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THE KING OF GOLDEN 1

Chef Michael Tuohy puts local food on the menu at Sacramento’s premier sports arena.

WRITTEN BY AMBER K. STOTT

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PHOTO BY RACHEL VALLEY

This isn’t a story about basketball or food. It’s about people.

When Sacramento’s Golden 1 Arena was in development, managers of the Sacramento Kings contracted with Legends Hospitality to manage the arena’s culinary program. At the helm was chef Michael Tuohy. He is the reason this story of local food — and the people who grow it — can be told.

Tuohy first came to Sacramento in 2008 to open the Grange Restaurant and Bar for farm-to-fork fine dining. His culinary career has been built on this concept. So, in 2014, when Legends asked him to spearhead cuisine development for the new basketball arena, nachos and fast food weren’t exactly on his résumé. However, the Kings management team didn’t want a junk food expert. They wanted Tuohy precisely because of his local food roots.

“If it wasn’t about local food, I wouldn’t have done this,” Tuohy says. “I didn’t wake up wanting to run an arena to serve bad hot dogs. If we’re going to do hot dogs, we’re going to do local hot dogs.”

Tuohy realized Legends Hospitality managers were serious about going local and signed on as their general manager at Golden 1 Center. The chef made a bold promise to the community: He would source 90 percent of the arena’s food from within 150 miles. He didn’t just make that commitment to the public — the Kings’ leaders put this dream into the legal contract between the arena and the hospitality group. Everyone needed to buy into the mission in spirit, but they were now contractually bound to see it through.

100 Percent Local

Less than one year after opening, Tuohy says he’s confident that 80 percent of Golden 1’s food is being sourced locally. One hundred percent of its hot dogs, popcorn, polenta, grains, wine, almonds, cheese for nachos, beef, chicken, pork, tortillas, tortilla chips, breads, and olive oil are local, according to Tuohy. He adds that the rice, produce, and beers are at least 80 percent local, too.

Sourcing locally wasn’t Tuohy’s only criteria. He also wanted the products to be of high quality and to align with sustainable ideals. He started with the people and products he knew.

Tuohy grew up in San Francisco and recalled eating hot dogs made by a local family. Lucky for him, the Schwartz hot dogs of his youth are distributed by a co-packer in Fairfield. He reached out to taste the product.

“It was as good as I remembered,” he says.

Schwartz dogs now are on the menu at Golden 1 Center. Tuohy also connected the co-packing facility to local restaurant LowBrau, which enabled the company to pack and distribute its Sacramento-based sausages for sale at the arena.

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PHOTO BY RAOUL ORTEGA

California rice

Rice farmer Michael Bosworth also sells his product at Golden 1, thanks to Tuohy. Rice is a big business in California, but Bosworth, of Rue & Forsman Ranch, was the only farmer to plant the specialty variety, basmati, in the state this year. He attributes this to the arena.

“When you start getting into larger volume, it reduces risk for growing those varieties and taking those kinds of chances,” Bosworth says.

In addition to farming rice, Bosworth runs a distribution company, Next Generation Foods, that gathers products from nearby farmers to sell to the arena, including the organic popcorn from Pleasant Grove Farms, rice bran oil, and rice flour. The oil and flour meet Tuohy’s high standards for sustainability, because the company uses rice byproducts to create a new product. Rice bran oil is created after the bran has been stripped from the grain to create white rice. The bran is then pressed to extract an oil with a high smoke point, which Golden 1 Center uses for frying. To make rice flour, broken grain kernels are saved and then milled into flour, which is used to thicken sauces.

Local hogs

The story of sustainability continues with Rancho Llano Seco in Chico, which provides 100 percent of Golden 1 Center’s pork. In addition to growing hogs, 90 percent of the ranch is under an easement with the Nature Conservancy, Northern California Land Trust, and others. The U.S. Department of Fish & Wildlife handles wetland and grassland management and creates riparian forests on the property. Llano Seco employees are committed to raising pigs in a sustainable environment.

Charles Thieriot, director of branded products for the ranch, credits Tuohy with enabling Llano Seco to partner with the arena.

“When [Tuohy] brought us in, we’re talking about big numbers and complex coordinating logistics,” Thieriot says. “It was not easy at first. We made their life difficult; they made ours difficult. But he stuck it out to find solutions. I’ll be forever grateful for that.”

Contracts with the arena have enabled Llano Seco to expand its sales from 30 pigs a week seven years ago to 85 pigs per week today — 25 of those going to the arena.

“We really committed to each other to figure out how it would work,” Thieriot says. “[Tuohy] has a real responsibility to the stadium to run a profitable business. It’s a great California experiment. Can we eat in such a way that doesn’t torture animals or pollute the planet? Are we willing to put our time, effort, and money there? The decision for you, me, and [Tuohy] is obvious, but we can’t do it alone. All the people who go to the stadium need to choose it.”

Amber K. Stott is founder and chief food genius of the nonprofit Food Literacy Center, inspiring children to eat their veggies. She’s a food writer and has been named a Food Revolution Hero by Jamie Oliver Food Foundation, a Food Hero by Food Tank, and a TEDx Sacramento Changemaker Fellow. 

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