CUESA at Macy's Cellar

Center for Urban Education about Sustainable Agriculture

Local chefs and farmers pair up at Macy’s ~ April 16
CUESA is partnering with Macy’s Cellar again for a series of three cooking demonstrations and farmer/chef interviews. At the first event, on Wednesday, April 16, farmer Brandon Ross of Ella Bella Farm and chef Charles Phan of The Slanted Door will talk about how they are both staying true to their values of sustainable agriculture, seasonal produce, and worker’s rights as they grow their companies. Seating is first-come, first-served starting at 6 pm in the Union Square Cellar Kitchen at Macy’s. A $10 donation to CUESA (tickets at the door) will get you a seat at the demonstration, a sample of the featured dish, a glass of wine from Benziger Family Winery, a canvas Ferry Plaza Farmers Market tote, and a sample of Origins’ new organic skin care line.

I went to the CUESA cooking demonstration and farmer/chef interview at Macy’s Cellar last evening. I had gone to two of their series of three last year and found them interesting and enlightening, enough so to forgo a film on Schindler’s Houses sponsored by the SF chapter of the American Institute of Architects the same evening.

This one featured farmer Brandon Ross of Ella Bella Farm and chef Charles Phan of The Slanted Door. Of course I knew Charles Phan as the master of the Slanted Door empire of Vietnamese restaurants, he is, after all, a celebrity chef in terms of his appearances on TV and in newspapers and magazines, but it turns out I knew little about the man and his values. Brandon Ross, I hadn’t heard of, although I pass by his Ella Bella stand at the Farmers Market every Saturday.

Lordy, I had a lot to learn and learned a LOT. These programs are more about education and sustainable agriculture — the ES and A of CUESA — than about cooking, although who would want to attend a program featuring Charles Phan and not have him whip up a little something — in this case, a broccoli decicco stir-fry.

Charles Phan was one of the “boat people” who at age 13 fled Vietnam in the wake of the U. S. withdrawal.

He was drawn to sustainable agriculture because he was always on the lookout for meat and vegetables that tasted better for his restaurant, the way the food from the small mountain farms of his homeland tasted. So he canvassed local farmers and purveyors and they worked together and over time were able to satisfy his needs.

And who knew chef Charles Phan is a leader in the area of waste management? When he started Out the Door, he discovered that 80 percent of the waste from his restaurant was going into landfill. Through study and experimentation, he was able to reverse that, so that now over 80 percent of his waste goes into compost or is recycled. He said that in looking at trying something new, he looks at the worst-case scenario; if that won’t kill him, he’ll take the chance. In this case it paid off handsomely.

The moderator pointed out that the Slanted Door companies have an extremely high employee retention rate. Mr. Phan noted that he grows his business locally to encourage his employees to stay. As they grow in their skills, he needs to create new opportunities match their skills. Developers hound him to open restaurants in Los Angeles, Las Vegas, New York, but he chooses to grow locally because he feels it is the right thing for his family and his restaurant family. His next project will be an Out the Door at the Academy of Sciences in Golden Gate Park.B


Brandon Ross and Charles Phan at Macy’s Cellar

Brandon Ross‘ grandfather on one side of his family was a mentor to Cesar Chavez in the farm labor movement. His other grandfather was a grape grower. Farming is in his blood. He chose to make his life on a small farm and challenged himself to meet the specifications of the Bay Area’s finest restaurants. That accounts for one-third of his business. The balance of their production goes roughly equally to wholesale sales and the Farmers Markets.

Regarding the evening’s featured dish, Mr. Ross pointed out that Broccoli Decicco is far better for the land than the common Globe Broccoli. The Globe uses its space for four months, growing to a single head, and is harvested once; whereas Broccoli Decicco is a cutting broccoli and can be harvested continuously over a six month period.

In addition to the featured guests, Dave Stockdale, the Executive Director of CUESA announced their Waste Wise program of composting and recycling to begin at the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market on April 26, building on the kinds of programs that Charles Phan instituted at his restaurants. The Waste Wise program will ultimately create a manual for the use of other markets around the Bay Area and the country.
It was a privilege to learn from these people and a delight to be “in on” some of the best thinking about Sustainable Agriculture. And in addition, it’s a really good deal. For my $10 donation to CUESA, the sponsors kick in a goodie bag: Origins provides a canvas Ferry Plaza Farmers Market tote, and a sample of their new organic skin care line; Benziger Family Winery pours their excellent Sauvignon Blanc and Merlot and informs of their Biodynamic Farming practices. To top it all off, we are able to sample the broccoli decicco stir-fry and are given the recipe to take home. Yum.

Stir Fry Broccoli Decicco
As presented for CUESA at Macy’s Cellar, April 2008 by Executive Chef and Owner Charles Phan — The Slanted Door

Serves 2 — 4 as part of a multi-course meal

3/4 pound broccoli deciccio, washed and trimmed
2 tablespoons canola oil
2 teaspoons chopped garlic
2 tablespoons rice wine
1 1/2 tablespoons fish sauce
1 tablespoon chicken stock

1. Heat wok or large skillet on high heat.
2. Add oil to coat the pan and heat until it begins to smoke.
3. Add garlic and broccoli.
4. Add the rice wine, cook and stir for about one minute.
5. Add the fish sauce and chicken stock. Continue to stir and cook until broccoli is tender.
Serve immediately and with steamed rice, if desired.

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