Moon Rising |
Jessica Prentice shows it’s possible to eat like a king
the kingdom | By Angela Hunnicutt
It’s the night of the full Milk Moon and Jessica Prentice is immersed in
her creamy salad dressing, vigorously blending crème fraîche and
Point Reyes Blue Cheese in a huge bowl as more and more diners meander into the
“ Let’s get some more chairs,” she instructs a volunteer, continuing
to stir and privately hoping there is enough green garlic flan for everyone.
about 90 guests, this dinner at St. Francis Lutheran Church (near the Castro
District in San Francisco) will turn out to be Prentice’s largest Full
Moon Feast yet—one of the gourmet supper-club-style events the Richmond
chef and food activist has offered at least ten times during the past three
years. As much as possible, Prentice’s meals celebrate locally grown
seasonal foods, linked to the cycles of the moon, but incorporate some imported
All ingredients for this feast, however, which celebrates her “Eat Local
Challenge” month, are found within a 100-mile radius of San Francisco
(except salt and pepper).
of the night’s invited guests—a generally
mid-30s, casual crowd—have
come eager to dine for a $35 donation, and craving this new-old way of satisfying
one of our most basic needs. Many are subscribers to Prentice’s Wise
Food Ways Web site, or have met her as she trolls the farmers’ markets.
Some have joined the Locavores, a group co-founded by Prentice for those also
in supporting locally grown foods.
a philosophy to sink your teeth into, but one which is startlingly
easier said than done. Much foraging of farmers’ markets and local organic
farms is required.
our local foodshed is Prentice’s passion.
Her interest in food began at 14, when she decided to become a vegetarian
with the high hope of sparing
animals’ suffering. After experimenting with veganism and developing
an obsession over the foods she ate, Prentice was persuaded by an acupuncturist
to eat meat for her health. She did, but not from factory farms, she says.
educated herself about local food producers and sustainable agriculture,
and began to eat seasonally and shop at farmers’ markets. She eventually
realized that what she had long been searching for was a sense of connection—to
her food’s origins and its relation to the seasons.
brought this sensibility to her former job as director of education
programs at the
Center for Urban Education about Sustainable Agriculture,
the nonprofit that runs the Ferry Plaza Farmers’ Market. There, she
led farm tours, oversaw the market cooking demos, and organized educational
Previously, as the chef of the Headlands Center for the Arts in Marin,
Prentice had cooked up nourishing comfort foods from around the world for
in residence and for the public programs held there.
recounts her personal culinary journey in her recent book, Full
Moon Feast: Food and
the Hunger for Connection (Chelsea Green Publishing,
which also covers the history of food in various cultures and traditions,
and mythology. Though it includes recipes, the book has been likened
to Walden Pond more than The Joy of Cooking for its focus on
the deeper, more
relationship we all have to food.
As the guests sit down at long tables set with white cloths, flatware, and
flowers, Prentice—now finished with the dressing—is busy scribbling on pink
Post-it notes, sticking them to a map of the greater San Francisco Bay Area.
Her “source” map represents the origins of each of the ingredients
served tonight. For example, the peas and the salad greens come from River Dog
Farm in Yolo County. The butter and dairy products from Straus Farm in Marin,
and the strawberries for the dessert from Lucero Organic Farm in Lodi.
foraging is an ongoing process,” says the 37-year-old chef. “I’ve
been cooking in the area for years, and working with farmers’ markets,
so I know where to find things. But I’m always trying new things.
If somebody has some great eggs, I’m comparing their eggs to other
of the hardest things to find in this 100-mile radius is truly
free-range chicken, Prentice says. “The most accessible
is grass-fed beef, next is pork, next is chicken. If I can get truly
pastured chicken, like I did tonight,
I’m in heaven.”
and pepper are tough too. Prentice has been using salt that comes
from the West Coast, but outside the
Bay Area. “There’s obviously
salt that comes from the Bay, but it’s primarily industrial.
purist about our food. So Bay salt may be most local, but it’s
not the best. And pepper? That just flat-out doesn’t grow in
this region, but it’s now so much
a part of our everyday taste, I’m allowing that in this meal.”
returns to the kitchen to direct the appetizer presentation. The sound
of dishes clattering and the scent of something warm and delicious
with the hum of conversation in the hall. Prentice’s kitchen
volunteers, who double as servers, emerge with the first course: an
homemade bread squares made with wheat from the Full Belly Farm in
Guinda, topped with
dabs of chicken liver pâté or herbed yogurt cheese. All
through the evening, Prentice is the gracious—but busy—hostess,
dashing from kitchen to dining room, visiting with guests, talking
made the yogurt cheese from Straus yogurt, and it’s one of several
dairy items that star in this evening’s meal timed with the Milk
Moon, a lunar phase she found referenced in The Old Farmer’s
the time of year when the cattle enjoy the best pasture possible, grazing
on tender young blades of fresh flavorful grass. Besides milk and cheeses,
season’s delights include berries, roasting chickens, peas, and
“ I discovered that these moon names gave me a deeper sense of seasonality,
and of what each time of year meant for my own ancestors as well as other cultures
living in the same physical place I do,” she writes in her book. “They
helped me to connect modern foods to culinary history and agricultural traditions.”
After the last appetizer plate is cleared, Prentice, a petite, slender, enthusiastic
woman, her wavy brown hair in a long loose braid, clangs a spoon
on a metal bowl for attention and welcomes her guests.
“ I have made you a meal that comes almost exclusively from this area,” says
Prentice, adding that the chicken she found “was a real foraging breakthrough.
Not many farms do fully pastured chicken, and when they do, it’s small
quantities. So when I heard that Dave Evans [of Marin Sun Farms] in Inverness
had a first batch of completely pastured roasting hens, I jumped at it. And of
course we’re using the whole chickens. You’ve already eaten the liver
in the pâté, and the giblets are in a broth I’ve made for
“ Before we start, I want to give a moment of thanks,” she says,
slightly bowing her head. “To all of you for coming tonight,
to the farmers, to the ranchers, and to the animals that died
so we may live. And to the big
mother of them all, the planet Earth, who gives us everything
that we need.”
then conversation again. Someone starts playing light jazz music
on the upright piano in the corner.
out big stainless
of crisp salad leaves with the delicious blue cheese dressing.
When the much-lauded chicken, cooked with lemon and rosemary,
with giblet gravy, potatoes roasted with herbs, and the crispiest
snap peas, accented with the bright flavor of fresh mint.
at first, diners become friends by the end of the meal. A
mother and daughter from Berkeley talk with a couple
an organic gardener
from Occidental. It’s easy conversation, the kind that
flows when sitting arm-to-arm, sharing big plates of delicious
food and wine as if at a family gathering.
Prentice doesn’t supply alcohol, but encourages guests
to bring their own bottles of wine—local, of course—and
share with their table.
Prentice stops by each table to visit with guests. She explains
that the term “organic,” which
once meant foods from mostly local, family-owned farms, now includes foods from
big, corporate-owned farms throughout the country or even in other countries.
now, truly locally grown foods are specialty items in the grocery
store,” she says. “I want us to make that shift,
so that local foods are our everyday foods, and imported
foods are the specialty items. I’m
not against imported foods at all,” she says. “But
I think they should be the complement, the special thing
you add. It makes sense to import cinnamon,
but it doesn’t make sense to import apples.”
savory green garlic flan, made with Marin Sun Farms’ eggs
and served along with the main course, is one of the most
popular items of the night. A
server asks one group of guests to share with latecomers
seated at the small folding table at the side. They do, but
“ Oh, this is wonderful,” says Tom Herndon, himself a personal chef
in San Francisco and a first-time diner at Prentice’s
Full Moon Feast. “I
must have more of this flan.”
knows Prentice from the farmers’ market scene. “I
love the whole philosophy of sustainability. It’s the best
way to support the environment,” he
says. “And her dinners have the whole element of
the underground supper club movement too, which is really
popular right now.”
will soon share her popular dinners with the East Bay. Most of
her Full Moon
Feasts have been held
and she has been grateful for the use of the facilities.
But it’s also
quite a chore, bringing all the ingredients, setting
up. She and four business partners are co-founding
a community-supported kitchen in West Berkeley, which
will be open soon, she hopes in time for her next feast.
At the new site, a large room and kitchen she is leasing
from a local social services agency, Prentice
will be able to store foods and equipment, and seat
to 100 people for her private Full Moon Feast parties.
all of her dinners and food education efforts, Prentice
hopes to encourage responsible shopping and
And she’s not perfect either.
“ The Locavores challenge is to re-direct our choices to local as much
as possible,” she says. “I take it to an extreme because it’s
a culinary challenge for me. But if I’m hungry, it’s not like I won’t
stop and get a burrito.”
To find out more about Jessica Prentice’s programs, visit www.wisefoodways.com or www.locavores.com, and www.threestonehearth.com for the community supported
Angela Hunnicutt is a freelance writer who has been reporting on stories in
the Bay Area for about ten years. She lives with
her husband in Alameda.
While researching his latest book, about the industrialization
of food in the U.S., Michael Pollan hunted a wild boar and barbecued
it. “We have three food votes a day,” he writes. “If
you cast one of them in a thoughtful manner, you’ll be
making a tremendous contribution because that is how alternative
food chains are built.” By Paul Kilduff
What good are markets filled with organic produce if only a few
can afford the prices? Chef and author Bryant Terry writes about
the resurgence of food co-ops and buying-clubs, where high-quality
food is sold just above wholesale cost. By Rachel Sarah
greens: Guests at Jessica Prentice’s recent
Full Moon Feast were served mostly locally produced
including pastured chicken and a green garlic flan.
Photo by Pat Mazzera.