Chef Bradley Ogden stands in the spotlight, but the food is the real star of the show he insists.
"If you don't have food that has nutrients and vitamins and taste it's hard for a chef to create something that tastes really wonderful and delicious," Ogden said, standing in the middle of the San Rafael Thursday Farmer's Market. "It stands to reason that this is where it begins and we have the finished product. If you produce something wonderful people will come to your restaurant and keep on coming."
Ogden recently returned to his local roots for a special night at the Tavern at Lark Creek. Ogden and chef Aaron Wright prepared a three-course prix fixe menu directly from the pages of Ogden's upcoming book Holiday Dinners with Bradley Ogden: 150 Festive Recipes for Bringing Family and Friends Together. The book, published by Running Press, is scheduled to be released September 27.
The featured meal started with a tomato salad, with ingredients purchased at the farmer's market earlier that day. The main course was a hearty wagu beef meatloaf wrapped in bacon, with green beans and mashed potatoes. The grand finale was a angel food cake with fresh berries.
Ogden and Wright sampled tomatoes and berries, thumped melons and exchanged hugs with vendors as they moved from stall to stall at the farmer's market. All the while, they answered a barrage of questions from fans and longtime patrons: How do you know when a melon is ripe? How do you cook kale? What's that funny-looking vegetable?
"I started the market in '83 with Lynn Bagley … so it's like home," Ogden said after buying tomatoes from Full Belly Farms. "After all these three decades I need a map, oh my lord, it's grown! It still has a lot of the same farmers. Now the kids are running the shops and it's sort of funny.
"They're old friends. I've had this close relationship with the farmers since I opened up Campton Place Hotel in '83. That's the way I cook. It's not just about this. The family, I respect what they do and they understand that. It's those relationships you develop over the years and your commitment to them."
Ogden currently features his farm-to-table cuisine at Solvang's Root 246 restaurant.
"First of all, it's the farmers going out and harvesting this wonderful stuff and then you taking it back to the restaurant," Ogden said. "It's a combination of your commitment to quality and to your guests, so they understand that you go and buy this wonderful food and then you create these wonderful menus and it's a lifestyle."
Wright, who has firmly established his own reputation in the kitchen of Tavern at Lark Creek, echoes Ogden's commitment to locally-grown produce.
"Here, we're at the market, where people are growing (the food) so you're that much closer to your food source," Wright said. "If you really want to know how hard it is, you grow it yourself and you see how much it takes to get food to the table.
"This (food) has been taken out of the ground yesterday and it's going to the guests today. You have that closed production cycle. Being so close, you develop a deeper relationship with the region and the people you're with. It's the biggest community thing we have is relationship of food."
Ogden will make a return appearance August 25, when the prix fixe menu is scheduled to feature corn chowder with corn and shrimp fritter with parsley pesto; grilled albacore tuna with warm tomato bread salad and tomato basil sauce; and coconut cake with buttermilk ice cream. The price is $35 per person.
Ogden will join the Cooks with Books series at Book Passage on Saturday, Dec. 3, when he'll demonstrate how to carve a turkey. The $130 ticket includes a meal, wine, coffee and an autographed copy of the book.