I recently wrote a review about Hollywood Beach Wine Company in Oxnard, CA where Chef Tim Kilcoyne had been hired to consult on the development of a new menu. I had been to the restaurant on several occasions and had the opportunity to try Tim’s new menu there a couple of times before the restaurant sadly closed its doors. In that article, I mentioned that Tim had launched a Kickstarter project to start a food truck and a bottled ketchup line, and now that Kickstarter project’s been fully funded.
Tim has been operating his new Scratch food truck in Ventura County for about six weeks, bringing the local, seasonal food the Sidecar Restaurant was famous for to the streets of Ventura County, and the reception has been nothing short of extraordinary. Tim is well known in the region as a farm-to-fork pioneer, and his appropriately named, Scratch food truck with its “From Roots to Wheels” concept delivers on his promise to prepare and serve the freshest, locally available ingredients in creative and whimsical gourmet comfort foods.
I met Tim once informally at his SideCar Restaurant in Ventura, California a few months before the lease expired, and he was forced to close. I guess I shouldn’t really say I met him – I just told him I loved the grilled Brussel sprouts, really. And I did.
Scratch will be part educational, holding monthly farm meals at various Ventura County farms, part community builder with its monthly grilled cheese jazz nights, supporting local talent, and part community support, offering sandwiches, salads and bowls at local farmers markets using ingredients from the markets themselves.
“We are taking the same concept as the SideCar, supporting local farms in Ventura,” Tim said. “People viewed SideCar as a fine dining restaurant, but that’s not what we wanted. We’re supporting local farms and keeping it affordable, approachable, and accessible.”
I heard Tim was serving lunch at the Channel Islands Harbor Farmers’ Market in Oxnard, CA on Sunday, and we’ve had great weather this Summer. So I headed off to the Farmers’ Market where a dinner was inspired, and then later preempted by a telephone call from Paula Deen, which you can read about here on the blog. You can read about the London broil with orange cauliflower puree, and grilled kale and beets that was inspired by my visit to the Farmers’ Market and lunch at Scratch here on the blog, as well.
The minimalist, monochromatic farm artwork emblazoned on the side of the Scratch Food Truck tells a story of Tim’s past and his passion for the farm to table relationship. He was raised on a farm in California, attended culinary school in Portland, Oregon, and sourcing his produce from local growers is the core of his philosophy. Tim’s worked at renown restaurants like Louise’s Trattoria in Los Angeles, and Cafe Melisse in Valencia, and he was even a cook at Hugh Hefner’s Playboy Mansion.
“Next month will be our first farm meal in Ventura County,” Tim said. “We’re in the middle of putting together a launch party for our backers on the Kickstarter.” Tim’s already booked for events at UCLA, Big Bear and possibly San Luis Obispo, and he’s quickly moving forward in his ketchup bottling operation. “We’ll have the ketchup bottle in the next week or two,” he said. “We always made our own ketchup in house at the restaurant. For years people have asked if we’d bottle it. We looked into the process, and had a batch tested at UC Davis then received our approval recently. We’re working on pickling items, jams and other sauces to continue adding on. The first ketchup should be available by the end of the month, and will be on the shelves at Whole Foods at some point in the future.”
For nearly eight years, Tim hosted a grilled cheese and jazz night once a month at his SideCar Restaurant, and he plans to continue the tradition. “We decided to open up one Tuesday night every month and make it about the music. We kept it simple with a grilled cheese sandwich and local jazz entertainers. We’re doing one next Tuesday at Surf Brewing Company in Ventura from 6:00 pm until 8:30 pm with a local jazz band,” Tim told me.
The SideCar was the first restaurant in the region to offer farm-to-table dishes and mention local growers by name on the menu, and the day I visited Scratch, it was no different. The menu on the food truck included a list of a dozen local farmers Tim purchased ingredients from for the day’s service. “We’ve built relationships with so many farms over the years, so we really want to be at the farmers markets where they’re at,” Tim said.
With 2,500 farms on nearly 350,000 acres of farmland, Tim doesn’t have far to go to find the best produce in the state. Thanks to its temperate climate, Ventura County produces crops year-round. Farmers involved in vegetable and berry production typically plant and harvest multiple crops each year. Orchard crops ripen and are harvested for many months at a time.
California is the number one state in cash farm receipts with 11.6 percent of the US total. The state produces nearly half of US-grown fruits, nuts and vegetables. Across the nation, US consumers regularly purchase several crops produced solely in California.
I started my lunch with an appetizer of incredibly juicy and perfectly sweet Marinated Cherry Tomatoes tossed in olive oil, balsamic, and basil. Tim told me that he had bought them in the morning right after they had been picked at the farm.
“There are some restaurants who use the term “farm to fork” on their menus, but it might be one plate or a few ingredients. It’s a marketing strategy now for many,” he said.
Southern California is world-renowned in culinary innovation and five-star dining, so farm-to-fork isn’t a new concept. Many of the restaurants in the region have supported local businesses long before it was given a trendy name. But even not-so-popular cities like Sacramento are throwing their hats into the ring, using farm-to-fork as a slogan to entice tourists.
In October, 2012 the Sacramento Convention & Visitors Bureau spent three weeks talking to area farmers, chefs, produce suppliers, politicians and others in the farm-to-fork food industry, and proclaimed itself, “America’s Farm to Fork Capital,” boasting that there are more than 7,000 farms in a “six-county” region and 1.5 million acres of farmland. It goes on to give itself accolades for being home to 40 farmers markets, two James Beard Foundation winners (2012) and five restaurants with “Zagat’s highest food scores” (2011). Sacramento has not been included in the cities that Zagat covers for nearly two years.
Not so fast, Sacramento. This year, no restaurants were nominated for a James Beard award in Sacramento, but Frank Fat’s on L Street in Sacramento won the America’s Classics Award. Meanwhile, it would appear that James Beard left his heart in San Francisco, one of the most visited cities in the world, where 13 nominations and at least three awards were bestowed.
“The local food movement has been a long time coming from fringe land worshippers to grocery store chains that now tout the phrase “farm-to-fork” in ads,” says Elaine Corn, an award- winning cookbook author and former newspaper food editor. Elaine reports about food for Capital Public Radio, 90.9 FM in Sacramento, and contributes to the Sacramento Bee. “It’s impossible to be all local, all the time, even in Sacramento. Any restaurant that bills itself as a farm-to-fork restaurant is working percentages.”
In Tim’s case, a very high percentage of his ingredients are actually local. For my first course, I went straight for the pork with Tim’s Smoked Pork PB&J made with Niman Ranch smoked pork, chipotle peanut butter from Handsome Carver’s Peanut Butter, jam from Katie’s Famous Jams and white cheddar.
Niman Ranch is well known for its pork, which is a cross of four breeds resulting in well marbled pork that is unbelievably moist, tender and juicy with a signature flavor profile Niman’s known for. The rich smoky flavor of the pork balances nicely with the peppery, sweet flavor profile of Handsome Carver’s Peanut Butter. Surprisingly, the peanut wasn’t overbearing at all. The chipotle powder prevailed and was enhanced by paprika and onion, producing a finish with an attitude.
Karen Ross, Secretary of the California Department of Food and Agriculture says that she’d like to attract more tourists to Sacramento using the farm-to-fork movement. “Last year over $100 billion dollars were spent by people visiting different parts of California,” Ross proclaimed in a 16 minute video, dishing out the reasons Sacramento is the farm-to-fork capital. “Almost $25 billion of that was spent on food and wine, so I have a big interest in what’s happening with tourism.”
In the same video, Sonya Bradley, Chief Marketing Officer, Sacramento Convention & Visitors Bureau says “[farm to fork] just makes for a great dimension for the area. So we absolutely love to use it in our messaging… ad campaigns… it’s all part of the fabric of the marketing message in Sacramento.”
For chefs like Tim Kilcoyne, it’s about the food, building relationships, community and tradition. Tim feels that at least half of the ingredients on a plate should be local to consider it “farm-to-fork,” and they should come from no more than a 100 mile radius. “I’d love to be able to source things within 25 miles, but with different climates, it’s hard to do that depending on the time of year.”
The duck on Tim’s menu caught my eye, and I rarely pass an opportunity to enjoy a good Banh Mi sandwich. Only this time, it wasn’t a typical Banh Mi sandwich at all; it was a Banh Mi-Rito (Banh Mi burRito) made with braised duck from Mary’s Organic Duck, pickled carrots, cucumbers, cabbage, cilantro, and sriracha crema.
Mary’s Free-Range Ducks are produced by Pitman Farms, Mary Pitman’s family owned business that has been raising poultry for three generations. Free-range duck just tastes better, in my opinion. The moist, fall-apart meat combined with fresh produce produced a tangy flavor explosion and a sriracha kick with every crunch. I loved that it was creatively wrapped in a tortilla rather than placed in a traditional baguette, allowing me to really focus my attention on the filling.
I absolutely love the Channel Islands Harbor Farmers’ Market where fishing boats sell the catch of the morning on the docks directly to the public at the farmers’ market.
I finished the final course with a Local Seabass Taco made with local black seabass from Fresh Fish Fanatics, cabbage, cilantro and chipotle crema, and Street Corn made with lime butter, Parmesan cheese, chipotle crema and chili.
Fresh Fish Fanatics is a family owned business in Ventura County that catches and sells fish directly from their boats to the public at harbor locations the same day.
The black sea bass was perfect for a street taco. With its mild flavor, the white flesh of Sea bass is excellent for anything from tacos to salads, and it has a sweetness that makes it ideal for Asian inspired dishes, as well.
The grilled, soft, juicy sweet Street Corn is Tim’s interpretation of “elotés,” a Mexican treat of roasted or grilled corn on the cob slathered in butter and mayonnaise, rolled in queso fresco (a crumbly Mexican cheese), and then sprinkled with cayenne pepper or ground chili powder to taste. Tim’s rendition really brings out the sweet corn flavor and makes it the star, not to mention it’s not a soupy mess like its Mexican inspiration. It was the perfect pairing for my Sea Bass Taco.
“We’ve done a lot over the years, like the farm dinners. Originally it was in the restaurant using one featured farmer. We invited the farmer in for a meet n greet with customers, then we did some out in the farms and local events,” Tim told me.
There isn’t any real criteria by which to measure any region’s farm-to-fork-itude really, but any map can tell you that America’s Farm to Fork Capital isn’t Sacramento. According to the California Department of Food and Agriculture, the Sacramento Valley District actually encompasses nine counties, including Sacramento, Tehama, Glenn, Butte, Yuba, Colusa, Sutter, Yolo, and Solano, and the behemoth, Southern California District at four times the size of the Sacramento Valley District, encompasses eight counties, including Santa Barbara, Ventura, Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Diego, Imperial and the state’s largest county, San Bernardino.
There are approximately 175 certified farmers’ markets in four Southern California counties, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, Ventura and Los Angeles alone.
“Going local can cost more,” says Rudy Balch, Executive Chef and Co-Owner at Fuzion Eatz, a Sacramento based food truck specializing in Mediterranean and middle eastern flavors. “I like to go Organic whenever possible as well as Local. The nice thing being here in the Sacramento Valley is all of the farmers markets. We should all aim for 100% local and Organic,” Rudy continued. “Food is just better in my opinion when it is organic. For a small establishment with qualified kitchen staff, it can be fun and pretty easy to run down to the farmers market and put the team together and create fun delicious healthy food.”
Sharing Tim’s philosophy for locally grown ingredients, Rudy and business partner, Jeremy Lopez are pioneering a flavor revolution of their own in the Sacramento region, which is in desperate need of a culinary infusion. The two are serving up gourmet wraps, rolls and bowls, along with house-made sauces and toppings, and freshly baked cookies. Standing light years above in the Sacramento Valley District, Like Tim, Rudy and Jeremy focus on building relationships and promoting local businesses, rather than simply tacking on a “Farm-to-Fork” label, and calling it “marketing.”
Tim wasn’t aware that any contender had thrown its hat into the Farm-to-Fork ring, laying claim to a non-existent title, but I asked him where the ideal location for a Farm-to-Fork business is in the U.S. today. “People talk about California having the perfect climate for year-round produce,” Tim says. “In Portland, Oregon though, within 100 miles, you can get tons of amazing cheeses, sea salt, oil, produce, duck, chicken, lamb, beef and anything else you can imagine. There’s so much more available there. California’s had challenges,” he continues. “We had such a hard time getting the grass fed beef here… just getting the approval to process the meat.
So while cities like Sacramento attempt to place themselves on some culinary tourist map, Tim Kilcoyne is blazing trails, educating the public, and bringing people together… without the silly labels, marketing slogans, or the need for a title.