Park to enjoy your frozen feast.
More queuing is required at the city’s hippest bakery, Tartine Manufactory. Scandinavian minimalism meets Japanese teahouse Zen at this shrine to baked goods designed around an open-plan bakery. Bag one of the comfy leather-clad booths in the light and airy, Instagram-friendly space, which is dominated by beige wood, white walls, exposed concrete and glowing orb lanterns.
Bearded, tattooed staff saunter around delivering pastries, sandwiches, pizza, craft beers and generous pours of Californian wine, while a regiment of baristas whip up caffeine-fuelled beverages topped with frothy hearts. Pop next door to Heath Ceramics for kitchen porn, plus fresh-cut flowers, jewellery, bags and other household temptations.
After 48 hours in fashion-forward, full-throttle San Francisco, our final destination is Rosewood CordeValle, a rural retreat deep in the heart of the San Martin countryside 40 kilometres southeast of San Jose. We’re welcomed by executive chef Victor Palma, the mastermind behind tonight’s farewell dinner, which will showcase the best of local produce. I’m invited to join his search for ingredients and inspiration at neighbouring farms.
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After a tasting session at Frantoio Grove, a family-run 12-hectare estate of olive groves, Victor selects an extra virgin blend with a tangy green-grass flavour and notes of almond and pear. “The sweet yet slightly bitter fruitiness has given me an idea for a salad,” he says while scribbling down the recipe—heirloom tomatoes with pumpkin seed pesto and black garlic confit.
Next we head to the sleepy Monterey Bay harbour town of Moss Landing to visit Phil’s Fish Market, which, despite being off the beaten track, is packed to the rafters. The reason, we discover, is owner Phil DiGirolamo’s famous cioppino, a seafood stew made with the catch of the day. We order a bowl, mop up the rich tomato sauce with hunks of buttered bread and wash it down with a pint of Big Sur Golden beer, before loading up on oysters, mussels, Dungeness crab and Californian sea bass.
Our dessert this evening comes from Nita Gizdich, a fit, fast-talking farmer in her 70s who grows apples and berries on her eponymous ranch and who is famous countywide for her fruit pies. We walk away with a box of golden pastry domes filled with granny smiths and blackberries, which Victor will serve piping hot with mescal ice cream.
Back at the hotel we dine under the stars on the private open-air terrace of a sprawling four-bedroom villa overlooking the fairway. Victor has erected a barbecue and is shrouded in smoke as he grills our haul from Phil’s market. It’s a celebration of northern California’s finest and a feast for the soul, but as a proud Mexicano, Victor leaves us with a taste of his homeland too—shots of his favourite tequilas: Clase Azul Reposado, Don Julio 1942 and Reserva de la Familia Jose Cuervo. The diet starts tomorrow, I think, along with the hangover, no doubt.
Jakki Phillips stayed with Rosewood for this Tatler Culinary Journey. This article first appeared on hk.asiatatler.com.