“When Alice Waters and a few counterculture Berkeley friends opened Chez Panisse in 1971, they set in motion trends that would change the food landscape in the San Francisco Bay Area and across America. Waters and other women not only laid the foundation for what became known as California cuisine, they drove key developments that set the tone for the way we dine today.
Things we now take for granted originated with women in the City by the Bay, from chef’s menus to farm-to-table cooking to kitchens organized as collaborations instead of traditional chef hierarchies….
Neither Chez Panisse nor California cuisine would be the same without Sibella Kraus, who created the system that made it possible for the state’s stunning array of produce to reach restaurants at the peak of quality. A cook at Chez Panisse in the 1980s, Kraus found a way for farmers who might be growing eight kinds of eggplant to connect with chefs. This evolved into a career servicing restaurants that wanted the best stuff from the farmers growing it.
While working for a produce wholesaler in San Francisco, she convinced one farmer to grow lettuce at half the normal size and get twice the price for its natural sweetness and vibrancy. “I set up a whole department to deal just with specialty and organic vegetables and fruit from small-scale farms,” she recalls. That became Greenleaf, now the leading purveyor in the field.
In the 1980s, Kraus created the Tasting of Summer Produce, an annual event at the Oakland Museum of California showcasing growers of unusual and rare fruits and vegetables. Noted Bay Area chefs and restaurateurs began to realize that they could get ripe heirloom tomatoes, Chioggia beets, purple potatoes and an array of unusual melons.
Kraus also spearheaded the founding of the Ferry Building Public Market and the huge outdoor Ferry Plaza Farmers Market that runs three days a week in its shadow. Today, she runs SAGE (Sustainable Agriculture Education), where a current project finds ways to establish farms and agricultural parks around the edges of cities.
“On the plate, those raw ingredients, be they peaches, or chiles, or oysters, or tomatoes, that’s what makes the food great,” says Kraus. “Getting those great ingredients has been the basis of every cuisine, whether it’s Korean, California cuisine or Mexican.” It’s easy to detect the vibrancy, high-def clarity and sheer presence of such flavors in San Francisco’s best dishes.”
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