Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Bon Appétit

The food service for Albertson College of Idaho in Caldwell is managed by Bon Appétit, a company with a ethic of social responsibility and a policy of supporting local food as much as possible. Yesterday, September 25, was their “Eat Local Challenge. The goal was to serve a lunch made entirely of ingredients from within a 150 mile radius of the café. Chilly, rainy weather at the end of last week slowed squash growth, but I managed to put together 16 lbs of mini squash for the event from harvests on Sunday and Monday morning. They also purchased some of my arugula, ground cherries, cherry tomatoes and grapes for the salad bar. Monday evening I harvested a quart of strawberries, and brought them to the café for the local food challenge as well.

This year executive chef Matt Caldwell invited me to come to the café during lunch hour to show students my produce and answer questions. I brought a basket with samples, and Matt ran off copies of some photos of my garden and market booth. Joyce, the baker for Bon Appétit, shared the display table with me. She is a fruit grower and a vendor at the Nampa Farmers’ Market, like me. She had a large basket of Jonathan apples and pluots. Joyce is a great sales person, and knows that sampling sells produce. She came up with the idea of preparing cups with samples of our produce to pass out as the students came in for lunch. The sample cups started with just a slice of apple and pluot, but we soon added a ground cherry and strawberry to the cup. Then a small slice of mini squash and a tiny piece of arugula. We didn’t think to add a purple grape until late in the lunch period, but meanwhile, the sample cups turned into little works of art. We had fun explaining everything to students who were interested enough to stop and taste.

Among the most enthusiastic samplers were a group of young people in black tee shirts, most of them of Oriental heritage. They were intrigued by the ground cherries and interested in Joyce’s explanation of how the color of pluots depends on the color of the plum that is grafted on to an apricot tree. When I explained that the piece of leaf was arugula, one woman exclaimed, “I love arugula!”

At first I thought these were students from Albertson College, but after a minute or two I noticed that their shirts said “Taiko”, and asked about it. Turns out they were members of San Jose Taiko,
in town to perform for Caldwell Fine Arts that evening on campus. No wonder they were more interested in our produce than most of the college students; the local food movement is doing very well in California. The Taiko members encouraged us to come see their performance.

When lunch was over, Joyce and I cleaned up our display table. I had an opportunity to try one of the lunch items, a plate of noodles with grilled fairy tale eggplant, onion, garlic and basil, made fresh to order by one of the Bon Appetit chefs. As I sat in the almost empty dining room, I considering whether to take more time off from harvesting to come back to Caldwell that evening. One of the S.J.Taiko members walked past my table, and smiled at me, thanking me for the food, as if I were the chef! (I learned later she was S.J.T. founder, PJ Hirabayashi).

Moments later another woman approached me, asking if I would like tickets to the performance. She turned out to be Sylvia Hunt from Caldwell Fine Arts, passing out tickets to interested students. Though I’m not a student, she thought I might like the tickets.

Indeed I did. John and I went back this evening for a fantastic performance. Taiko is more than just drumming; it is very visual and athletic, involving strength, stamina, balance, coordination, complex choreographed routines, and interplay between individuals and the group. The last number, in particular, had drummers moving back and forth between drums, trading places with each other, playing each other’s drums and alternating between individual improvisation and ensemble performance. It was a treat to watch.

Thank you, SJ Taiko, and especially to Britt Mattern, who appreciated the produce at lunch, and encouraged me to come to the performance. There are some unexpected perks in this business of growing local food.

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