This last weekend marked my second annual pilgrimage to Cochon Heritage Fire in Napa. Last year I accompanied Sloughhouse-based Passmore Ranch whom supplied a 100+ pound sturgeon which Chef Kelly McCown (formerly of Ella and now at Goose and Gander in St. Helena) impaled on rebar, wrapped in caul fat, and turned over an open fire. It made an impression. McCown’s ingenuity and leadership skills won him a organizing role on this year’s Heritage Fire. McCown isn’t a native Sacramentan and his tenure at Ella was short at just over 2 years and it ended in 2011. That said, it’s not a stretch to suggest that McCown is currently one of the most influential figures in Sacramento’s
evolving vibrant food scene.
While in Sacramento, McCown elevated Ella’s already established prowess and brought scores of culinary heavy hitters to town including Master Sommelier Larry Stone (an early video I threw together), Food and Wine Magazines 2010 Winemaker of the Year Thomas Rivers Brown (another early video), and acclaimed forager Connie Green paired with McCown’s mentor Chef Todd Humphries for a Wild Table dinner. McCown also organized the Sacramento Chef’s Forum in 2010 which serves for many as the gold standard of chef collaboration in Sacramento.
Even after his departure in 2011, McCown has been active in including Sacramento based chefs and purveyors in his sphere of influence most recently filming an episode of Man Fire Food at the aforementioned Passmore Ranch in Sloughhouse this Summer. This year, Heritage Fire was rife with Sacramentans. Randall Selland (Ella/Sellands/The Kitchen), Bill Ngo (Kru), Michael Tuohy (Butcher Block/Low Brau), Ravin Patel (The Selland Group), Matt Masera (Mother/Empress Tavern), Adam Schulze (Waterboy), John Griffiths (The Kitchen), and my partner Michael Thiemann (Mother/Empress Tavern) were all on hand cheffing. There was a helluva supporting cast in sous chefs and line cooks as well (thank you Paul, Richard, Chloe, Annie, Lisa and Greg). Such a concentration was on a count of McCown’s love for Sacramento and it’s culinary community. If someone else was organizing would we have had the same saturation of representation? No. Do Sacramento chefs warrant such attention? Hell yes.
I have met many chefs coming to Sacramento for the first time to eat (or even live) and their opinion is universally consistent. This is an incredible place for food. Sacramento has stellar product and talent. For years I have heard a similar consistency in the local perception of our food scene and it’s often the opposite. Some feel the need to drive west and pay twice as much for the same food because of a link to a culinary empire or other official accolades. I’d like to declare the end of the need for official recognition to inform our municipal pride . Sacramento has a strong culinary tradition. One that uses the best product on Earth from skilled chefs that let their food do the talking. Make no mistake, this is not new. We’ve had it for years. What has changed is the layer of bullshit that has blurred the lines between great food and the popular perception of great food.
I took me some time to ease into this revelation. It’s a reality. It’s something that Kelly has been saying for years.
The video below is an assemblage of clips from this year’s event.