To many a foodie, if I were to say ‘Judgment of Paris’, they would know exactly to what I was referring. Not the oil painting by Rubens, but rather the 1976 event in Paris that pitted California wines against French wines where the California wines took the top spots at the event. There has been a book, a few movies and even some large-scale, modern-day fine art made to commemorate the event. But If I were to say ‘Tasting of Summer Produce’ to the same foodie, I am doubtful that I would get the same result…yet the event is just as significant to their world.
The ‘Tasting of Summer Produce’ was a trail-blazing dinner held at Greens Restaurant in San Francisco in 1983. The dinner was ‘trail-blazing’ because it was the first time such an event was held to introduce California chefs to California farmers. Although this just seems to be common-sense today, it was a radical idea in 1983. At the time, it was the brainchild of Sibella Kraus who was studying agricultural economics while working as a cook for the culinary pioneer, Alice Waters, at her restaurant in Berkeley, Ca – Chez Panisse.
The menu from the event reads like many a fine restaurant’s menu today:
- Puff Pastry Tartswith grilled eggplant, grilled peppers, basil and sun-dried tomatoes
- Salad of Red and Yellow Tomatoeswith Moraga mozzarella
- Garden Vegetables– beans, potatoes, beets, baked onions, grilled squash with aioli
- Deep Fried Squash Blossomsstuffed with Moraga mozzarella and herbs
- Sweet Cornwith roasted chili butters
- Garden Saladwith herbs and flowers
- Peaches and Strawberrieswith Creme Anglaise
- Assorted Melons– Ambrosia, Crane, Charantais
There were roughly 80 people in attendance at this first tasting. It was such a hit and led to so much collaboration that, by the time there was a second event held the following summer, both the attendance and the variety of produce to be tasted were in the hundreds. By the fourth year, the event was open to the public and by the sixth year, the farmers were letting Sibella know that it was no longer needed…the collaboration between chef and farmer had become a way of life!
Being one who has enjoyed picking from many menus that read like the one above, I am nothing but grateful for Sibella Kraus’ contribution to our edible experience. I am also appreciative that she didn’t rest on her laurels. As an advocate for year-round farmers markets, she was instrumental in the 1993 opening of the famous San Francisco Ferry Plaza Farmers Market. Today, she is president of a non-profit organization called the Sustainable Agriculture Education (SAGE) that is working hard to take sustainable agriculture to the next level. If the ‘Tasting of Summer Produce’ is any indication, we will all be the benefactors when she succeeds. My taste buds thank you, Sibella!