In every season, we love to combine our excitement for what’s farm-fresh with our personal connections to local, organic, “under-the-radar” micro-purveyors of unique product. And of course, we love to spoil our clients with these special food finds. Today, we’d like to give you a glimpse into what makes fall an especially intriguing time of the year at Big City Chefs. While our private chefs in Denver have already been cooking hearty, braised winter dishes to take the chill out of early snows, our private chefs in Florida are still executing beachside dinner parties under balmy skies. As a result of these diverse weather patterns in different parts of the country, we’re faced with greater regional variations in culinary trends and locally available product during autumn than at any other time of the year.
Here in Northern California, we’re enjoying what seems like an endless string of clear, warm, short-sleeve afternoons and pleasantly cool, starry evenings, interrupted only on a couple of occasions by a damp day that foreshadows the rapidly approaching rainy season. It’s also one of the most interesting times of the year for local produce. While summer herbs are already breathing their last gasps, and fresh tomatoes are now ripening at a snail’s pace, we’re enthusiastically turning to many of those “only-in-California” fall crops, many of which are available solely through specialty farms or even backyard growers in our local area.
Our private sources have been providing Big City Chefs with a bounty of locally grown, organic pomegranates whose enormous size, flawless shape, deep red color, and intense flavor put store-bought fruit to shame. Ripened slowly over many months in our nearby inland valleys, and late-harvested at their peak, these Mediterranean fruits enjoy virtually uninterrupted sunshine and heat during their growing cycle. Our San Francisco-area private chefs enjoy using these antioxidant-rich pomegranates in our client’s menus, as the seeds make excellent additions to fall salads, and the fresh juice can be used in everything from refreshing spritzers, granitas, and sorbets, to thick reduction sauces that complement meat and poultry. We took so many photos of these enormous fruits that it was hard to pick the best ones!
Some lesser-known seasonal crops that are abundant at the moment include the feijoa, or “pineapple guava,” which some tout as possibly the world’s most delicious fruit. This deep green, egg-shaped delicacy has a sweet flesh that is partially firm and partially soft, with a deeply aromatic flavor that evokes pineapple, lemon, apple, and vanilla. Because it bruises easily in transport, it’s hard to find at markets, is typically extremely expensive, and is often sold shriveled and past its peak. Our San Francisco-area private chefs are lucky to use ours within days of harvest, when they’re plump and delectable. Feijoa is delicious spooned fresh right out of the shell, served with a drizzle of lime, but we also enjoy using it in cobblers, house-made ice creams, and in jams to give to special clients as holiday gifts. (Nothing complements a breakfast scone like feijoa jam.) Outside of Big City Chefs, we’ve only seen this unusual fruit on the menu at Thomas Keller’s famed French Laundry restaurant, although last year, we would have had cult-status ice creamery Ici in Berkeley turn a large batch into gelato had they been able to justify the cost.
Another unique local fruit you won’t easily find at markets is the strawberry guava, a very close sibling of the traditional tropical guava, but better suited to our Mediterranean climate. This year, we have an overabundance of these tiny, soft, burgundy-colored fruits available to us. The flavor is mild but distinctly guava-like, and the fruit (and its edible seeds) can be enjoyed fresh, out of hand, or cooked down, pureed, and strained into a delicious coulis to be served with macadamia nut cheesecake (my favorite). Their slight tartness also makes for a great vinaigrette component with which our private chefs like to surprise our clients’ curious palates.
As we look ahead to our local winter crops, we’re already seeing color coming into local citrus, especially Meyer lemons, Satsuma mandarins, and blood oranges, but it will be another two months before they reach their peak of flavor. In the meantime, the locals are planting winter crops of green, leafy vegetables such as chard, lettuce, and endive, as you can see in photos of the neighborhood community garden near our Big City Chefs offices. We’re very excited to incorporate this produce in the coming months.
Of course, we seek out unique and special sources of local produce, cheeses, meats, salumi, olive oils, and other products not only in the San Francisco Bay Area, but also in New York, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, Chicago, and the many other areas that Big City Chefs serves. As we come across other exciting and unique finds, we’ll share them with you as well. If you know of any local growers or artisans in your area that offer something you think is just incredible, then please contact us to let us know!