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Local Food Movement Inches Into Redding’s Mainstream

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Two Redding restaurants have started offering a “farmers’ market menu” based on ingredients they acquire at local farmers’ markets. The commitment by Leatherby’s Family Creamery and Angelo’s Pizza Parlor strike me as an important step forward for Redding’s local food movement.

Leatherby’s started offering new items based on locally sourced food earlier this month. Leatherby’s co-owner Claudia Licata promises a menu that will change three or four times a week, depending on what ingredients are available. Angelo’s started offering pizzas topped with ingredients from the farmers’ market; slices of it will be available at MarketFest on Thursdays in Library Park.

Cooking locally sourced food is an idea that is as old as the restaurant itself. But the ingredient mix changed as shipping and cold storage evolved during the 19th and 20th centuries. By the time foodie pioneers of the 1970s, such as Berkeley’s Alice Waters, began basing their menus on local ingredients, the idea was novel. Most restaurants – franchise operations, burger joints, mom-and-pop diners, pricey steakhouses – got their ingredients from a handful of large growers and distributors. The same is mostly true today, but the interest in local food is growing.

There are myriad political, economic and social reasons to eat locally. But the best reason is this: Locally grown food is fresher and just plain tastes better. Which would you rather have on your plate, a tomato grown in a hothouse in Texas and trucked through three different distribution points, or a tomato plucked from a field yesterday in Shasta County? An apple picked god knows how many months ago from a tree in New Zealand, or a crisp Golden Delicious that rode in 30 miles from Manton? Frozen steak from a cow raised on feed-lot corn and antibiotics in Oklahoma, or fresh steak from a Hereford that spent nearly its whole life grazing Shasta and Siskiyou county fields?

Am I nuts to think the answers are obvious?

Licata was the mover behind Redding’s new farmers’ market menu.  She was already involved with a healthy children’s choices program promoted by the folks at Healthy Shasta when she broached the idea of menu items based on ingredients from the farmers’ market. Healthy Shasta’s Melinda Shaffer and Karrie Isaacson almost fell over when they heard.

“I had always hoped that we would eventually work on that farm-to-restaurant piece,” Schaffer said. “But it has happened much faster than I had expected.”

Licata could hardy believe she was breaking new ground.

“Seriously, I’m the first one to think of this? I would think this is old news,” Licata said.

In the Bay Area and many other urban locales, it would be old news. When my wife and I lived in Ventura 10 years ago, we would often see chefs buying large quantities of produce and herbs at the Saturday morning farmers’ market.

“It just doesn’t seem to have caught on here,” Schaffer said. “But I think there are more and more people who want local food.”

Certainly, there are Redding restaurants that cook with locally grown ingredients. But these restaurants tend to be upper-end places, such as Moonstone Bistro. Leatherby’s and Angelo’s are casual, family-style places, and their willingness to use local ingredients helps defeat the notion that eating local is somehow elitist.

Already, Licata has jumped at the opportunity to pair Furnari chicken sausage (delicious stuff made by Joe Furnari right in Leatherby’s kitchen) with locally grown zucchini, bell pepper and onions. For MarketFest, Licata is offering locally grown peaches, quickly grilled, on top of Leatherby’s homemade ice cream.

Some menu items may come and go within only a day or two, Licata warned. But others, such as a cucumber and tomato salad, should be around for months because local growers harvest the key ingredients all summer.

With a nudge from Licata and Healthy Shasta, Angelo’s Pizza owner Fred Hurst jumped aboard the fledgling program with pizzas topped by ingredients such as organic zucchini, sweet red onion, sliced tomato and feta cheese.

Schaffer hopes other restaurants join the program, for which Healthy Shasta will provide promotion.

For Licata, this really is all natural. “My parents have always had a garden, and we would go out and pick what we were going to have for dinner,” she said. “Now, one of us [from the restaurant] will check out the farmers’ markets three times a week.”

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Speaking of the farmers’ market, the lineup for the “Chef at the Market” series at the Saturday morning farmers’ market at Redding City Hall has been finalized for the rest of the season. Wes Matthews of Market Street Steakhouse and Señor Rosas is up this week.

shigley-mugshotPaul Shigley is senior editor of California Planning & Development Report, a frequent contributor to Planning magazine and is headed to Leatherby’s right now. He lives in Centerville. Paul Shigley may be reached at pauls.anewscafe@gmail.com.

Paul Shigley

has been a professional journalist since 1987. For 12 years, he served as editor or senior editor of California Planning & Development Report, a statewide trade publication for land use planners, real estate development professionals and attorneys. Prior to that, he worked as a reporter or editor at newspapers in Redding, Grass Valley, Napa and Calistoga. Shigley's work also has appeared in the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, Planning magazine, Governing magazine, California Law Week, National Speed Sport News and elsewhere. In addition, he is co-author of Guide to California Planning, a college text and reference book, and is currently working on a book for the American Planning Association about the Bay Delta and California water resources. A graduate of California State University, Sacramento, Shigley has contributed to A News Cafe since 2009. He and his wife, Dana, live in western Shasta County.

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