Thursday, May 10, 2007

Santa Clara restaurant undertakes the eat-local challenge

By Carolyn Jung
Mercury News
San Jose Mercury News
Article Launched:

Parcel 104 restaurant in Santa Clara is preparing for a special dinner, one that will be noteworthy not only for what ingredients it includes but also for what ones it doesn't.

That night, cooks will forgo sugar, freshly ground black pepper, vanilla beans, lentils, cinnamon and chocolate. No freshly brewed coffee will be served to guests, either.

That's because every ingredient used in the six-course dinner, along with every grape in every wine uncorked that evening, will come from no farther than 104 miles away. In this day and age, when so many precious natural resources are used to ship in food from all corners of the world, the 104-Mile Dinner on June 2 is all about the merits of using what's grown locally.

"We're so spoiled by the globalization of foods. We have given up quality for convenience," says Bart Hosmer, executive chef of Parcel 104, who thought up the idea for the dinner. "This dinner celebrates the importance of place."

That's why vanilla beans from Madagascar won't be allowed, nor coffee from Costa Rica, nor even Scharffen Berger chocolate, manufactured in Berkeley but made from cacao beans grown in Central and South America.

Instead, there will be a salad of tomatoes from Lone Willow Ranch in the Central Valley drizzled with Storm Ranch olive oil from St. Helena; lamb loin from C K Lamb farm in Healdsburg served with fava beans from Happy Boy Farms in Freedom; a trio of cheeses from Cowgirl Creamery of Point Reyes Station; and luscious berries from Ella Bella farm of Corralitos dolloped with fresh cream from Straus Family Creamery of Bolinas. And in place of coffee, guests will sip a tea infusion of local herbs sweetened with honey from Napa's Marshall Farms.

Carbon offsets

Moreover, Parcel 104 will attempt to negate the carbon dioxide resulting from the energy expended to create this dinner. Planktos, a San Francisco-based eco-restoration company, has agreed on the restaurant's behalf to donate carbon credits to help restore damaged habitats in the ocean and on land.

Planktos will donate five carbon credits, equal to five tons of carbon dioxide. That's the estimated amount generated by the 150 guests driving to the restaurant from as far away as San Francisco, by the trucks delivering the produce from local farms, and by the electricity and gas used to power the 3,279 square-foot restaurant that night.

Even with the restaurant's 104-mile restriction for this event, Planktos communications director David Kubiak says that the carbon dioxide output generated by this one dinner will be about equal to that from the average family's car use in a year.

"Events like this wake people up that actions have consequences," Kubiak says, "and that there are ways to negate them and make them an ecological good."

Parcel 104 is the latest restaurant to put itself on a "low carbon diet." For the past two years, Bon Appe`tit Management Co. of Palo Alto has challenged its more than 400 university, corporate and other food service operations around the country to an "Eat Local Challenge." For one day a year, all its cafes serve a lunch made entirely from foods produced or grown from within a 150-mile radius, a distance considered a reasonable day's drive.

This year, Bon Appe`tit also has pledged to use only domestic bottled water, to buy its meat and poultry only from North America, and to obtain nearly all its fruits and vegetables from this continent.

The historic Cliff House restaurant in San Francisco and its adjoining Sutro's restaurant also began working with Planktos this year to mitigate the 1,000 tons of carbon dioxide the two eateries generate annually. The restaurants plan to pay Planktos $5 per ton of carbon dioxide to help restore forests and plankton in the sea.

Parcel 104 grows its own tomatoes on its rooftop garden and adheres to the Monterey Bay Aquarium's guidelines on sustainable seafood choices. Its name pays homage to the original agricultural designation of the pear orchard that once thrived on that property. For a restaurant such as this, the months of work to put this dinner together has been a labor of love.

It also will mark Hosmer's swan song at Parcel 104, as he departs for a new job in Washington, D.C., as director of culinary development at Marriott's corporate headquarters. Taking over for him at Parcel 104 will be Robert Sapirman, who has been collaborating with Hosmer on the final details of this dinner.

In his new position, Hosmer hopes to expand the notion of the low-carbon diet to more Marriott properties nationwide. And Sapirman would like to either turn the 104-mile dinner into an annual event at Parcel 104 or take it on the road to other restaurants around the country.

A little wiggle room

Hosmer, Sapirman and the kitchen crew have pored over Google maps, and used pencils and compasses to ensure the ingredients that will be used that night meet the 104-mile radius criterion.

"We are taking some liberties," Hosmer says. "I know some people out there are going to say, `If I drive to Petaluma, it's 117 miles.' So we're saying it's 104 miles as the bird flies." In other words, the distance measured from point to point in a relatively straight line.

Purveyors such as Bassian Farms, a San Jose meat and seafood wholesaler to restaurants and supermarkets nationwide, hope the dinner will open diners' eyes to our local bounty, food that typically is fresher, more flavorful and more economical and makes more efficient use of natural resources.

Bassian Farms will supply its own private brand of 38 North Chicken for one of the dinner courses. The name comes from the fact that the chickens are raised primarily outdoors on family farms 38 miles north of the Golden Gate Bridge in the Petaluma area. The chicken will be delivered to the restaurant by a truck powered by biodiesel fuel, which is cleaner-burning and made from renewable resources such as vegetable oils.

"We want people to realize that not everything has to be mass produced and about the lowest common denominator," says Lee Bassian, co-owner of Bassian Farms. "Just taste this food that's all local and realize what's possible."

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