The Perennial Plate Swings by the San Francisco Bay Area

by Sarah Henry on June 30, 2011 · 17 comments

in baking,bay area bites,civil eats,food events,food films

Daniel Klein  - The Perennial Plate - in Tartine Bakery Kitchen in San Francisco. Photo by Wendy Goodfriend
Daniel Klein in Tartine Bakery kitchen in San Francisco. Photos: Wendy Goodfriend

Regular Bay Area Bites readers will be familiar with the edible explorations of contributor Daniel Klein. The omnivorous chef and his vegetarian girlfriend/cameragal Mirra Fine are the dynamic duo behind The Perennial Plate, a web-based, weekly documentary real food romp devoted to socially responsible, sustainable and adventurous eating.

As you may recall, season one of the good grub chronicles introduced video viewers to a year of food finds in Minnesota, a state that Klein and Fine used to call home. Klein wants people to see where their meat comes from, so he documents rabbit, pig, and turkey killings, along with deer hunting, squirrel slaughtering and bison butchering, often set to a haunting soundtrack. For the more squeamish among us, there’s also cranberry harvesting, morel mushroom gathering, and wild food foraging, typically accompanied by more uptempo tunes.

Mirra Fine filming Perennial Plate dinner prep in Tartine Bakery kitchen. Photo by Wendy Goodfriend
Mirra Fine filming Perennial Plate’s dinner prep in Tartine Bakery kitchen.

In season two, which began in early May, the culinary couple took their show on the road for a six-month journey across America in search of stories (and the people behind them) that speak to the heart of food and farming practices in the nation. To date their eating expeditions have led them to harvesting produce in urban farms in New Orleans, hunting feral pigs in Texas, and catching frogs in Arkansas.

Funding for these mini food films has come from Klein’s fans via Kickstarter and the National Cooperative Grocers Association. Some 15,000 people see the weekly videos, with Californian viewers coming in second behind Minnesotans as top watchers. The savvy shooter distributes his web work via The Huffington Post, Grist, Serious Eats and Take Part.

Daniel Klein and Samin Nostrat cook dinner at Tartine Bakery in San Francisco. Photo by Wendy Goodfriend
Daniel Klein and Samin Nostrat cook dinner at Tartine Bakery in San Francisco.

In the Bay Area this week, Klein teamed up with Tartine Afterhours chef Samin Nosrat to cook a memorable family-style meal for 40 last night at Tartine Bakery in San Francisco. The guest list, gleaned from Nosrat’s considerable good food advocate contact list, included Chez Panisse Foundation folk, Eat Real Festival organizers, and a CUESA staffer. On the menu: Simple yet satisfying salads featuring new potatoes, roasted beets, and shaved summer squash. Followed by bronze-cut rigatoni served with Riverdog Farm pork for the meat eaters and cherry tomatoes generously doused in oregano from Oakland’s Pluck and Feather Farm for the veg heads.

Chad Robertson famed rustic bread at Tartine Bakery. Photo by Wendy Goodfriend
Chad Robertson’s famed rustic bread at Tartine Bakery.

Oh, and some “little snacks” to nibble on initially, mostly seasonal veggies sparingly and elegantly presented with a posse of boiled eggs topped with herbs that wowed the gourmet cooking crowd. Did I mention that Chad Robertson’s famed rustic bread was in abundance (and went home with diners)? Don’t get me started on the Sunny Slope Orchards apricots al cartoccio (think parchment paper) with whipped cream and lavender shortbread that provided the sweet end note to the meal.

Lavender Shortbread at Perennial Plate Harvest dinner at Tartine Bakery. Photo by Wendy Goodfriend
Lavender shortbread at Perennial Plate dinner at Tartine Bakery.

Klein and Nosrat swung through the temporary dining room, gracious, grateful and generous hosts both. Fine filmed the event, which featured music by Sonya Cotton and Gabe Dominguez. The 28-year-old chef, who has trained and worked in many top Michelin starred restaurants around the world (The Fat Duck, St. John, Mugaritz, Bouchon, Applewood, and Craft) and made films about Africa and oil politics, took some time at the end of the evening to chat about year two of his real food tour.

Guests feast at The Perennial Plates Harvest dinner at Tartine Bakery in San Francisco. Photo by Wendy Goodfriend
Guests feast at The Perennial Plate’s dinner at Tartine Bakery in San Francisco.

Can you give us some initial impressions of the food scene in the Bay Area?

Obviously, local food here is huge, it’s easy and everywhere. There are even some people who are tired of the whole idea. But I could do another 52 week series right here.

How about some highlights from your visit so far?

On the farms: Riverdog is huge but they’ve been able to get big without sacrificing their values or quality. Sunny Slopes is small and I ate a plum there that was probably the most delicious plum I’ve ever tasted. Those apricots speak for themselves. And then there’s the local urban farming phenomenon personified by Esperanza Pallana of Pluck and Feather.

On the food front: We had a very good meal at Gather. It’s refreshing when a high-quality chef does really interesting things with vegetables.

As for people: Samin is the most generous, relaxed, fun-filled, well-connected person to work with — she organized this whole event — and she’s a great chef as well. And then there’s the incredible generosity of the woman in Glen Park, a random stranger, who heard we needed a place to stay and put us up for three nights.

Has anything surprised you in your travels?

People’s generosity and willingness to share their stories. We’ve met people who work really hard and maybe don’t have much but they still take the time to show us their world and teach us new things about food. People have fed us, given us a bed, and while we’ve certainly been in situations where some subjects are off limits, nobody has murdered us.

What’s the message you want viewers to take away from your films?

We want to educate and entertain and project a positive image of food around the country, without making it seem like things are perfect out there, because they’re not. We’re not trying to tell people what to do. We’re trying to make people think about their food and become more engaged with what they eat.

What’s next?

Foraging with Hank Shaw before we head to Ashland for a coop cookout on July 3rd. Once the road trip is over we’ll have time to think about related projects like a cookbook or a long-form film based on our travels. But right now we’re only a third of the way into it, so we’re busy hitting the road, editing en route, and meeting and eating with a diverse range of food and farming people around the country. The adventure continues.

Stay tuned for The Perennial Plate’s Bay Area installment coming soon in this space.

Check out The Perennial Plate’s website and blog.

Chad Robertson famed rustic bread Perennial Plate souvenir. Photo by Wendy Goodfriend

Chad Robertson’s famed rustic bread Perennial Plate souvenir.

This post originally appeared on KQED’s Bay Area Bites and was cross-posted on Civil Eats.

You might also like:

Berkeley Bites: Samin Nosrat
Food Forward: A Sustainable TV Show for all Americans
5 Questions for Food Forward Filmmaker Greg Roden
Bread, Cheese and Banter: On Artisan Food
10 Top Documentary Food Films


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{ 15 comments… read them below or add one }

Living Large June 30, 2011 at 7:42 am

What an awesome life, traveling and discovering!

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Sarah Henry June 30, 2011 at 7:46 am

I know what you mean, LL. It was fun to write about but imagine actually doing it.

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Alexandra June 30, 2011 at 8:25 am

Can this show only be viewed online? I wish the regular channels had shows like this one.

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Sarah Henry June 30, 2011 at 1:58 pm

Online for now, though it may become a film for TV release down the track. Stay tuned. Though, in this day and age, the web is the most immediate way for anyone to watch such programming.

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Roxanne @ Champion of My Heart June 30, 2011 at 1:08 pm

Wow. I thought regular text blogging was a lot of work. These episodes sound like a boatload of effort. Good for them. I wonder where they get their music. That’s one of my challenges in making any video is finding music I can use (and afford).

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Sarah Henry June 30, 2011 at 2:00 pm

Rox: I’ll ask about the music and get back to you — because it’s really one of the distinguishing features each week — rocking, eclectic soundtrack.

And, I agree, it’s a ton of work each week and the end product is very creative.

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Daniel klein June 30, 2011 at 3:33 pm

Hey Roxanne,

We get music from musicians who are not on record labels – so its mutually beneficial. Increased exposure for them, free music for us. We also use our friends music etc. Thanks! And yes, it is way too much work, but also a dream come true.

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Sheryl June 30, 2011 at 6:10 pm

What an undertaking this all sounds like ! But most definitely a labor of love. The meal sounds amazing. I can’t get the lavender shortbread off my mind…need some.

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Sarah Henry June 30, 2011 at 6:21 pm

I saved some for my son, Sheryl, who gave it two thumbs up. One of the perks of having a food-writing mum.

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Jennifer Margulis June 30, 2011 at 9:29 pm

Your son is one lucky kid! Glad he liked it. Send some to Oregon?!

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Sarah Henry July 2, 2011 at 6:56 am

Ha! By the time I’d get around to mailing it would be long gone.

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MyKidsEatSquid July 1, 2011 at 4:54 am

Gratifying to hear about the generosity and concern of folks about food around the country. Although I must admit after reading through the menu I couldn’t help thinking how delicious it all sounded. Lavender shortbread–yum.

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Sarah Henry July 2, 2011 at 6:58 am

And it was just the right amount of the fragrant flower too. I’ve had lavender infused scones that were overly scented and flavored for my taste. Your taste buds and nasal passages start thinking soap, not a good combo as far as food is concerned.

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Jane Boursaw July 2, 2011 at 7:43 am

I love that all of your photos seem like they’re “in motion.” Daniel looks like the kind of energetic guy who never stops moving.

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Sarah Henry July 6, 2011 at 11:43 am

Daniel is, Jane, as you imagined. Credit for the snaps, though, goes to my “boss” at Bay Area Bites, Wendy Goodfriend: http://blogs.kqed.org/bayareabites/author/wendy-goodfriend/

You can find more of her images here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/wendygee/

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