Daniel Klein in Tartine Bakery kitchen in San Francisco.
All Photos: Wendy Goodfriend
Regular Bay Area Bites readers will be familiar with the edible explorations of BAB contributor Daniel Klein. The omnivorous chef and his vegetarian girlfriend/cameragal Mirra Fine are the dynamic duo behind The Perennial Plate, a web-based, weekly documentary real food romp devoted to socially responsible, sustainable and adventurous eating.
As you may recall, season one of the good grub chronicles introduced video viewers to a year of food finds in Minnesota, a state that Klein and Fine used to call home. Klein wants people to see where their meat comes from, so he documents rabbit, pig, and turkey killings, along with deer hunting, squirrel slaughtering and bison butchering, often set to a haunting soundtrack. For the more squeamish among us, there’s also cranberry harvesting, morel mushroom gathering, and wild food foraging, typically accompanied by more uptempo tunes.
In season two, which began in early May, the culinary couple took their show on the road for a six-month journey across America in search of stories (and the people behind them) that speak to the heart of food and farming practices in the nation. To date their eating expeditions have led them to harvesting produce in urban farms in New Orleans, hunting feral pigs in Texas, and catching frogs in Arkansas.
Funding for these mini food films has come from Klein’s fans via Kickstarter and the National Cooperative Grocers Association. Some 15,000 people see the weekly videos, with Californian viewers coming in second behind Minnesotans as top watchers. The savvy shooter distributes his web work via The Huffington Post, Grist, Serious Eats and Take Part.
In the Bay Area this week, Klein teamed up with Tartine Afterhours chef Samin Nosrat to cook a memorable family-style meal for 40 last night at Tartine Bakery in San Francisco. The guest list, gleaned from Nosrat’s considerable good food advocate contact list, included Chez Panisse Foundation folk, Eat Real Festival organizers, and a CUESA staffer. On the menu: Simple yet satisfying salads featuring new potatoes, roasted beets, and shaved summer squash. Followed by bronze-cut rigatoni served with Riverdog Farm pork for the meat eaters and cherry tomatoes generously doused in oregano from Oakland’s Pluck and Feather Farm for the veg heads.
Oh, and some “little snacks” to nibble on initially, mostly seasonal veggies sparingly and elegantly presented with a posse of boiled eggs topped with herbs that wowed the gourmet cooking crowd. Did I mention that Chad Robertson’s famed rustic bread was in abundance (and went home with diners)? Don’t get me started on the Sunny Slope Orchard’s apricots al cartoccio (think parchment paper) with whipped cream and lavender shortbread that provided the sweet end note to the meal.
Klein and Nosrat swung through the temporary dining room, gracious, grateful and generous hosts both. Fine filmed the event, which featured music by Sonya Cotton and Gabe Dominguez. The 28-year-old chef, who has trained and worked in many top Michelin starred restaurants around the world (The Fat Duck, St. John, Mugaritz, Bouchon, Applewood, and Craft) and made films about Africa and oil politics, took some time at the end of the evening to chat about year two of his real food tour.
Can you give us some of your initial impressions of the food scene in the Bay Area?
Obviously, local food here is huge, it’s easy and everywhere. There are even some people who are tired of the whole idea. But I could do another 52 week series right here.
How about some highlights from your visit so far?
On the farms: Riverdog is huge but they’ve been able to get big without sacrificing their values or quality. Sunny Slopes is small and I ate a plum there that was probably the most delicious plum I’ve ever tasted. Those apricots speak for themselves. And then there’s the local urban farming phenomenon personified by Esperanza Pallana of Pluck and Feather.
On the food front: We had a very good meal at Gather. It’s refreshing when a high-quality chef does really interesting things with vegetables.
As for people: Samin is the most generous, relaxed, fun-filled, well-connected person to work with — she organized this whole event — and she’s a great chef as well. And then there’s the incredible generosity of the woman in Glen Park, a random stranger, who heard we needed a place to stay and put us up for three nights.
Has anything surprised you in your travels?
People’s generosity and willingness to share their stories. We’ve met people who work really hard and maybe don’t have much but they still take the time to show us their world and teach us new things about food. People have fed us, given us a bed, and while we’ve certainly been in situations where some subjects are off limits, nobody has murdered us.
What’s the message you want viewers to take away from your films?
We want to educate and entertain and project a positive image of food around the country, without making it seem like things are perfect out there, because they’re not. We’re not trying to tell people what to do. We’re trying to make people think about their food and become more engaged with what they eat.
Foraging with Hank Shaw before we head to Ashland for a coop cookout on July 3rd. Once the road trip is over we’ll have time to think about related projects like a cookbook or a long-form film based on our travels. But right now we’re only a third of the way into it, so we’re busy hitting the road, editing en route, and meeting and eating with a diverse range of food and farming people around the country. The adventure continues.
Stay tuned for The Perennial Plate’s Bay Area installment coming soon in this space.