I love looking at food almost as much as I love eating it, so being able to photograph the many stages it goes through as it makes its way from farm to table has been one of the greatest pleasures of living this business. Raw or cooked, the color, form and texture of the fuel which keeps us alive ~ and gives us so much pleasure throughout life ~ never ceases to amaze. When you add being able to share its provenance, the blessings multiply.
This week's ‘Dish’ comes as a double celebration ~ of the glorious Fall season that is upon us here in Sonoma County as we wait for rain, and of the growing talents of one of our hardest working young chefs, Deron Ryan. Deron has been at the garde manger (vegetable) station for a year and two months. He arrives at seven and keeps his head down through an arduous prep routine and a non-stop lunch service. As focused as he is, he's always ready to talk about what he’s doing and why. But here’s the thing: while Chef's a great teacher, it’s not a simple thing to meme what he does on a plate. Ryan has a painter’s eye for color, a dancer's agility for balancing form and movement on the plate. It is not as easy as it looks.
Deron nailed it. The closer you climb into this dish, the more beautiful it becomes. With the exception of the pansies and society garlic flowers which we grow here ~ everything on the plate arrived in the morning with Alex from Mix Gardens. Mix is producing exquisite roots and leafy vegetables this year. Most of what we buy is small and precious, the better to dazzle the eye and capture condensed flavors, redolent of the soil. As perfectly as they arrive, we spend a considerable amount of time ‘communing’ with them ~ peeling, steaming, pickling, infusing, lightly dressing when it suits to bring combinations together.
I don’t wish for a meat free world, but for the humane, sustainable rearing of animals and mindful catch from the sea. But there’s something about our vegetables that trumps everything, directly routing joy to the heart. Here then, is Fall on a Plate, as seen through the eyes of one very talented young man, and his mentor.
It’s a given that because of our location down the dark side of Center Street (not quite the dark side of the moon, but close) that whenever the town is having a big event we wait for the crowds circling the Plaza to catch wind of what's going on at Barndiva before they begin to drift down to the gallery in great numbers. Because of what we have to offer, once they come, they stay, and last Friday was no exception. With a huge crystal coupe filled with a cocktail called Why Bears Do It, passed trays of chestnut cream profiteroles, an art gallery decked out in sparkling ornaments, and Geoffrey roasting bangers on a bonfire grill in the garden, it was only a matter of time.
All the locals wanted to talk about was "proposed" hotel projects, difficulty finding parking, and, inevitably, how much Healdsburg has "changed." All the newcomers wanted to do was party in a beautiful space offering spirited libations and pork fat, enjoying the charms of a little town that sang to them. It was a wonderful night, and curiously revealing. Because for all the differences in the demographics of the crowd, everyone had come to town looking for the very same thing: a start to the holiday season as a shared communal experience.
Once upon a time the Barndiva name was synonymous with “change’ in Healdsburg. Ten years ago there was opposition to the size of our building ~ though it included massive setbacks in a commercial district ~ and a dance card full of businesses we dreamed of launching from it. We have worked hard to reap the waves of goodwill we felt from friends and strangers alike last Friday night. Which got me thinking. Healdsburg’s growing popularity as a travel destination, a beautiful place to live, a town in the heart of a world class wine region, makes change inevitable. But perhaps what could be a priority for us right now is not how fast to pull up the drawbridge for newcomers but how to set boundaries for those wanting in when it appears cashing out is all they care about. There are enough of us committed to honoring our agrarian past as it struggles for a sustainable future, for respecting our small town/big heart traditions. We have a hardworking, thoughtful city management ~ and our elected officials are clearly listening.
The health of the wine and tourist industry will always be intricately tied to the wealth of Sonoma County. What sets Healdsburg apart has been our diversity. Of what we do, and crucially, how we do it. A lack of imagination is actually a discernible thing one can measure ~ and while it’s hard to be an innovator in a world that’s consistently dumbing down its messages, we have the raw ingredients to attract entrepreneurs who want to start or expand businesses in technology, education, craft, agriculture. There is still so much we can contribute to Healdsburg’s incredibly rich narrative. But it’s going to take effort, as opposed to anger, to guide properly scaled development in a direction which keeps the business engines humming without undermining our extraordinary quality of life.
We have a great deal to be thankful for this holiday season. Come and see the wonderful decorations in the gallery! Or better yet, plan to share a meal here with friends ~ we are now serving in the gallery for parties of 6 or more. Don't take our word for it that we throw the best dinner parties in town...come and let us prove it to you.
All text Jil Hales. Photos © Jil Hales, Dawid Jaworski