Thursday, July 31, 2008

Bound to Cover Just a Little More Ground

And now a word from our Director of Operations, Dean James:

San Francisco makes me happy. Really, it does. Very much. It forces some issues to the surface very easily, takes some of the effort away, if you will, in the best possible way. You want to be the restaurant that sources locally, organically, sustainably, or any other word that ends in –ly. Well, do it. It’s right in front of you. Accessibility like few other places on earth, it seems, a climate that’s favorable to just about anything you want to grow. I’ve been so infatuated with those cities or regions where it’s a lot harder to get the ‘good stuff’ onto a menu, and how much harder they work to get it, and they do get it. It’s brilliant, really, and must make for an amazing amount of self-satisfaction. I’m jealous. Here at the pub, we pick up a phone or drive down the street, we can get it. Whenever. I like that way too.

I simplify the process, of course. Anyway, what is sustainable or organic, after all? It can be quite subjective, as it turns out. Sustainability connects the systems of human economy (production, distribution, etc.) to the systems of human ecology (agriculture, fishing etc.) and measures environmental impact, among other things. Environmental impact, as we know, can be a screwy science, depending on who’s doing the research and who’s paying for the research. And then you inevitably bump up against the fact that 7 billion people on one planet is probably not good, in and of itself not sustainable. Growth rates are spiking dramatically upward, but organic food still accounts for only 2% of all food sales worldwide. Organic certification is a murky process, and varies from country to country. World grain supply is down to some of the lowest levels ever, as demand raises the price of food and for us, beer too. For every new farmer, another one goes down, either permanently or to the all too lucrative cash crop. Just ask
Michael Pollen about corn.  And spinach scared everybody a few years back, and tomatoes have done it again this year. How can you really trust food?

I’m being a total downer, sorry. It’s not all that bad. The individual is starting to care about what goes in his/her mouth. And that is a measure of victory right there. The old manifesto “know your farmer, know your food” is as prescient as ever, and the comforting figure of Alice Waters looms large over the current restaurant industry, connecting the farm to the table with a chain that hopefully never gets broken. And seeing as you are reading this, the message can continue to grow at that exponential rate, everyone plays a part in spreading it. Magnolia acts the message because everyone here believes it, or else it would never work. So in the spirit of things, here’s five things I’m really into right now:

• Slow Food
Those people rock. As Slow Food Nation aims to overtake San Francisco this Labor Day Weekend, do yourself a favor and check out the event itself and the mothership site. As catchphrases go, Good, Clean and Fair is a pretty good one. 

• Heidrun Meadery
Few people seem to love honey more than Gordon Hull, who runs the Heidrun Meadery in Arcata, way up at the top of California. And we love the product here at Magnolia. Mead, or wine made from honey, if you’re not into the whole brevity thing, would give beer and wine a run for their money in the which-came-first debate. And the history is not lost on him. Do yourself a favor and
check out his site, and his mead, conveniently available at Magnolia.

• Italian beer
Catching some folks by surprise, the craft beer movement in Italy is alive and kicking, and starting to make it to a supplier near you. And the best part is: it’s not all great! That is, some of it tastes amazing, but it’s rare that you can look at a region and see the growth of the whole group, complete with the almost-there’s and the why-would-you-do-that’s. In Italy, beer inspiration can come from anywhere: Belgium, England, even the USA. Styles vary wildly, ingredients tend to be a good mix of local and carefully sourced, and the brewers themselves are viewed as mavericks, which seems to only harden their resolve to be different. Shameless plug: you can drink some of it at Alembic right now.

• Saba
What is saba, you say? Basically, grape must is the residue that is produced from crushing grapes to make wine. Unfermented, it is cooked down for a near eternity until it is a sticky, honey-like substance that, trust me, will make anything taste great. Brandon has been using it perhaps too sparingly on our Baby Doll watermelon bar snack with a touch of salt. I have been eating whole spoonfuls when no one is looking. Whatever gets you through the night, right?

• The Ferry Plaza Farmer’s Market
Kind of a risky venture, I know, as a Saturday at the Ferry building, for those of you who know it, can be either an exercise in patience for your fellow man, or can build an instant desire to do bodily harm to tourists of all persuasions. But, I have staved off the latter impulse on the last few trips through some completely random interactions. I’ve always been excited by the willingness of the farmers to talk shop with you, especially if you arrive early enough, before the masses. And it’s fun to be pushing the big cart around, trying to beat all of the cities chefs and restaurateurs to the perfect heirloom tomato. Good times. But recently, I’ve been engaged in a discussion about someone’s rooftop garden in a high-rise apartment building, a woman who scoured the market for the perfect spearmint( she found it too, I bought some as well. Wow.), and witnessed a gentleman quite patiently extolling the virtues of a good avocado to someone who spoke very little English, but seemed excited nonetheless. So the passion for food is all around, I’ve seen it.

I’ll leave it at that for now.
Thanks for reading.


Brooke said...

What a wonderful, intelligent and thought provoking post. I look forward to learning more from your blog.

Beaverbeliever said...

Not sure who to send this to or if this is the right location, but I was hoping to make a request. Could you please, please, PLEASE bring back Saison de Lily? This saison was my favorite U.S. style farmhouse ale that I have EVER had and my wife and I still crave it everytime we try a mediocre saison from our local bars. Your beers are delicious and we have enjoyed every visit to your brewpub (We are from Portland, OR). Thought I would put in this request depending on how long the beer has to age (we had it in July).

A fan from Portland

Magnolia Vitals said...

Thanks for your kind words about Saison de Lily. Rest assured it is in our rotation and we tend to brew it 3-4 times a year. We get a little busy brewing strong and dark beers this time of year but it should reappear sometime after the holidays.