We’re so lucky to be partnering with some amazing, Bay Area chefs who are passionate about the farmers producing the fresh, sustainable ingredients they use for their menus. With our event, Grazing at the Kitchen Table, only a few weeks away, I sat down with Chef Rebecca Boice from Zuni Café, who is excited to be contributing to this year’s delectable spread at Grazing.
Zuni Café has been an institution in San Francisco since its founding in 1979. The restaurant won the James Beard Foundation’s award for “Outstanding Restaurant” in 2003.
It was an honor to speak with Rebecca, who told me about Zuni’s commitment to working with farmers to create delicious meals, her favorite menu items this summer, and why she’s a Kitchen Table Advisors fan.
Megan: What brings you to Grazing at the Kitchen Table?
Rebecca: My colleague Gabriela from Cala told me about working with you guys on this really wonderful event. [This is] an organization that I think is necessary. It takes one skill set to be a good farmer, but it’s another skill set to be a good business person. So often, the focus is on the farming and producing the beautiful crops and heirloom varieties, but then there’s the business side that’s really difficult to navigate. So, to have a resource like Kitchen Table Advisors to help these farms be good, sound businesses producing this wonderful produce -- it’s an important role. That’s what interested me about the group.
Megan: Why is supporting small, local farms important to Zuni?
Rebecca: I feel like I say this often, but we can’t do what we do if we don’t have great relationships with farmers that do what they do -- which is growing this beautiful produce and providing us with the ingredients we need to make the menus that we make. Our philosophy here is that we want to use what’s feasible, what’s local, and the best example of a tomato or an eggplant or a squash. If folks aren’t producing that, then we can’t put that on our menu. My personal philosophy is that if I get a perfect tomato, I don’t want to stand in the way of letting it just be perfect and let nature do its thing. Farming is not an easy business and there’s a lot of upfront costs that I imagine would be really challenging. The more help farms can get to be financially viable and sustainable is just as important as whether they’re harvesting their produce sustainably. They still have to be a sustainable business as well.
Megan: What kind of philosophy do you convey through your food?
Rebecca: Zuni Café has been around for 36 plus years, and the idea of eating locally and sustainably has been the driving force, or philosophy, that Chef Judy Rogers really brought with her. That’s just what we do here -- the style of cooking that’s simple but very thoughtful. It’s doing these things with care, and that starts with working with farmers who really take time and care with the produce and the products that they bring us. We’re also training our cooks [how to] recognize and handle these wonderful ingredients.
Megan: What do you think that a gathering like Grazing means to our local food community?
Rebecca: It gives an opportunity for people to come and see these things in action -- the connection between farmers and the restaurants and how it all works together; that they don’t just operate independently. It gives a forum for the farmers to highlight their ingredients, chefs to highlight the ways in which they’re using [them, and] celebrating this wonderful produce that we’re super spoiled in the Bay Area to have access to. [It’s] a way to come together and see how different chefs interpret and use ingredients in different ways. That’s what’s great about the Bay Area -- there’s so much access to all this great food on different levels and different stages in the supply chain.
Megan: Which seasonal dish on the Zuni menu are you most excited about right now?
Rebecca: It changes every day! Tomatoes are all over the place right now. We did a lovely tomato crostini last night, with marble-striped tomatoes, a little house-cured bacon, balsamic mayonnaise, and fresh herbs. It was such a classic, comfort thing. We had fun with that. Also, we’ve been getting really beautiful grapes. We prepared roasted grapes with radicchio and honey –- a fun premise that we’ve been playing around with. When we make our menu, it changes every day. We get to fall in love with certain preparations and set-ups, and tease out all the different options. Then something new comes into season and we start playing around with that [ingredient].
Experience Chef Boice's wonderful creativity on the plate this September 22nd, 2016 from 6.30pm to 9.30pm during Grazing at the Kitchen Table. The event will be hosted at Dogpatch WineWorks in San Francisco. Tickets are on sale now--don't wait to reserve your seat! Follow #GrazeAndGive2016 for updates.