Sacramento Region’s Taste Restaurant Serves James Beard House
By Ed Murrieta
A week before Sacramento’s venerable Chinese restaurant Frank Fat’s and local naturalist blogger Hank Shaw brought home James Beard awards, an acclaimed farm-to-fork restaurant 40 miles east of Sacramento brought the region its first brush with New York City’s famed foodie foundation.
On April 30, chef-owner Mark Berkner and his staff from Taste Restaurant in Plymouth prepared dinner for 64 elite foodies at James Beard House, the Greenwich Village residence of the late cookbook author, television host and product pitchman where America’s culinary crème de la crème are invited to cook and raise money for the James Beard Foundation’s educational programs.
Berkner and his 7-year-old Amador County bistro have been praised on the pages of the Wine Spectator and the New York Times for seasonally focused, locally sourced menus that strike the rare balance between comfort and creativity.
For the James Beard House dinner, Berkner and his chef de cuisine, James Ablett, presented a farm-to-fork menu that celebrated a who’s who of farmers and artisan producers in the Sacramento region, including sturgeon from Passmore Ranch in Sloughhouse; caviar from Sterling Caviar in Elverta; guinea hen from Grimaud Farms in Stockton; Pacific swordfish from Sunh Fish Company in Sacramento; and produce from Produce Express, a Sacramento company whose relationships with farmers and chefs is a pillar of the region’s farm-to-fork movement.
“We wanted the guests to experience the spring bounty of our region combined with our cooking style,” Ablett said.
Which was no small feat. The Taste Restaurant team had to prepare much of its menu – including its standout appetizer, mushroom cigars – in advance in its own kitchen in Plymouth, leaving necessary day-of preparations and last-minute cooking for the little precious time they had in the home-sized Beard House kitchen.
“Just think of this as a catering,” Berkner told his staff. “Only the location is 3,000 miles from our restaurant.”
Those 3,000 food miles – transporting 400 pounds of food across the country along with airfare and lodging for five – people cost the restaurant about $15,000. But since much of the food and wine for the $130-per-person dinner was donated, the bite wasn’t so bad.
“We couldn’t think of a better way to celebrate our seventh year in business than to be at the James Beard House representing not only Taste Restaurant but our entire region,” said Tracey Berkner, Mark Berkner’s wife and co-owner of the restaurant.
I haven’t found any online reviews of the dinner yet, but here’s what Taste Restaurant’s James Beard House host had to say:
“What a joyful and memorable evening! Your talents and passion accompanied each dish … from the savory appetizers through each course, all arranged so thoughtfully.”