Butchering, filleting, and cooking up a storm at the Northern California Chefs Exchange

By Helene York, Director, Strategic Initiatives


Above: Grilled radicchio, three kinds of local potatoes, and spigarelli broccoli.

It’s a rare Saturday when I get my bones out of bed at 5:45 a.m. or anything close to that. But last weekend was Bon Appétit's semi-annual Northern California Chefs Exchange, where 40 to 50 really talented chefs get together to learn, laugh, and do what they do best: cook great food from scratch. The aromatic, house-made chai at Cisco Systems in San Jose helped start the morning off nicely.


Photo by Cara Brechle

Then, Santa Clara University Chef David Anderson (above) gave a terrific tutorial on how to carve a 200-pound pig. He had sourced the pig from a local farm, Douglas Ranch outside of Hollister, CA, and was determined to let everyone know that only 2 pounds – just 1 percent of the animal! – make up the tenderloin. And because that's what most restaurant chefs tend to order, the rest often goes to animal feed. Holding up the belly, rear leg, and sides in turn, he identified where bacon, prosciutto, and ribs come from.


Photo by Cara Brechle

Chefs also got a lesson on how to break down fresh, whole fish. (They had literally been scooped out of the Passmore Ranch Fish Bus in the parking lot and were still moving on the ice. Yikes.) Above, VSP Executive Chef Brian Trykar tries his hand.


Michael Passmore of Passmore Ranch in Sloughhouse, CA, is a new “Farm to Fork” supplier for us: he  sustainably raises sturgeon (that's the creepy-looking underside of a head, above), catfish and black bass. I visited his “fish ranch” near the Sierra foothills in December. The water pumped into his ponds comes from an extremely deep well and is as close to “pristine’ as I’ve ever seen in aquaculture. Michael demonstrated how to fillet fish to avoid waste.

Brocade Executive Chef Ryan Smith, our regional forager, spoke for 10 minutes on new Farm to Fork options, including vendors he and other colleagues have signed up in the last quarter. After a few announcements from me, they broke into five teams, selected from an abundant display of fresh produce, and commenced cooking up a feast.  


The kitchen was quietly abuzz with activity — chopping, peeling, grilling, pan-frying. Within 45 minutes they made 40 dishes: pork three ways, sturgeon tempura (below), potato salad with grilled radicchio, celery root crisps with farmhouse cheese, and cabbage “tamales” stuffed with masa, to name a few examples.


I was glad that I was going to a food-challenged event that night so I could eat with abandon at lunch. It was deliciously well worth it.