Shopping at CUESA’s Ferry Plaza Farmers Market is an NTRG Saturday morning tradition. Here, our chefs stock up on produce for the week, and start imagining new dishes based on what’s coming into season.
Last week, the whole central kitchen back-of-house team took a field trip to the market to connect with the restaurant’s vendors, learn more about the origin of the menu’s ingredients, and scope out the new bounty of spring produce.
First stop was the Zuckerman’s Farm stand, where Roscoe Zuckerman schooled the team on asparagus. The Zuckermans have been farming in Northern California for three generations, since Roscoe’s grandfather discovered that the climate and land of the California Delta—formed at the intersection of the San Joaquin and Sacramento Rivers—was perfect for growing certain crops. “What Napa is to wine,” Zuckerman explained, “the Delta is to asparagus and potatoes.”
While most other asparagus comes to us from Mexico, Zuckerman’s is grown just an hour-and-a-half car ride away. On central kitchen’s current menu, it’s folded into a spring-vegetable porridge and served with the mixed grill of lamb for two.
Next, the team crowded around the Brokaw Ranch Company Farm stand, to learn about avocados from the farm’s manager (and son to its founders) Will. Like asparagus, avocados are commonly grown—and imported from—Mexico. The Brokaws grow theirs, however, in nearby Monterey County, meaning that those for sale at the farmers’ market haven’t endured storage or extensive travel, conditions which Will claims give the fruit more “oomph.”
The Brokaw avocados used by central kitchen are of the Gwen variety. They’re firmer, larger, and slightly less green than the commonplace Haas, and—most remarkably—they can be grown nearly year-round. “It’s pretty special,” says central kitchen Chef de Cuisine Robin Song, “to have avocados ten months out of the year, locally produced.”
The Brokaws’ avocados can be found on central kitchen’s current crudo dish, grilled and served with a rotating selection of raw, local fish and puffed forbidden rice chips, finished with a fermented citrus-and-chile vinaigrette.
Brokaw Ranch Company is also Chef Robin’s go-to for citrus fruit, currently having a major moment on the restaurant’s menu. In addition to being used in the crudo dish, citrus accompanies central kitchen’s duck breast (blood orange) and trout (kumquat) entrees, and appears on the dessert menu in the cara cara-spruce sorbet.
Loaded up with avocados and citrus, the kitchen crew then headed to the Dirty Girl Produce stand. Best known for their tomatoes, Dirty Girl grows a variety of other crops, such as central kitchen favorites like strawberries, chicories, and brassicas. “If I put brassicas on the menu,” says Robin, “it’s because [Dirty Girl] has them.”
central kitchen currently uses pickled green Dirty Girl strawberries as a garnish on its pate and liver mousse snacks, and fresh ripe ones go into the strawberry-tarragon ice cream. Endives are served dressed in kumquat vinaigrette with its McFarland Springs trout entrée.
Post-Dirty Girl, the cooks stopped to pick up some Half Moon Bay-grown artichokes from the Iacopi Farms stand, currently being utilized in an off-menu salad also featuring potato, housemade buttermilk, nicoise olive, and pickled local herring.
Last but not least, the team paid a visit to Mark Pasternak of Devil’s Gulch Farm, NTRG’s longtime purveyor of pigs, for a condensed history lesson on heritage pig breeds and a look at Mark’s handcrafted rabbit-fur goods (including a bikini).
The trip finished with an al fresco feast featuring tamales and chilaquiles from Primavera—
—and one hell of a view.