Return to Meetings Focus Supplements

September 2014

California's varied culinary outlets cater to all palates

by Jeff Heilman

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In the cafeterias of Silicon Valley titans such as Facebook, Google and Twitter, two defining home-grown California brand elements meet: game-changing technology companies and locally sourced, healthy, organic food. This same synchronous pairing is also a benefit for groups as they meet, eat and drink at restaurants, vineyards and other venues across the state.

Culinary Capitals

California’s head office, Sacramento, is also the seat of the nation’s leading agricultural region, where 1.4 million acres of active farmland feeds the nation.

“Sacramento has two prominent designations: California’s Capital City and America’s Farm-to-Fork Capital,” says Mike Testa, senior vice president of the Sacramento CVB. “Nowhere else in the world will you find the bounty of locally produced products grown in Sacramento, which is featured at year-round farmers markets, on our nationally recognized restaurant scene, and through caterers at our hotels and convention center. Farm-to-Fork in Sacramento isn’t a fad—it’s a way of life.”


The bureau-led initiative is a year-round collaborative process with the region’s farmers and growers, chefs and restaurants, elected officials, and people and organizations dedicated to the region’s collective food system. Resources on the Farm-to-Fork website include information on culinary, farm and winery tours, along with fall events and festivals such as Restaurant Week and Legends of Wine.

In San Francisco, local culinary encounters trending today include pizza and cocktail “challenges” at Tony’s Pizza Napoletana; the Cheese School of San Francisco; SF Mixology for cocktail-making programs; and the Ferry Building, an event-ready historic epicenter of gourmet restaurants and artisan food producers, including Cowgirl Creamery, renowned for its delicious cheeses. Meanwhile, the Spanish theme is a hot ticket in the City by the Bay, with last year’s opening on the Embarcadero of Coqueta by celebrity chef Michael Chiarello, as well as the debut this year of The Commissary, located in San Francisco’s Presidio and spearheaded by award-winning chef Traci des Jardins. Focusing on locally sourced California cuisine with a Spanish twist and offering a retail shop selling artisan food and wine, The Commissary is housed in former barracks built in 1895 and is an automatic choice for atmospheric private events.

Berkeley, birthplace of the local, sustainable and organic food movement, claims the iconic Chez Panisse and group options such as Edible Excursions’ Gourmet Ghetto Culinary Walking Tour and full-production cooking school Kitchen on Fire.

Meanwhile, in Los Angeles, the Institute for Domestic Technology seeks to reignite passion for the sourcing of ingredients and how food is made. Through classes and workshops available throughout the city, groups can learn about bacon curing, coffee roasting and other culinary traditions.

Appellation Tales

Home to more than 3,500 wineries—roughly 43 percent of the nation’s total—California’s globally recognized wines are a natural uncorking point for groups.

While much product was spilled in the recent earthquake, Napa Valley, one of the world’s 10 “Great Wine Capitals” and global Michelin star leader among wine regions, was spared major catastrophe at its wineries.

Event-ready standouts include biodynamic, LEED Gold-certified CADE Estate Winery, while Knight Wine Tours’ Immersive Wine Country Experience includes a mountaintop, chef-prepared buffet and wine tasting.

Neighboring Sonoma County pairs its own vaunted wine industry with exceptional dining experiences, including The Girl and The Fig Restaurant, Relish Culinary Adventures, Cowgirl Creamery, and Michelin-starred chef Steve Litke’s Farmhouse Inn.

Sonoma County’s Healdsburg area is a hot spot nowadays for its wineries, restaurants and unique sustainable concepts. Medlock Ames Winery is one of the region’s most interesting offerings, with a focus on sustainable farming and winemaking practices. Tours are available at its Bell Mountain Ranch, and its eco-oriented tasting room features a garden where visitors can pick vegetables and herbs and dine at outdoor tables.

Renowned for its historic wine country, the Tri-Valley region east of San Francisco is home to the esteemed Wente Vineyards. Family-run since 1883, this 3,000-acre estate, also offering concert and event space, is a sustainability leader via its eco-sensitive Farming for the Future program.

Urban wineries are popular nowadays, taking the sustainable concept even further by locally sourcing grapes, producing and aging wine on-site and offering inviting tasting rooms. Under the East Bay Vintners Alliance are standout, event-ready choices such as Oakland’s Dasche Cellars, known for its fabulous zinfandel, and Rosenblum, producing excellent red varietals. Meanwhile, The Winery SF is a winery, tasting room and event center located on Treasure Island.

On California’s Central Coast, Ventura County West, including Camarillo, Oxnard and Ventura, is emerging as one of the state’s next great wine destinations. Representing the closest wine trail and tasting region to metro Los Angeles, the 22-member Ventura County Wine Trail, along with the Ventura County Winery Association, can arrange group winery tours. Ventura Food Tours, meanwhile, explores Ventura’s culinary bounty.

Exclusive meals, exotic animals and scenic Saddlerock Ranch are among the experiences at Malibu Wine Safaris, while in Temecula Valley, heart of Southern California Wine Country, groups can schedule tours, tastings and dining at sustainability-focused wineries and producers, including Monte de Oro and Cunningham Organic Farm.

Strong Roots

California is rooted in local and regional epicurean centers, such as the world-renowned scene in Santa Barbara. Continuing with the grapes, Sunstone Winery here welcomes groups to its organic, bio-sustainable, 27-acre vineyard featuring two stone barrel-aging caves built into the hills. Other diverse options include cooking classes and team-building activities with Market Forays, where groups meet with local fishermen, farmers and artisans to source their ingredients for the day.

San Mateo County has fully embraced sustainability practices via its As Fresh as it Gets program. As part of the initiative, chefs and owners of local restaurants and hotels serving locally sourced or made fare such as produce, seafood, wine and beer, and cheese get connected with growers and fishermen to build relationships and learn about their products.

North of San Francisco in Marin County, Hog Island Oyster Company farms mollusks right along Tomales Bay, and it is a favorite for waterside group outings, complete with shuck-your-own-oyster equipment and an outdoor bar serving local wine and craft beer.

Meanwhile, Sebastopol is home to the new Barlow, a former warehouse district transformed into a community-oriented, pedestrian-friendly enclave of restaurants, bars, galleries and grocers drawing on locally sourced and produced products.

For a return-to-roots program with a strong farm-to-table ethos, Emandal sits on 1,000 acres along the Eel River in Mendocino County. The site includes 19 redwood cabins and a lively farm chore program that can be tailored for teambuilding, including egg gathering, cow milking or pickle making.

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