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DOW: Warm Pea Shoot Salad........Diwale In the Gallery......Hangin' with the Lambs......

Dish of the Week

Warm Pea Shoot Salad

Chef and I were working on a plan to use fava flowers or nettles for some intricate Dish of the Week when Daniel walked through the kitchen door on Friday carrying a flat of pea shoots. It was the first crop of micro greens he and Lukka have been growing as a surprise ~ Chef's been complaining that no matter how quickly he gets them from our farmers (when we can get them), micro greens are so fragile they suffer in transit. He was ecstatic.

Seeing the pea shoots didn’t just make Ryan happy. Since I’ve been back I’ve been off the sauce and trying to eat a light, mostly vegetarian diet to recover from my two weeks of excess in London and Paris. As a result I'm hungry all the time. When Chef offered to make me a quick warm pea shoot salad that incorporated vegetables he had on hand I was all over it. Check it out: purple potatoes, peas, favas, baby turnips, preserved tomatoes, chives, sorrel, artichoke hearts, and rapini flowers.

All the work for the dish had already been done in prepping the veg ~ we do more whittling in a morning than cowboys on a cattle drive. Once you have this exquisite mise en place all you need is some heat in a pan with olive oil. For a sauce Ryan warmed crème frâiche with fragrant sorrel and hit it with his indispensable (and inexpensive) battery-run cappuccino frother. To plate, he gently piled the warm vegetables in a bowl, added a halo of foam, a few squirts of VOO, and a generous handful of freshly cut pea shoots.  The foam added richness but hardly any fat, which I’m beginning to realize is what I like best about its return to the kitchen. I think my initial antipathy to foam was a reaction to a less than judicious use of it in the past ~ not, I must add, by Ryan, who loves it for the way it lightly carries the essence of a flavor.  And of course the way it looks. Heavenly.

Pea shoots are packed full of carotenes ~ strong antioxidants that protect cells from damage and help prevent disease.  Daniel and Lukka got their seeds ~ the variety is Dwarf Gray Sugar ~ from Johnny’s Selected Seeds. They are usually grown for quick harvest as micro greens but would produce a pea pod if given more space and left to grow. Next time you are at the Barn tool out to the patio and gardens and take a look at what’s growing; already poking out of the dirt are tiny blood red sorrel leaves. While we expect rain this week, with all the trees starting to bloom it feels like winter has come and gone, and like it or not, we are already hurling headlong into spring.

In the Gallery: Diwale from Paris

I've seen my share of lovely cotton scarves and ethnic jewelry the last few years as I've gone about ethically sourcing for the Studio. Still, I couldn't help but stop when I  passed the Diwale window display on Île Saint-Louis when I was in Paris. The colorways were straight off the runway and some of the jewelry, especially the colored bangles with thin gold training bands, were uncannily like...  Bulgari's? Someone's got a great eye, I thought. Diwale is the brainchild of a Frenchman working in India who has been so successful he's now got about six shops in Paris. I liked what I saw so much we've reached out to see how and where they are made ~ and if that all checks out, whether or not we can get more. But for now all we have is what I could fit in my suitcases ~ and hey, my suitcases aren't that big.

In the Gallery: Great chunky bone cuffs and très chic metal bangles (also available: hand carved bone necklaces, earrings and rings.) Prices start at $35. Also available: Cotton scarves and a few exquisite wool shawls.

Fritschen Lamb

There are worst things in life than to end up at Fritschen vineyards if you are born a lamb: the food is great, the caretakers gentle and the view ain't bad either.  Of course the lambs don't care that John Fritschen's vineyards sit smack dab in the middle of some of the most fertile and beautiful land in Sonoma County, but watching them grazing through the olive orchards sure makes for a pretty bucolic scene. John's lambs are Dorpers, a cross between the English Dorset and a breed from the deserts of Somalia. They were introduced in the 1940's because of a strange anomaly which makes them perfect for our warm days and cool nights. The first time I laid eyes on them I thought something weird was going on with their wool, which on the older animals seemed to be sliding right off their bodies. Turns out this is what Dorpers do, they self-shed, and it isn't wool they shed, but hair. The birds love it (wool nests anyone?) as does John, who never has to shear them in summer. We love them too, though perhaps for slightly different reasons. (If you haven't already, check out the Wed prix fixe menu.)

All text Jil Hales. All photos Jil Hales and Dawid Jaworski (unless otherwise noted).



The 2012 Paris/London Restaurant Throwdown

Hands Across the Ocean

We did an inordinate amount of eating and drinking during our two week sojourn in London and Paris.  Chalk some of it up to curiosity, mostly I think it stems from the desire to make a connection with other crazies in the world who are having a go cooking food as craft and art. It's a bit of an engine check, the equivalent of having a tune-up and oil change when you feel the car getting sluggish. Sometimes we reveal what we do for a living, but mostly we don’t. It’s great being able to sit back and be served and know that every little detail ~ of taste, timing, lighting, music ~ is down to someone else to worry about.

All the restaurants we'd recommend you try if you are heading over the pond any time soon are listed below. A good friend of Lukka’s and the website le gave us a few great tips in Paris, and I have my secret weapon who can smell a new Indian, a new Nordic, or the perfect roasted chicken anywhere in London from her nest in Maida Vale. A recommendation for best Indian I read in the NY Times the day before we left (from the usually reliable Mark Bittman) was a let down, as was a touted Dim Sum ~ but in both cases the food didn’t matter as we were dining with people we don’t get to see enough of.  The last time we were back in London we ate at Dinner, Heston Blumenthal’s follow up to The Fat Duck, but except in those rarest of cases (and Blumenthal is one) I try not to let my expectations lead when we go out to dine. So long as the passion is there, and the sourcing has heart, I’m game for whatever a talented chef wants to put on the plate in front of me.

I used to beat myself up about all the things we should have known when we started Barndiva, but in continually measuring what we do against the yardstick of meals we eat when we travel I’ve come to the conclusion that our early growing pains may have been one of those rare instances when ignorance really was bliss. At least to the extent that it led us to take chances which restaurants designed by committee, from the outside in, don’t have the chutzpah to take. We all have to earn a crust, but how big, how much you charge for it, and where the flour comes from are the hard decisions that can define or defeat you. As for the enormous skill set you need in order to create a great dining experience, I highly recommend you read David Chang’s I See A Darkness, in the Spring issue of Lucky Peach. His frank assessment of what it takes to be able to call yourself a “success” in this business (yes, Mom, it is first and foremost a business) inspires both pride and fear when I think how far we’ve come ~ and what it’s going to take to continue to go the distance.

So, London v. Paris. I lived in one city for over a decade and have dreamed and eaten in the other most of my adult life. Cultural differences aside, no surprise that intent is what separated the good from the forgettable. Nowhere was this more evident than in Comptoir and Hix: farm to table restaurants in the hotels we stayed at in both cities.

Yves Camdeborde and his wife Claudine own the hotel Relais St Germain, which is right next door to le Comptoir, their critically acclaimed restaurant where Yves still jumps on the hot line pretty much every day. His menu Gastronomic is one of the best deals in town a decade after they settled on the left bank in the 6th arrondissement in two elegant 17th Century townhouses.  Even in a driving rain, a line snakes down the block to get into the 20 seat restaurant, but except for a standing room only hors d'oeuvres bar next door, he has resisted expanding. When he’s not off doing something interesting in the countryside you will find him in the hotel and the kitchen every morning as you bliss out on what’s got to be the best inclusive breakfast in Paris: huge bowls of café au lait made with La Brûlerie des Gobelins; croissants baked by Gérard Mulot; incredible yogurt from the Breton dairy Bordier. Cured Ham is cut from the bone on a big platter that sits on the bar where they also coddled eggs in some funny contraption.  Even a salad of oranges that comes in a light bath of orange-flower water is simply perfect.

This is not a chef who grandstands: I only saw him come out to the dining room twice during service the entire week we were coming and going, once to see how a table of French Rugby players was faring (apparently his second passion), the other to greet two burly men who handed him a mysterious wooden box; whatever it was (I’m guessing truffles), he fed them an outrageous lunch for their efforts.  The highlight of the Gastronomic he graciously made for us on a Saturday night (the menu is usually only served during the week) were Saint Jacques de Normandie Rôties, bouillon de crustacés, carottes variées ~ Roasted scallops in a shellfish bouillon with heirloom carrots ~ and an Oeuf de Poule Mollet, Duxelles de Champignons, Mousses au Café ~ basically a soft boiled hen egg ( but oh what an egg) over wild mushrooms in a mocha foam. Break the yolk and it floods through the mushrooms into the mocha. It tastes as if he’s spun everything you’ve ever loved about breakfast until all that’s left is its essence. The Tarte Fine aux Pomme (washed down with a perfect glass of Pineau) was the diameter of a small dinner plate, thin and crispy, with a perfectly caramelized edge. This isn’t tricky cooking, but there’s a balance that connects each beautifully sourced ingredient to the next, and all of it to the whole, that’s really remarkable.

The service at Comptoir is perfunctory, they don’t linger or explain anything, but the buzz here is unlike anywhere else we ate ~ it cuts through the pretensions this kind of food, were it served on linen with more space between tables and a less frantic atmosphere, would engender. You get Prada handbags next to backpacks next to briefcases. There is light, color, conversation in the tiny room that doesn’t stop for the food, except to eat it. Best of all there is a sense of connection to Yves' food that just makes everyone incredibly happy.

If there’s a larger moral to the truth that food is better in a restaurant where the chef is present in more than name only, it would be easy to make it by comparing our breakfast and dining experiences at Comptoir with HIX at the Belgraves, where we stayed in London. Mark Hix spent 12 years as head chef of a corporate group before he went off to earn a Michelin in Lyme Regis. Since then he’s written six cookbooks and started his own corporation opening four more restaurants and a critically acclaimed cocktail bar ~ Marks ~ working with famed mixologist Nick Dangerfield.  Like Yves, Hix is known to be a fanatic about sourcing which in England these days is a joy for a diner, especially if your taste runs to things like Fillet of Hereford Beef on the bone with Bashed Neeps and Scrumpy Fried Onions, which we demolished with a bottle of wine (after a few rounds of cocktails) on our first night back from Paris. But breakfast was a pedantic and expensive affair, and a second meal with our daughter was forgettable, served in a hot, noisy room where the chairs scraped the floor like a witch’s nail against a chalkboard. The service was lousy, with a confused assortment of servers and bussers (no sommelier that I met) bouncing around like too many balls in a pinball machine.  It was the end of fashion week and the hotel, renovated by the design friendly folks who built 60 Thompson in NYC, had just opened so yeah, cut them some slack. The hotel is cool. That still begs the question of who was at the helm of the restaurant.

I keep hearing that expansion is the only way to make any money in this business, but from the diner’s point of view it’s a double-edged sword. Consistency is what you need to stay on top of your game, but once you take the leap to expand, it's delegate well or die.

I did have a truly extraordinary gin cocktail at HIX made by Dangerfield consultant Stewart which featured two surprising ingredients: Tonka Beans and Ambergris. Hix’s next project is pre-made fusion cocktails. No doubt he’s got the sourcing and the science part down.

71 Mazarin is a discreet, freshest-sustainable-fish-at-the-market restaurant, with an unadorned approach to the food (marinated herring with citrus, exquisite whole steamed sea bream) that respects the waistline. On the night we dined the small clubby room had bickering fashion models, a table full of businessmen that knew their wine, and one old guy who, if I’m not mistaken, was dining with his beautiful but mysteriously ageless mistress.

The lovely wood paneled dining room at Greens has the same clubby appeal as 71, but its menu, a staple in St James’ since Simon Parker Bowles (yes, that Parker Bowles) opened it in 1982, is built for the comfort you get from perfectly battered Fish & Chips, Liver & Onions, Bangers & Mash. Basically Greens has been serving great oysters and cocktails, and ~ I say this as a compliment ~ perfect nursery food for 30 years. The chef stayed opened for us when we wandered in from shopping on Jermyn Street at five after three in need of some succor, which they expertly provided. The service was spot on. 30 years and still good? Hats off.

Everyone told us we were lucky to score a table at Jason Atherton's Pollen Street Social, and I may not have had the best time because we weren’t in the main room, but something didn’t jive with me and the place ~ maybe I wasn’t feeling very social. I like seeing samphire used as an herb in the crab salad; inhaled the meltingly soft beef cheek and tongue with heavily horseradished mashed potatoes; and still can’t figure out how lime granita shaved over warm panna cotta worked (but it did). At the end of the meal, talking about wine, Geoff mentioned who we were. The head waiter, who’d been sniffing down his nose at us throughout the meal, went off like a shot and looked us up online, after which service suddenly became incredibly good. That’s not the way it should work.

La Caprice is a much loved restaurant that has been serving the same dishes since they opened (and I feel like they’ve been open forever), but if you’re going for the gold in consistency, this is the way to do it. Every dish we had was delicious ~ Sweet Crispy Duck with roasted cashews, pea shoots and white bok choy threads; Cod Cheeks with marrow on toast; Baby Slip Soles pan fried in butter with tiny brown shrimp. The room is still full of its preening clientele, Mick Jagger still grinning from the wall, service still excellent. I love Caprice, Geoff and I had our first date there and it’s the restaurant my editor would take me to when I delivered a particularly good story. The rule of thumb then was that if you wanted to see who Harold Pinter wasn’t mad at you’d come here after the theatre let out instead of the Ivy (its sister restaurant). We usually eat at the bar, the better to study the incredible floral arrangements that hang, seemingly waterless, from the ceiling.

Le Grand Colbert on the other hand, is a grande dame that has not aged well. This is tourist food;  paint by numbers dining with plastic flowers and indifferent waiters. I had no idea it was where the last scene in Something’s Gotta Give was shot (I defy anyone to tell me where) which may explain why the lovely guys from SF who sat next to us were there, but not why the food on the night we dined was inedible. The only upside is that I’ve crossed it off my bucket list of beautiful old zinc bar bistros and Geoff has promised never to order cockles again unless he can smell the sea or sees Terence Conran walking in the door.  He was ill with food poisoning all night and into the next day.

I’m not sure how we managed to eat anything at Roast, as we’d just spent two hours grazing through Borough Market and polished off a dozen oysters and a Premier Cru Chablis at Wright Brothers Oyster and Porter House Bar only an hour before. The food at Roast is sourced from the market, and if it’s not brilliant, the view down into the market is. We had delicious Beer Battered Cornish Whiting with thrice fried chips and mushy peas and anchovy rubbed Hay Baked Leg of Southdown Mutton.  Geoff had Yorkshire Rhubarb Mess for dessert but I went for the Lincolnshire Poacher to see how they did their fig chutney. You gotta love a menu that has, as a description of the rib of beef, a quote from a farmer named Gwyn Davies of Lon Farm, Denbigh, in North Wales: "the Welsh Black’s reputation has been built on its capability to thrive on marginal upland areas. In Scotland cattle were often used as currency, which gave rise to the description of the Welsh Black as “the black gold from the Welsh hills.”  Who knew?

I’m a sucker for restaurants that look like the Delaunay ~ call it my Ryan McNally jones. In fact, Chris Corbin and Jeremy King are (sort of) the Ryan McNally’s of London, whose Caprice Holdings also created Le Caprice, The Ivy, J. Sheekey and the Wolsley (small world: Mark Hix started his career at Caprice). The Delaunay is a carbon copy of Wolsley down to the last piece of silver plate and the polished Viennese cake table.  It’s a beautiful room. These guys buy gorgeous properties, then outfit them to the nines but still serve affordable meals. Props to them. But come here for breakfast, lunch or tea; unlike Caprice, the food alone won’t captivate at dinner.

Which brings me to the two best meals we had on the trip, both cooked by young chefs that took no prisoners in their passion to present their version of cutting edge food.

The boys at Medlar, Joe Nairne (the chef) and David O’Connor (his partner and SOM) are clearly going for a Michelin, with a pared down aesthetic (better to concentrate on the food) and a passionate staff. A Medlar is a type of citrus I’d never heard of but can now tell you ~ as I ordered Foie Gras Ballotine Salad with hazelnuts and Medlar jelly as a starter ~ tastes like quince that had sex with a plum after a brief affair with a lemon.  Oyster and House-smoked Mackerel Salad with Dashi Jelly and Horseradish Cream is a trickier dish than it sounds and they nailed it: fishy, creamy, salty, with just a bit heat at the finish. I had the Bream with Baby Squid with Risotto Nero and shaved fennel in a citrus jus; Geoff landed in ox tongue and heart heaven ~  it was served with a perfectly caramelized Endive Tart and Sauce Poivrade.

Medlar also had my second favorite dessert, a blood orange sorbet served with Sipsmith Gin and freshly baked Madeleine’s ~ surprising how gin at this stage of a meal can work as a palate cleanser and also (as I soon found out) put you to depthless sleep.

Back in Paris, we finally found Vivant a half hour after the Chinese taxi driver had unceremoniously dumped us a few blocks away (the 10th is unfamiliar stomping grounds for me). Jimi Hendrix was blaring from a crash and bash kitchen not much bigger than my son’s in Soho, and you can’t swing a cat in that. When I told the barman (who was also head waiter and busser) our name he said ‘cool’ and lead us to a table that, I’m not kidding, had chairs you find in schoolrooms for the under 12s. It's a sliver of a room with walls and ceiling incongruously covered in exquisite, museum worthy art nouveau tiles (previous life: exotic bird shop), Vivant is really a wine bar that serves food. But don’t be fooled ~ the jumble of mismatched furniture and the insouciant air only makes the level of foodcraft here all the more remarkable. Pierre Jancou may be a man with a cause beyond cooking (natural unfiltered wines) but his dedication to all things bio-dynamic also speaks to the heart of a limited chalkboard menu he only serves Monday through Friday. These were the most remarkable vegetables I had in Europe ~ if I had to guess he’s reducing the water he steams them in before he adds a bit of butter. We started with incredible Burrata ~ apparently it's shipped from a small coop on an island off the coast of Sicily ~  which I devoured while Geoff contemplated a plate of thinly sliced cured meat that was surprisingly smokey and aromatic given how fatty it was (my French failed me but I think it was made from the tasty bits in the neck of a bovine). We had pan fried chicken and vegetables and a molten chocolate cake to follow ~ all of it very simply prepared, all of it extremely delicious. If you aren’t familiar with unfiltered wines ~ and some of the most exciting meals in Paris continue to be found in bio-dynamic wine bars ~ you need to adjust mentally for the cloudy presentation and a bandwidth of flavor profiles that you don’t expect, and won’t get, from filtered wine even from organically grown grapes.

Where the clientele in Medlar was middle aged and well heeled, at Vivant it was a mixed younger crowd ~ even kids.  Both meals were delicious but they defy comparison: Medlar is in for the long haul; they deserve a star for the finesses of every dish. Because Jancou follows his passion wherever it takes him (he's just returned to Paris from a year in the South of France) I’d be surprised if the lovely bad boys of Vivant are still there the next time I go to Paris.

But I truly hope they are. Just when I begin to think that eating in Europe is wonderful because it fits me like a soft old leather glove you know the contours of, places like Medlar and Vivant provide a much needed jolt to the system. They put sourcing out front but in a way that’s not at all precious. We could have traveled farther than Europe to “get away” this winter, and certainly eaten more exotically, but with a few meals like these, my museum days, and an afternoon walking through the winter sun in Regent’s Park with my girls (and Charlie), I came home sated and excited for spring. Then again, for the walk alone ~ with the babies who are now having babies, living fully engaged lives that will contribute to the narrative I’ve built my own life around, I would have traveled to the moon.

Comptoir Medlar Vivant (for reservations, email: More Than Organic HIX Pollan Street Social Borough Market Le Fooding

Top Image of Pierre Jancou and Vivant from Paris Notebook (Phyllis Flick); images of Medlar and Pollan Street Social courtesy of their websites

All text Jil Hales. All photos Jil Hales (unless otherwise noted).



Recipes for Barndiva Oscar Cocktails........Preparing for the Red Carpet..............

This Week's 'Dish' comes courtesy of "Homage to Oscar," an article by Diane Peterson in today's Press Democrat...

While I am still off visiting loved ones in London and Paris, we are once again relying on the kindness of strangers to supply worthy contenders for Dish of the Week. Last week we lucked out to have the talented folks at Mix Gardens and their beautiful photographic rendition of Ryan's Lobster Risotto to piggy back off of ~ this week our cup runneth over with an Oscar friendly article from the Press Democrat's talented Diane Peterson.  It comes complete with recipes for Barndiva Oscar Night cocktails, The Clooney and Dragongirl, in addition to two inimitable Chef Fancher dishes that are part of our six course, big screen menu.

Whether you plan to watch the Oscar's at home barefoot or come to Barndiva in boots or a ballgown, we urge you to consider getting together with friends this Sunday night and turning up the sound a little. Living up to our New Year's Resolution of taking every opportunity that comes our way to eat, drink and party with friends this year is not only incredibly fun and seriously delicious, it's turning out to be a direction that's wise beyond measure.

Click here for article.

The One (and only) Barndiva Annual Oscar Party Menu

Click menu to view.

Grace (or rather Gracie) Notes

I’ve been doing some serious eating over here in Europe, from chefs hitting their stride (Medlar in London, Comptoir here in Paris) and a few just starting out (the rock n' roll boys at Vivant).  Walked through some impressive gardens (yes, even in winter) and taken the requisite tour of winding rooms in great museums that never fail to inject my flagging spirit with a sense of wonder. Cézanne's apples and a walk in the winter sunshine through the Luxumborg Gardens with Geoffrey and trust me, it's a good day.

But the best thing I’ve experienced by far has been looking into the eyes of baby Gracie ~ whom I’ve just met for the first time ~ as she attempted to form words last week as we sat with mother Elly in a bistro in West London. She had no idea what she wanted to say ~  but boy did she have a go. And there wasn't an ounce of frustration in the extraordinary joy she had in trying.

Ryan, K2 and I talk a lot about what the words and pictures we’ve been sending out into the blogosphere over the past year really mean. Truth be told, OUR attempts often come with a surfeit of frustration. But every now and then I get a glimmer that all this talk about food, farming, art and friendship is good. Even if we don't get it right, our attempts to plant seeds for things which can be truly nourishing keeps us going in the right direction. Maybe that's the connection between all of us when we try and communicate. Even imperfectly, there can be, should be,  joy in the effort.  We just need to keep digging.

If you missed this last week, click below for Mix Garden's blog, and don't overlook the slideshow of Chef Ryan's Creamy Celery Root & Lobster Risotto with Mix Garden Greens and Edible Flowers.

Diners' Choice Award 2012

All text Jil Hales. All photos Jil Hales (unless otherwise noted).



Dish of the Week........ In the Gallery


Dish of the Week:

Frog Hollow Peach Frangipane Tart

Once upon a time the valleys surrounding Healdsburg were filled with commercial stone fruit farms ~ dozens and upon dozens of plum, peach and apricot varieties which flourished in the temperate climate and rich soils of all three valleys. Sadly, we now have only one lone peach farm left in Dry Creek Valley, a result of rising land prices and the ongoing difficulties of making a living farming any fruit that cannot be made into wine.  Thankfully some parts of Northern California are still known for superlative fruits and nuts; for our dessert this week we ventured down to the San Joaquin River delta where our featured farm  ~ the beautiful Frog Hollow Farm ~ is located. One of the first stone fruit farms in the country to move to large scale organic farming methods twenty one years ago, besides supplying restaurants like Barndiva and Chez Panisse, Frog Hollow thrives by selling its fruit at farmer's markets, online, and servicing a thriving 400 strong CSA.  With fruit like this, only picked when it is hanging fully ripe on the tree, imagination and talent ~ rather than a whole lot of sugar~ is all you need to create memorable desserts.

Closer to home the man responsible for Dish of the Week is our wonderful new pastry chef Octavio Alcantar, who started his professional career ~ as many great chefs have ~ at The French Laundry as a dishwasher way back when the restaurant first opened. He quickly graduated to the pastry station and worked there learning his craft for 11 years, eventually becoming an integral part of the opening team at Bouchon Bakery in Yountville. Over the years he has had the opportunity to learn from a number of world class pastry chefs including Stephen Durfee and Sebastian Rouxel.

Ryan and Octavio, who met when their stations faced each other at TFL,  remained friends always hoping to connect again professionally.  We were truly pleased when he joined our staff earlier this summer as his consummate baking and chocolate skills have lead to a remarkable following in just a few short months.  In addition to inspiring our dessert menu and baking all of Barndiva's wedding cakes, Octavio brings a deft hand to ice cream and sorbets ~ it would seem there is nothing this guy can't do.

For this Frangipane Peach Tart ~ the natural almond flavor of Frangipane is a beautiful partner for fruit with aromatic floral notes ~ Octavio macerated Frog Hollow peach halves in vanilla bean infused white wine overnight,  leaving the skins on to impart a beautiful color to the liquid which was then reduced for the peach syrup that completed the final dessert.

Before baking, the macerated peaches were slipped into the light frangipane batter which had been poured into a shallow baking pan just deep enough to leave all but the surface  ~ which softly crisps in baking ~ submerged, resulting in an exceptionally moist cake filled with succulent, almond infused peaches.

Octavio paired his Peach Frangipane Tart with a Vanilla Bean Lemon Thyme ice cream, a seemingly unusual combination which played off the natural sweetness of the peaches bringing the slightest hints of citrus and green aromatics to this delightful summer dessert which was elegant, timeless... and delicious.

In the Gallery:

When Karma Palmo walked into Studio Barndiva unannounced two years ago this slight, extremely shy Tibetan woman was dragging a rather over-sized suitcase behind her full of exquisite naturally dyed rugs, tightly woven table runners and intricately crocheted scarves made by the women in her village which she explained was little more than a refugee camp in Nepal still under Chinese rule after a half a century.  To hear her describe it, each day they trekked outside the gates of the compound to harvest the only raw materials available to them to practice their craft, which thankfully grew wild (and free).

One of the joys of owning this gallery for the past four years has been to support talented artisans whose work is often made from found, as opposed to bought, materials. But while we have seen a lot of hemp and stinging nettle products over the years, admired for their sustainability and sought after because they are so durable, as raw materials they are actually not easy to work with. The pieces from Karma's fledgling company ~ Tibetan Organic Textiles ~ are elegantly designed and constructed pieces, expertly hand made, that will only get softer and more beautiful with age.

Karma now lives in the Bay Area with her father, Ngodup Tsering, who finally received his green card after decades of waiting and helps her run Tibetan Organic Textiles as she goes to school and they both acclimate to life in America.

Moving story, beautiful useful objects made by people we are proud to support.

Nettle place-mat/runner (shown below) $18 per 20" section Hand crocheted scarves $130  Rugs priced per piece.

All text Jil Hales. All photos, Jil Hales  and Dawid Jaworski,  (unless otherwise noted)



Dish of the Week........ Wedding in the Gardens


Dish of the Week:

Seared Scallops with Chanterelles & Corn

Scallops are one of those foods you either love or hate because of their unusual pillowy texture ~ which is offsetting to some, alluring to others ~ but did you know that the part we eat is actually the muscle which propels this mollusk across the ocean floor every time it claps its shells? Tasting fragrantly of the sea, they are often one of the most expensive items on a fine dining menu.  The good news about sourcing high quality scallops in season is that they grow quickly and mature at a young age, so there are abundant supplies of them this time of year especially in the Atlantic. The reason Seafood Watch only gives them a "good alternative" rating for sustainability is down to the fact that the further out to sea you go to harvest them, the more likely the catch can cause damage to the seabed.  Currently the only 100% safe alternative to wild sea harvest is eating farmed, which to our mind comes with its own set of trade offs.  Our scallops this week were caught off the coast of Massachusetts where Mike, our fishmonger of many years (who works for Aloha Seafood and closely with CleanFish) tells us they were scooped up from a  sandy bottom habitat where harvesting is less likely to cause ecological damage.

When you see the word ‘day boat’ on the menu, it simply means the ship was out at sea for less than 12 hours. Anything longer and you can assume a catch was frozen; with scallops this is something you want to avoid as they naturally retain excess water. Freezing can adversely affect their milky soft texture. And with scallops, at the end of the day, it’s all about the texture.

Fresh scallops are easy to cook if you learn to nail the timing. They can take high heat ~ the better to get that thin caramelized edge especially surprising when followed by the soft meat of the muscle ~ but you can’t take your eyes off them, which is hard in a busy kitchen (and probably the reason I’ve had more than my fair share of undercooked or overcooked rubbery scallops over the years). At Barndiva, we pull them off the heat the second they’ve reached medium rare, then let them rest momentarily on toweling to drain.

Earthy, sweet, summery, with just a touch of bright acidity was how Chef Ryan rolled out his thinking on combining sun-dried fresh chanterelles, the first of the good corn, opal basil from our garden and diced heirloom tomatoes from Mix Garden for this dish. It was a combination of ingredients calibrated to enhance but not overwhelm the subtle taste of the scallops, which had been flash seared in grape seed oil and a sprig of thyme garlic.

Ryan plated over a Starry Night swirl of Genovese basil which Andrew had spun just before service with EVO and garlic. This vibrantly colored pecorino-free pesto is a neat one to learn, working especially well when you have a protein that is delicate in flavor.

To hell with the Freudian connotations, this was an unabashed, guilt free sensual mouthful. If you aren’t a scallop fan yet, come on down. If you are.... you know where to find us.

Wedding In the Gardens

It goes without saying that this week's bride looked beautiful as she walked out of Barndiva's enormous mahogany doors to marry her sweetheart in our gardens a week ago Saturday. Her calm, elegant, smiling demeanor did not even falter when  an ecstatic cheer rose up from the  200 friends and relatives in attendance. She made it all look easy but for this bride, who pulled off a wedding that bridged vastly different cultural traditions with complete aplomb, God was in the details.

From her French net birdcage veil down to the chapel train of her elegant strapless gown, with its demure sweetheart shaped bodice, every small touch she had spent months putting into place spoke volumes. The gown’s taffeta bow, which would not have been out of place on the runway of a couture show circa 1950, also channeled ~ apologies for not knowing the Chinese equivalent ~ a beautiful  Japanese Obi. The exquisite  bouquet she designed with Bonnie Z of Dragonfly featured pink Cymbidium orchids, Vandella roses and burgundy Calla Lilies ~ all traditional for an Asian wedding where the bride never carries white flowers ~ but was encircled by exuberantly swooping blades of bright green bear grass that eloquently captured the thoroughly modern spirit of this young woman.

It's often been said that the trick to a truly successful wedding is to plan to your heart’s content ~ then let it all go, trusting that if you set the right wheels in motion joy will carry the day.  For all the meticulous planning that went into this wedding, from the minute they said their vows in dappled sunlight on the grassy verge, to the last dance in the gallery six hours later ~ this couple let it flow.

All text Jil Hales. All photos, Jil Hales, Dawid Jaworski  (unless otherwise noted)



Sommelier Tommy DeBiase's 2009 Pinot

The bottling and release of our Sommelier Tommy DeBiase's 2009 Pinot was cause for celebration around Barndiva last week. We love it when we can make a real connection between food and wine, and it doesn't get better when we can do that and ALSO celebrate one of our own. This is the third year Tommy has been making wines with Fritschen grapes. Fritschen VIneyards is located on Eastside Road across the river from the old William Selyem crown. It is also a farm where some of our finest lamb is raised (as well as olives brined on the branch that we serve with our whole roasted baby poussin).

The winemaker's notes read: "Old vines grown on 36 degree steep rocky hillsides, result in low yields (only 1.5 tons per acre). Lots of minerality and crispness with Bing Cherry and Pomegranate fruit, with a structure that has both bright acidity and supple tannin."

DeBiase 2009 Fritschen Vineyards Pinot Noir, by the bottle and by the glass, is now available in the lounge.



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.



Know Your Lamb

(originally posted July 28, 2010) Squeamish, are we? Then you may want to forgo this week’s journal entry in which we butcher the fine animal to your right. Before you stop reading however, consider this: if you enjoyed perusing the Dish of the Week just seconds ago, what makes you think you won’t also find it interesting to make a real connection between that delectable plate of food and the honest labor it took on the part of a farmer and a chef to get it to table? Dish of the Week was all about this animal’s liver, which came out of its body. In the run up to the Taste of Place Dinner we’re going to cook our way through the animal from nose to tail, a delicious endeavor, but ~ as with most everything we serve at Barndiva ~ it’s germane to remember the delicious part didn’t start at the plate.

Of course I want you to continue reading. For most people knowing where their food comes from blithely stops with an image of an animal grazing in a bucolic pasture. What happens after that is often thought to be unpleasant or disgusting or mysterious, sometimes all three. Yet it’s possible to embrace the icky bits of life when they are integral to the process. I always smile when new parents describe natural childbirth as ‘so incredibly beautiful,’ because it is, icky bits and all. I know, I know, that’s about life, where slaughter and butchery is about death, and yet, unless you forgo eating animals on ethical grounds, isn’t your appreciation of meat a celebration of life? The animals… and yours?

There can be no true locavore economy without making it possible for farmers and ranchers who raise the animals we eat to get those animals processed locally. While clean and humane mobile slaughterhouses have made it possible for a few dogged consumers (with big freezers) to purchase animals that are slaughtered humanely where they lived their lives, it’s going to take more than a few diehard foodies before the word local can be applied to animal proteins as easily as we now apply it to fruits and vegetables. There were understandable reasons over the past thirty years that resulted in America consolidating localized slaughter into larger and less humane facilities farther and farther away from where we live and eat our food, but those reasons are no longer viable. It is an incontestable fact that their size has given rise to unsafe, inhumane feedlots ~ massive holding pens ~ which do not and should not be part of the abattoir. Four large corporations now process 85 percent of the nation's cattle, which they can only control (barely) with dangerous cocktails of antibiotics and chemicals. Make no mistake: it isn’t only the animals who suffer as a result of corporate agriculture’s take over of this essential part of our food chain.

But while I’ve yet to meet a person who disagrees with me when I launch into a rant about the dangers of corporate control of the food chain, or bemoan the energy squandered shipping animals that are raised and will be consumed in one area away to be slaughtered, or even how inhumane it is to make an animal take such an unnecessary journey, something always happens when the conversation drifts toward the slaughterhouse door. A strange NIMBY response occurs when the words local (which we revere) and slaughterhouse (which is frightening) are put together. When a town like Ukiah, whose roots in ranching go all the way back and is now struggling economically, can reject a proposal for a small, progressive slaughterhouse that could serve the entire county of Mendocino, as they did last year, you know something is wrong. Change is possible ~ in two decades New Zealand has gone from American-sized centralized slaughter and meatpacking to smaller locally owned slaughterhouses dispersed across the country ~ but it’s not going to happen until we get over a modern repugnance against all things connected with death and begin to see it again for what it truly is: the final part of the life cycle.

So here’s what I propose. We do it lamb by lamb. All the talk in the world about the bigger issues of sustainability and safety won’t get us to change the way things are now if we aren’t able to bridge the disconnect between the meat on your plate and the whys and wherefores of how it got there. A good place to start is one single step back from the sexy part of cooking and consuming. Butchery is a lost art in American kitchens thanks to the role supermarkets played in making it easy to look away from slaughter. But something is lost every time you break the seal on the plastic and lift an animal part out of its Styrofoam package. Even the way you handle it communicates an “ugh, let’s get this part over with.” The smell, more a result of flesh being trapped beneath plastic, is not appealing, while the touch, instead of firm and resilient, is usually slimy. Dozens of hands, often in different states, handle one mass produced lamb as it makes its way to your table. Compare that to the short journey our animal took. John Fritschen, who raised the animal in his beautiful vineyard overlooking the Russian River Valley, guided it into a cage and took it over the hill on Monday where a USDA agent inspected it for 24 hours before the proprietor of the facility quickly dispatched the animal on Tuesday. John delivered the carcass, its organs in a separate bag, to Barndiva on Wednesday. Ryan was the fourth person to handle the meat before Pancho and Andrew began to see cuts of it coming down the hot line in the restaurant Thursday night.

The 90 lb, eight-month old lamb Ryan butchered had virtually no odor. Watching Chef break it down ~ hack sawing the neck from the body, deftly detaching the shoulders, precisely separating the belly, rack and saddle, breaking the vertebrae to make cutting the legs away from the trunk easier ~ it struck me that the techniques inherent in really great cooking, as well as the vegetables, herbs, spices and condiments, everything we use that constitutes a recipe, don’t start in a cookbook they really start here, ruled by which part of the animal the cut came from. Chef worked swiftly and cleanly ~ there was no hanging about ~ but it was the animal that provided the road map. Every now and then he closed his eyes and felt along a contour of a joint, trusting his fingers more than his eyes to tell him where to direct his knife. It was beautiful to watch ~ and it went a long way in explaining why he always cooks his proteins to perfection. This kind of understanding starts long before the meat hits the pan.

Years ago I knew a great Irish butcher in London, name of Mack, who used to make up stories about the animals as he carved them up. Nice and lean he’d say about a shapely lamb’s leg, this lassie must ‘a been a runner, or, oh look at the beautiful fat on this boy, as he sliced through the perfectly marbled ribeye, he liked the shade by the tree, he did. At the time I assumed he only nattered on to keep himself from being bored or having to talk to the endless stream of Hampstead housewives, but now I’m not so sure. I thought of Mack as Ryan ran his hand down the entire length of our lamb’s body. Beautiful animal Chef said before he made the first cut. Mack used to say the same thing as he wrapped a cut of meat in paper and tied the bundle with string, nodding as he handed it across the counter and I headed out into the night to feed it to my family. For both men, whose livelihoods are intrinsically reliant upon the animals we raise to eat, the words offered a kind of benediction. We often forget that a benediction is both blessing and guidance. We need both now.


Heather Smith wrote a good article in in San Francisco Magazine worth reading.

Michael Pollan's PBS interview Modern Meat.

There are usually no butchery classes offered this time of year, but you can go to an incredible fair this weekend where butchery will be only one of the food related skills you can learn about ~ with lots of opportunity for hands on experience. As Sophia Bates is one the organizers, we highly recommend a drive up to Anderson Valley this weekend. Where Sophia goes great food, music, and life changing good times are not far behind.