I've heard countless stories declaring that the best of what's grown in and around Fresno—fruits and veggies, but also talent—is shipped out of the area, often down to L.A. or up to the Bay Area. A short stay in Berkeley on Saturday brought these stories to life, as I found traces of Fresno throughout the city's food scene.
The first stop was Café Biere in Emeryville for bottomless mimosas The Cheese Board Collective, a worker-owned cheese shop and bakery in Berkeley's "gourmet ghetto." After fumbling through the display case, the cheesemonger asked if it was my first time in the store. I answered affirmatively, explaining that I was just in from Fresno. "Oh, Elizabeth is from Fresno. She started The Cheese Board. She's Armenian!" I was then introduced to Elizabeth Avedisian (that's her on the right, below), who founded the shop with her husband in the late 1960s, converting it to a worker-owned collective just a few years later.
Three cheeses, two baguettes and one jar of grapefruit marmalade later, we started wandering, landing just a few blocks down the street at The Local Butcher Shop. There, we ran into Bill McCann, formerly of Gus' Meat Locker (now Chase's Chop Shop) in Madera. It wasn't long ago that I caught Bill offering a demonstration at Vineyard Farmers Market; the man is masterful with a knife. He's also popular online: his 2008 YouTube demo of how to butcher a deer has received over 480,000 views.
The highlight of the trip was dinner at Chez Panisse: smoked salmon rillettes, zucchini salad, sardines, rocket with smoked duck, roasted lamb leg with minted peas, and two bottles of champagne. Yum.
The café menu credited several farms for the produce featured that night, including Triple Delight Blueberries, grown here in Fresno. Triple Delight has recently been highlighted in CUESA's weekly newsletter, as well as on nopa's behind-the-scenes blog. Fortunately for us, the farm also sells locally at Vineyard Farmers Market. (I'd suggest trying them soon.)
So there it was: Fresno, in Berkeley. I didn't go looking for the connection, but without much prodding, it presented itself—and it was a very positive association.
The takeaway? It's easy to romanticize the food scenes in other communities, but this weekend offered a reminder that we need to recognize and take pride in all that what we have here. It's truly incredible.
Sidenote: Because I wasn't looking for a story, I didn't take pictures of Bill, and I don't think a camera would have been welcomed at Chez Panisse. So for those looking for more pics from the trip, I offer you this cupcake from James and the Giant Cupcake. My friends said it was the best they had ever eaten. (Seriously.)