alembic garden

On Tuesday, April 7 at 6pm, the Red Vic movie house hosts a benefit for Pie Ranch, the farm and urban youth education center that also runs the popular Mission Pie. On the bill is a showing of the documentary King Corn the story of two hapless city guys who enter the world of Midwestern commodity farmers by leasing and growing a single acre of Iowa corn. King Corn will be followed by a 12-minute video exploring Pie Ranch and the farm-to-school education programs that it’s established with students from San Francisco’s Mission High.

Popcorn grown at Pie Ranch will be available, of course, along with local brews from Magnolia Brewery and wine from Sutton Cellars. Beer in hand, you’ll also be able to tour the newly planted kitchen garden of The Alembic next door. Snacks will come from The Alembic, including some using herbs and vegetables harvested right behind the restaurant.

Eight years ago, the Red Vic’s staff took their smoke breaks in a weedy backyard growing nothing but clumps of wild fennel. Then theater volunteer Lee Pickett, looking for a space to garden, started trucking in better soil and digging in plants. Now, sneaky patches of mint push up around flowering perennials, bees hum from flower to flower, and a heavily laden lemon tree seems to call out for a hammock and a tall glass of iced tea.

The most recent addition to this secret garden is a collection of some two dozen donated wine barrels filled to their brims with organic soil and compost. Planted in February, the barrels are already nourishing a collection of robust edibles: red radishes shouldering out of the dirt, peppery arugula, spring onions, thumbelina carrots, tarragon, sorrel, oregano, sage, and more, all cared for by Pie Ranch intern (and Mission High student) Francisco Figueroa.

While production levels are limited by the amount of space and sunlight available, Alembic chef Jordan Grosser is already smitten by the harvest growing right outside his door. “I come out here every day,” to check out the progress of the plants, he admits, adding that later in the summer he hopes to do a special dinner featuring their garden produce in every course.

Bar manager (and cocktail alchemist) Daniel Hyatt agrees. Already, Hyatt is infusing honey with the garden’s lavender for the gin-based Bee’s Knees, and livening up the gin, lime, and celery juice of the Southern Exposure with lots of freshly snipped mint. Says Hyatt, “The accessibility is what makes it great, to be able to come out and find some inspiration growing in a wine barrel.”

Tickets for the benefit are $20-$100.

alembic garden

Event: April 7 Benefit for Pie Ranch 7 April,2009Stephanie Rosenbaum Klassen


Stephanie Rosenbaum Klassen

Stephanie Rosenbaum Klassen is a longtime local food writer, author, and cook. Her books include The Art of Vintage Cocktails (Egg & Dart Press), World of Doughnuts (Egg & Dart Press); Kids in the Kitchen: Fun Food (Williams Sonoma); Honey from Flower to Table (Chronicle Books) and The Astrology Cookbook: A Cosmic Guide to Feasts of Love (Manic D Press). She has studied organic farming at UCSC and holds a certificate in Ecological Horticulture from the Center for Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems. She does frequent cooking demonstrations at local farmers’ markets and has taught food writing at Media Alliance in San Francisco and the Continuing Education program at Stanford University. She has been the lead restaurant critic for the San Francisco Bay Guardian as well as for San Francisco magazine. She has been an assistant chef at the Headlands Center for the Arts, an artists’ residency program located in the Marin Headlands, and a production cook at the Marin Sun Farms Cafe in Pt Reyes Station. After some 20 years in San Francisco interspersed with stints in Oakland, Santa Cruz, Brooklyn, and Manhattan, she recently moved to Sonoma county but still writes in San Francisco several days a week.

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