Viewing entries tagged
Fork & Shovel


and the winner is...

(originally posted December 22, 2010)

For the second to last newsletter of the year, we thought it would be fun (and relatively easy) to take a quick look back at all the ‘dish of the weeks' we compiled and choose a winner. Fun yes. Easy? Not a chance. We were blown away with the sheer volume of mouthwatering images and fascinating cooking tidbits chef and I managed to compile in one short year. Choosing a dish each week is not based on science (discovering a new technique) or math (what sold the most), it's an ephemeral decision made a few days, sometimes a few hours, before compiling ingredients and shooting them. We did not set out to build what has turned out to be a fascinating food journal (a calendar? The start of a cookbook?). Only two things mattered: the joy of working together and the connection each dish had to a built-in reverence for great raw product, which always guides us.

What began as a bit of entertainment, a way to make the newsletter a more enticing read for you, turns out to be the best Christmas gift we could have given ourselves ~ a grace note to a year that, while it tested us in every way possible, ended up being more nourishing ~ in all senses of the word ~ than any that has preceded it.

Dish of the Week is very much a collaborative project ~ just as every dish we send out to the dining room must be. In this, Chef Ryan, Lukka, Geoff and I are supported by an insanely talented kitchen staff. A special call out to Tommy, who has brought so much to the table (literally and figuratively) this, his first year with us, and to Pancho, Danny and Drew, who always have our backs. A special note of thanks as well to my incredibly talented assistant, K2, who patiently works with me every step of the way to capture the essential spirit of each dish.

In the end, we could not come up with a single winner ~ so we give you our favorite meat, fish and vegetable entrées. While each in a special way contributed to the food narrative we try to tell here at Barndiva, a remarkable taste profile combined with the beauty of Ryan’s plating ultimately won our vote.

2nd Runner Up...

Compressed Watermelon Herb Salad This dish was the height of elegant simplicity, but only one of many that hummed with glorious local color, matched by a wonderful taste profile that brought the farm right into your mouth. We are blessed to have many produce partners, thanks in part to Fork & Shovel speed dating events we host here at the barn every year. Two of our favorite veg and fruit producers, Early Bird's Place and Mix, also contract plant for us, a business partnership more thoughtful restaurants are discovering. One of our most popular blogs this year was the one about Myrna and Earl Fincher (October 6th) whom you can buy from at the Healdsburg Farmers Market.

Herbs for these dishes, like most coming out of our kitchen, were grown right here in our raised beds behind the gallery, or at Barndiva Farm in Philo where we also get our dry farmed apples, pears, figs, and chestnuts.

1st Runner Up...

Fritschen Vineyard's Lamb's Liver & Onions 2010 marked the beginning of our collaboration with the Fritschen Family, whose vineyards boast the grapes that Thomas DeBiase, our sommelier, makes into fine wine here in Healdsburg. For three weeks in July we chronicled a nose to tail cooking project that utillized almost every part of a beautiful animal raised for us at the Fritschen Family Farm. Whenever we can, we will continue to work with local farmers to procure excellent animal proteins for Barndiva. We do this despite a lack of local humane slaughterhouses that make these purchases more expensive than it need be for both farmer and chef. In the coming year, look forward to more lamb from Fritschen and the wonderful Preston Family Farm, along with goats and rabbits from new farms. Every season we list on our menus at Barndiva the primary purveyors who inspired us to create that specific menu. Some can be found at your local Farmer's Market if you live in Sonoma, Marin, or Mendocino County.

AND now...the winner is...

Escabèche! Keeping the fish and shellfish selections interesting for our customers continues to be a challenge for us as we try to honor a commitment to primarily source from waters within 100 miles of the restaurant. Though we keep an open mind to ongoing science about the safety of farmed fish, we do not serve it in Barndiva for a variety of reasons (taste being only one). When I spoke at a Seafood Symposium at the U.C. Davis Bodega Bay Marine Aquarium a few years back, (a wonderful event, the brainchild of my good friend Randi Seidner produced by Slow Food Russian River,) I made the point that some responsibility must fall on the diner when it comes to helping restaurants source sustainable fish and shellfish. If you say you want local, do not turn your nose up at varieties you are not familiar with when a restaurant you trust serves it! Happily, there is such faith in anything Chef Fancher sends out of his kitchen that we are able to stretch with less familar local selections without fear it will hit our bottom line. The dish here, Escabèche, is a case in point. It sold out every time it appeared on the menu, often as a result of someone just seeing it come to an adjoining table or hearing our servers talk about it. Make no mistake: when a line caught wild salmon walks in the door in the arms of one of our fishmongers, we grab it. We love local halibut and sole. In the coming year we may cast our net as far as Oregon and Washington's coastal waters, but no fish served at Barndiva will have taken a plane ride to get to your plate, or ever been frozen.

The full collection of our Dish of the Weeks, are available in the Barndiva Journal Archives- or keep reading...



Know Your Lamb part 2

(originally posted August 4, 2010)

I was happily surprised we only received one complaint after last week’s admittedly bloody newsletter in which Chef Fancher dismembered a 90 lb Fritschen Vineyard’s lamb. ‘ugh, gross” the unsigned email read. Everyone around here figured a vegetarian or a vegan wrote it.

But I’m not so sure. I know from personal experience it could just have easily been written by a passionate carnivore who loves to eat lamb. It is one of my favorites too, but if memory serves me, ‘ugh, gross’ was exactly the thought running through my head many years ago when I found myself face to face with a plate of Stuffed Lamb Heart. I was living in London at the time and it was my first outing to Fergus Henderson’s Mecca of Nose to Tail dining, St John. I fancied myself quite the food adventurer, but while I had devoured a plate of roasted bone marrow and parsley salad, bravely tasted deep fried lamb’s brains on toast and a spoonful of Gratin of Tripe, something about the sight of that heart made me realize what I was playing at wasn't a game. The non-stop plates coming out of this kitchen represented a whole new way of thinking about food, and that scared me. I can’t eat this I told my friends. In reply they didn’t argue or tease. One of them just leaned over the table and quietly asked, What do you have to lose?

Nothing, as it turned out, and an enormous amount to gain. I no longer even remember what that dish tasted like, but the question has stayed with me. It proved especially providential six years ago when I began to start thinking about the kind of food we wanted to serve at Barndiva.

So I’m sympathetic to the awkward part of any food journey, especially nose to tail, which certainly takes some getting used to. Anthony Bourdain was an inspired choice to write the introduction to Henderson’s cookbook, The Whole Beast, when it was finally published in America ~ we all know Bourdain is a guy who will eat anything. But while he was right to call the tome “a proclamation of the true glories of all the neglected bits of animals we love to eat,” for the rest of us he really should have written “neglected bits we should eat, but don’t.” Why we don’t is worth taking a look at.

The reason I was able to persevere after that first dinner at St John was down to the fact that I was living in a country that still valued that kind of cooking, and I had a very patient guide. My husband Geoffrey grew up in a post WW2 England when even getting meat, no matter the cut, was a treat. The recipes his mum relied upon flowed directly from a farmhouse kitchen history that 20 years later Henderson would resurrect and refine at St John. As Bourdain correctly points out, this kind of cooking is the foundation of haute cuisine, but even more to the point, “nearly every part of nearly everything we eat, in the hands of a patient and talented cook, can be delicious ~ something most good cooks and most French and Italian mothers have known for centuries.”

I grew up in the same era as my husband, but our exposure to food was vastly different. For a treat on Sunday he was more likely to be taken to the seaside for mussels, winkles and welks than a Baskin-Robbins for 31 Flavors of ice cream, which was invariably my family’s choice. Before I left home I never saw a cut of meat that didn’t come from the supermarket case. If it didn’t arrive in the house frozen, it quickly found it’s way there. I’m not dissing my mother, she loved the supermarket like every woman she knew at the time because its one-stop shopping experience meant a liberation of her time. Everywhere you looked in America during those years, if you bothered to look, you could have seen the effects of a ‘bigger is better, and cheaper is best’ mindset that was sweeping the country, ultimately having a profound effect on the survival of anything smaller and hand-made. I do remember thinking, when my favorite bookstore closed shortly after a discount book barn opened across the street, that the end result would be larger and larger venues with less and less choice when it came to books, but I never thought about how the same dumbing down process was profoundly affecting food. Never would have occurred to me.

In the case of animal proteins the move towards corporate food production resulted in a cheaper unskilled work force hired to “butcher” animals for the money cuts, those parts of the animal that took the least amount of skill to extract. Anything that took time to cut or process was thrown away. While we value cuts like filet mignon and rack of lamb for a variety of tasty reasons, we only started to think of them as ‘the best’ parts of an animal because that’s what the industry producing them wanted us to think. Offal was ‘awful’ and ‘cheap’ to boot, the implication being that if you ate tripe or had the wherewithal to make head cheese you were either a foreigner, lower class, or both. What nonsense. And it’s actually a misnomer to call the neck or the belly ‘cheaper’ cuts at all, when you factor the labor involved in properly butchering and prepping those parts of the animal. Real nose to tail cooking takes consummate skills that only start with the knife. Yet for a burgeoning middle class hanging over the freezer case in the supermarket during the second half of the 20th century, if the industry didn’t deem it salable it wasn’t to be easily found. As the butchers disappeared from the street, sub-primal cuts disappeared from the table, resulting in recipes which had been passed down for centuries becoming lost forever.

Last week I made the point that there are profound environmental gains in shortening the distance between animal and plate, especially when it involves smaller, feedlot-free abattoirs that could service local farms and ranches. A return to this kind of food production would contribute to a more diverse marketplace, so much so it’s not a stretch to say that with accessibility to animals of this quality we could re-establish a system of food production that is infinitely healthier for us, and more humane to the animals we depend upon.

All true, but we should fess up that here at Barndiva our main reasons for wanting to do more of this kind of cooking isn’t just politically or even morally driven. At the end of the day, the beauty of sustainability in this context derives from the fact that it’s also insanely delicious. On Saturday night lucky diners in the barn were offered a $35 tasting menu with five different cuts of lamb from a single animal ~ belly, neck, leg, rack, and tongue. Each preparation drew from flavor profiles you just don’t get a chance to enjoy very often. Following this process over the past two weeks, from the day I met John Fritschen and photographed the lamb frolicking in his vineyards to the moment I lifted my fork to taste an incandescent morsel of Ryan’s rillette of lamb neck, I’ve thought a lot about how far we still have to go before we have anything approaching a true locavore economy. It’s quite a distance.

On a personal level, however, I’m anything but disheartened. Every now and then I can see glimmers of it happening. I’ll tell you this, if the future could taste anything like the lamb my English husband and I ate on Saturday night, it’s worth working and fighting for. He and I had traveled vastly different roads to get to that moment together, which made the fact that we had exactly the same reaction to what we put in our mouths all the more remarkable: it was quite simply the best lamb either of us had ever tasted.

Here then are Chef Fancher’s notes on three of the five lamb dishes he prepared this week. I’ve included a fourth, Lamb’s Heart, in part because it brings me full circle to that night in St John when I shared an exciting meal with great friends in noisy room at the edge of the Smithfield meat market. Though very few people got to taste Ryan’s Lamb’s heart, when all is said and done, it epitomizes what cooking nose to tail is all about. Cooking from the heart doesn’t get any better then this.

Lamb Belly: Chef simmered the belly in a white wine stock with aromatic vegetables, then cooled and carefully cut out the bones and any remaining cartilage from the meat. He then seasoned the belly with salt and pepper and molded and pressed the meat overnight. This allowed the meat flavors to meld and gave him a piece he could cut multiples of any shape out of. He chose diamonds. The product before the final cuts looks like a flatted chicken breast ~ Chef often calls this cut lamb’s breast. To cook he placed the fat side down in a very hot pan and did not flip the piece over at any time. If there is a secret to perfect belly it’s this: score the fat and let it crisp; the heat from searing the bottom will gently cook the meat on the top.

Chef’s words: “I prefer a nicely seared piece of lamb belly over pork belly any day. With pork it’s very easy for a less skilled chef to end up with too much fat to meat ratio. The beauty of this preparation is that you get a crispy top layer of fat followed by a melty meat layer of the same thickness.”

Lamb Neck: Chef cooked the confit of neck in duck fat for 3 hours in a 250 degree oven. Then he peeled the sides down and carefully pulled out any remaining gristle and veins, taking care to leave the meat intact. The trick here is to carefully flip one side of the neck so the thinner end (towards the top) aligns with the thicker end (towards the bottom). If you don’t do this you end up with a cone shape, which will not cook evenly. Next he rolled the whole, re-formed neck meat into cellophane, and chilled it overnight. Before cooking he cut the roll into ¼” rounds ~ though one could cut it to any size thickness. The rillette was rolled in Panko, brushed with a little Dijon, and pan seared to perfection. Chef’s words: “When you see a neck preparation that is comprised of shredded bits you are looking at meat that has been processed clumsily. I treat this cut simply, all you need is that initial crunch, followed by a great, soft, satisfying meaty taste.”

Lamb Steaks (from the whole Leg) This preparation was a revelation for me. Who knew that the single leg I’ve just been roasting, bone in, all these years for Sunday lunch was actually five distinct primal cuts: sirloin, top round, bottom round, shank, and knuckle. Before working with them individually, he first marinated the whole leg in virgin olive oil, garlic, thyme, salt and pepper overnight, then pan roasted the leg until the meat began to relax from the bone. He was then able to separate it into the sub-primal segments, from which he cut the steaks.

Chef’s words: “The beauty of breaking down the leg is that then you can just treat it as you would a great steak: salt, pepper, char the fat and keep basting. We use a seasoned grill butter with lots of garlic and fresh herbs from our garden.”

Lamb’s Heart A traditional preparation for heart is to mix it with giblets and serve it diced in the lamb jus, which is delicious. Ryan went another direction. He thinly sliced then gently grilled the muscle. When it was almost room temperature he tossed it with a tangy panzanella salad comprised of bread, feta, tomatoes and lashings of sherry vinegar.

Chef’s words: “I like this preparation because with heart you are up against a predominate taste of iron…stands to reason…which is nicely cut by the sherry vinegar. There is no need for any oil in the salad, which is also a classic presentation for tongue.


Our Friend Marissa Guggiana, whom we met in the early days of Fork & Shovel, is about to publish Primal Cuts, Cooking with America’s Best Butchers. A brilliant food activist and fourth generation meat purveyor, Primal Cuts, which will go on sale in October, promises to be sublime on all things meaty and wonderful. Check out her wonderful website.

If you are a professional cook interested in where to source whole local animals that have been sustainably raised, contact her dad Ritz who now runs Sonoma Direct with her.

If you are interested in a meat CSA, you might try The Sonoma Meat Buying Club.



Speed Dating with Fork & Shovel in Healdsburg

(originally posted March 3, 2010)

Writing about gardens last week all my reference points seemed to be pulling from old friends and dead writers? A bit maudlin, no? Luckily, on Tuesday night Barndiva hosted Fork & Shovel’s annual get-together ~ a speed dating evening between the county’s best sustainable farmers and the chefs who rely on them. It was (excuse me for tempting fate) a hopeful evening in the extreme. Screw maudlin.

Fork & Shovel is primarily an Internet grange, but once a year we face off, flirting shamelessly about our varieties, heirlooms and breeds. A barn dance, without the music. A chance to build a definition of sustainable that can’t be co-opted. This is a crowd that doesn’t just know its food, it grows its food. Then cooks it.

But we really do live in different time zones. Think the Early Bird & the Owl on bio-dynamic crack.

The evening started a bit awkwardly ~ with everyone soaked from the rain and fumbling with name tags with either a fork or a shovel stamped on them. There were loads of new (young) faces. Luckily, Spencer had filled a huge punchbowl with one of his vodka and blood orange concoctions (this one held about 80 portions) and before long the drink wasn’t the only thing flowing. The evening officially began with a hilarious improv between Deborah Walton (Canvas Ranch) and Sondra Bernstein (Girl an the Fig) ~ issues of pricing, and delivery and how much mud a commercial kitchen can handle were deftly raised, then put to one side as farmers took to the podium, one by one. They had 30 seconds to charm chefs, tiny pencils hovering above Fork & Shovel pads.

John had brought the wood burning Rosso oven and before long crispy-edged pizzas laden with examples of the produce we’d just heard farmers singing the praises of started arriving on the bar. Even Mr. Hales, who is not known to enjoy anything he can’t eat with a knife and fork, seemed to be tasting one of each. (One of the nicer moments of the evening for me was sharing the Rosso energy under the makeshift tent during a sudden deluge ~ the smell of warm crust, wild mushrooms, arugula, chorizo, fontina was transporting).

We drank many bottles of wine ~ this is a great BYOB crowd ~ they bring it and they drink it. Bellwether contributed three gorgeous mounds of their new ricotta to taste, there was Big Dream Ranch Honey, Apple Farm Cider and Syrup and toward the end of the evening Doug Lipton opened bottles of his exquisite Home Ranch ’07 Muscat Blanc. If all that weren’t enough, everyone brought an old fashioned dessert ~ double stacked platters of cookies and fruit bars, spice cakes, cheese cakes, Hungarian “these are the walnuts I grow” layer cakes. Somewhere in heaven, Fanny Farmer was smiling down.

We are a Gossipy crowd: doll sheep, who already has tomato starts in the ground (lots of dubious eyebrow raising), how long before Sofia’s plow horses would be fully trained, and whoa, what to make of the sudden interest in classes on how to butcher whole animals? By the end of the evening Barndiva’s contract planting list had doubled, we had finally made it onto Liam Gallagher’s baby lamb allocation list, Karen agreed (though I doubt she will remember) to sell us a pig and do a cooking class with it in the new studio space, and I had collected the names of several goat farmers that swore they would serial call Chef Ryan. (My repeated efforts to bring this lean, light on the land source of protein to Barndiva’s menus have not, up to now, been successful.)

Fork & Shovel is about farmers and chefs working together to create an honorable business model that brings our enthusiasm to the public through increased sales. But we also share a landscape, a view. We are all trying to survive, to thrive even, in this difficult recession, growing beautiful food and cooking it with commitment and passion. We ended the evening with a promise to launch a series of First Sunday Fork & Shovel Dinners across the county.

I suppose maudlin serves a purpose, but what keeps me going in this business does not reside in looking backward. It is knowing that everything these farmers plant tomorrow, any animal they raise, might eventually land on a plate somewhere in my kitchen, eye to eye with Chef Ryan, to be blessed by his talent before being sent out for you to devour in the dining room. “Eat the view” is the most heartening three words in my vocabulary.

Here is the list of Barndiva’s fellow speed daters on Feb. 23, 2010.

Reminder: even if you were born to it and have your parent's experience to pull on, farming is crazy hard work with very few pots of gold at the end of the day. (Pots of poop is more like it. Which is gold to them). Support these sustainable farmers by frequenting the talented chefs who feature their food.

(The list below represents about half our membership. For a full list, visit and become a supporting member!)

Fork & Shovel Farmers who speed dated Tuesday Feb. 23 @ Barndiva

Bellwether Farms, Big Dream Ranch, Blankety Blank Farms, Canvas Ranch, Cultivating Impact, De Vero, Dragonfly, Early Girl Farms, Eastside Farm, Foggy River Farm, Gleason Ranch, Gretchen Giles (editor of The Bohemian), Healdsburg Eggs, Home Farm, Jim Leonardis Organics, Linda Peterson (representing Farm-Link), Mendocino Organics, Mix, Nana Mae Organics, Owen Family Farm, Oliver’s Market, Paula Downing (F&S Steering Committee, SR and Sebastapol Farmers Market Director), Quetzal, Sky Saddle, Sonoma Meat Buying Club, The Philo Apple Farm,Weed Farm

List of Restaurants Chefs they flirted unabashedly with:

Barndiva, Boon Eat & Drink, Cyrus, Dry Creek Kitchen, Inn at the Tides, Jimtown, Mateo Granados Catering, Mayacamas, Nick’s Cove, Park Ave Catering, Ralph’s Bistro, Relish Culinary School, Rosso Pizzeria and Wine Bar, Santi, The Girl & the Fig/ ESTATE/ The Girl & The Fig Cafe, Vintage Valley Catering, Zazu, Zin

All text and photography, Jil Hales (unless otherwise noted)