On a recent trip to Northern California, I had one of the best meals of my life. It was a shared dinner with my daughter and son-in-law, which certainly added to the overall wonderfulness of the experience.
But what’s more pertinent to GRIT readers is the food itself and the restaurant’s approach to local, organic ingredients.
A telling moment occurred earlier in the trip when my kids and I were looking for a lunch spot and I said, “I’d rather have someplace that does local and organic, if possible.” They looked at me with kind-hearted incomprehension, then my daughter said, “Well, around here they’d just about all be organic. And I don’t think any of the food comes from very far away.”
Oh, yeah. Northern California. I guess the choices are fairly prodigious thereabouts. In fact, thanks to Alice Waters and others, the Bay Area has been at this “local, organic” paradigm somewhat longer than the rest of us, so some restaurants have had time to hone their kitchen craft to the level of art. Gather is one of those restaurants.
Located at 2200 Oxford Street in Berkeley, Gather supports local food producers and chooses only foods that are cultivated “safely, justly and sustainably.” Lest that description makes you think the food is some sort of boring take-your-medicine-it’s-good-for-you fare, let me tell you the precise opposite is true. Co-owners Ari Derfel and Eric Fenster have mastered the nourishment paradigm from soup to nuts. And, oh my, those desserts.
And the reason I bring it to your attention is because, if you are a food grower, this is the kind of food you can be making sure we all get to eat. From the roasted ‘Blue Ballet’ squash to the grilled watermelon radish and the smoked potato-mushroom pizza, the food was clean, fresh and brimming with flavor. Much of the art was in its presentation, and we sat at the bar next to the prep area, so we got a good demonstration of how they created such lovely plates. The flavor combinations were surprising – “roasted fall roots, fried capers, pine nuts and Fiscalini cheese,” or “roasted carnival squash, sunchoke-cashew bay leaf sauce” – but nothing tasted fussy or overly complicated.
Their “Source Book,” available by request, lists the origin of every item on the menu. Just imagine if a restaurant near you did that and heirloom tomatoes from your market garden were right there on the list.
The really cool thing is that I know the next time I go there – and there will be many next times, I promise you – the menu will have changed completely, depending on what food is available that season and in their particular region.
So none of what they cook might be what you could cook or grow, but the model is one any of us can replicate: Grow great organic food right where we’re planted, find inventive ways to put it together and share it with as many people as possible.
Voila! The world starts to change and our taste buds do a little happy dance – nourishment at its very best.