BY MARK ERIC LARSON

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From left, Chefs Peter Selaya, David LaRoche, Ed Roehr, Veronica and Marisol Hermacillo, Oliver Ridgeway, N'Gina Kavookjian, Michael Sampino, Eric Alexander, David English, and Keith Swiryn


Preparing food in a restaurant kitchen is a fast-paced, high-stress orchestration of physical movement, basic knifery, cooking and plating skills, speed, cooperation, multi-tasking and flavor ventures. And it's all under the baton of the menu's maestro, the head chef.

I talked with a sampling of top-notch chefs in the region to get their unvarnished takes on what they look for in a cook, a sous chef, and the art of flavoring dishes to an affirming "Oh, wow, that's good!"

Read more: Ask a Chef: What Makes a Great Cook?

BY MIKE MADISON / PHOTOGRAPHY BY BENJAMIN DELLA ROSA

review of harold mcgees 1

Ask a few dozen chefs for a list of the 10 best books on food, and the results will be quite diverse. But there is one title that will be on every list: Harold McGee's On Food and Cooking: the Science and Lore of the Kitchen.

And if you inspect the chefs' copies, you will find them bristling with yellow sticky notes, thumb-printed and gravy-stained, with the corners of pages bent down where desperate chefs tried to understand why their mousse wasn't setting up, or why their hard-boiled eggs smelled sulfurous.

The subtitle—science and lore—indicates the two sides of the book. What you learned about cooking from your grandmother is lore. "Always beat egg whites in a copper bowl—it makes them lighter," she tells you. McGee gives us the science behind it: The copper of the bowl bonds to sulfur atoms on the proteins of the egg, preventing tight cross bonds that make the foamed whites grainy and dense.

If the idea of a science-minded book about food makes you groan with anticipated boredom, allow yourself to be corrected. McGee's prose is lucid and engaging, and even the most science-phobic reader will find the science accessible. Moreover, the subject is inherently fascinating. Not everyone cooks but all of us eat, and you can open to any page and find yourself engrossed in etymology, history, culture, anthropology and the science of food.

Read more: Review of Harold McGee’s On Food and Cooking

BY AMBER K. STOTT

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The author's grandfather presents her with a winter wonderland cake.


I'm lucky. I was raised on rhubarb.

Rhubarb is a humble vegetable in the celery family. Its wide leaves and pink root are poisonous, but its sour stalk can be eaten raw (though I don't recommend it—unless you've got a jar of sugar to dip it into first). This veggie is almost always found sweetened and baked inside some tasty homemade dessert. Occasionally, a restaurant chef will deem it menu-worthy, but this is pretty rare. Rhubarb is a food of grandmothers' kitchens.

My grandma's kitchen was in rural Iowa in a town of 700 people. The rhubarb she baked came from a truck-sized patch grown in my family's backyard.

Read more: Raised on Rhubarb: Life Lessons from My Grandma’s Favorite Vegetable

BY JULIANNA BOGGS / PHOTOGRAPHY BY BENJAMIN DELLA ROSA

sacramentos food network 1In any busy evening at Mulvaney's B&L the dining room staff plays what they call the Rockaway Game. "Who's at table 12? Where are they from? Who are they connected to?" Chef Patrick Mulvaney explains. "In Rockaway Beach we'd say, 'I was out with Joe yesterday.' 'Oh, Joe from 98th?' 'No, Joe who has the sister Louise who lives on 104th.' "

The New York native, who's built a reputation as one of the most esteemed restaurateurs in Sacramento, knows the importance of building community, and how Sacramento, in the world of restaurants, is still a very small town.

In fact, the pedigree of dozens of successful Sacramento businesses from Bacon & Butter to Hook & Ladder can be traced back to young chefs cutting their teeth in Mulvaney's kitchen. Expand that to the kitchens of the Paragary Restaurant Group under the eyes of Executive Chef Kurt Spataro, and Randall Selland's family owned and operated endeavors at The Kitchen, Selland's Market Café and Ella, and the world gets even smaller.

Read more: Sacramento’s Food Network: Top Chefs Mentor, Learn from and Support Each Other

BY JOAN CUSICK / PHOTOGRAPHY BY JOAN CUSICK

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"I love soup," she says while peeling heirloom carrots. "If it's just me and I'm alone and I get to choose something, it's soup."


Maren Conrad has not only learned the art of home cooking. She has also learned how to strike a balance between art and cooking.

Conrad, 35, is an artist, teacher, mother and entrepreneur. Just last year, she cofounded Prosper Design Studio, which features her work on a line of kitchen and table linens that are as beautiful as they are sustainable.

Read more: The Art of Cooking: Maren Conrad Finds the Recipe for Harmony

BY ANDREA THOMPSON / PHOTOGRAPHY BY DEBBIE CUNNINGHAM

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Magpie's Chris Woo surveys the scene at Kingbird Farms.


The term "farm to fork" gets a lot of use around these parts, and may fall on weary ears as the term is often used. The good news is that it's more than just a marketing ploy. Many restaurants across the country are sincerely dedicated to bringing the freshest local products to their kitchens and dining rooms. Thanks to our great growing region, the restaurants in our area have some of the greatest opportunities to do so. It's encouraging that so many of our food businesses want to board this bandwagon.

Read more: Team Cuisine: Local Farms and Magpie Cafe Chefs Cook up a Tasty Alliance

BY HOLLY HUBBARD PRESTON

a testament to taste 1Named after the ancient tribe of Judah that once roamed here, these semi-arid hills sit atop a limestone plateau about 2,500 feet above sea level. Since biblical times the region has been known for its hearty, herbacious terroir. There is ancient terracing here as old as the Bible.

According to our guide, Shmuel Browns, my traveling companion and I are seeing the hills in their climatological sweet spot. In a month or so the green hillsides will give way to the parchment hues one might expect in this part of the world. For now, the rugged topography of the Judean Hills is soft and lush and full of vegetation, much of which I will learn is edible.

Read more: A Testament to Taste: Now as in Biblical Days, Foraging a Feast in Israel

BY PAUL TOWERS / PHOTOGRAPHY BY BENJAMIN DELLA ROSA

pitchforks and freeways 1The diverse crowd of several hundred people erupted into cheers on a night in late March as the Sacramento City Council voted 6-1 to pass a law enabling people all across the city to grow and sell food from their urban farms. In doing so, Sacramento joined the ranks of Los Angeles, San Francisco, Portland and Seattle in promoting urban agriculture ("ag") within city limits.

The change didn't come easy. For over two years, the Sacramento Urban Agriculture Coalition—a mostly volunteer coalition of urban farmers, food policy wonks, composting enthusiasts and anti-hunger advocates—huddled around tables at Sacramento Food Bank & Family Services, drafting the basis for the policy that was eventually passed. When they weren't there, they were out giving community presentations, meeting with city staff or researching policies in other cities.

Something seems to have clicked for community leaders as they seek to meld big-city aspirations with cherishing the fertile soils and rich agricultural heritage of the Sacramento Region. "Sacramento honors its roots and embraces new possibilities," says Sacramento Urban Agriculture Coalition coordinator Matt Read. And it rings true for a city in the heart of the Central Valley that in 2012 proclaimed itself "America's Farm-to-Fork Capital."

Read more: Pitchforks and Freeways: City Council Passes Urban Agriculture Law

BY ANDREA THOMPSON / PHOTOGRAPHY BY DEBBIE CUNNINGHAM

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"If [a cook] comes to me but has no passion for food and wine and flavors, I can't teach them passion. The other way around, I can."


Boulevard Bistro in Elk Grove opened in 2006 on Valentine's Day, one of the busiest nights of any restaurant's year. Looking back, chef and owner Brett Bohlman laughs that it wasn't the best idea, even though the cottage-like restaurant is one of the most romantic in our area. But having always worked in others' kitchens, he was ready to begin living his dream of operating his own place.

 

Read more: Boulevard Bistro: Built to Please

BY AMANDA HAWKINS / PHOTOGRAPHY BY BENJAMIN DELLA ROSA

out of thin air 1

For centuries the work of yeast was considered magical. We crushed grapes, let them sit for a few days, and surely, every time, the mix would produce wine. But no one really knew why. Bread and beer were similar. Those mixes "boiled" without heat, and their makers were viewed as priests as much as down-home cooks.

Read more: Out Of Thin Air: A Quest for the Wild Yeast

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