Chef’s Table at Tess Kitchen Store: “Late Summer Treats”

For more than two years, Tess’ Kitchen Store in Grass Valley has offered an exceptional dining experience called Chef’s Table with expertly cooked meals by Alan Tangren, a 22-year veteran at the venerable Chez Panisse in Berkeley.

Alan also helped co-author two books with Chez Panisse’s founder Alice Waters, who just received a National Humanities Medal from President Obama in a White House ceremony.

This weekend, we enjoyed a Chef’s Table meal featuring “late summer treats.” We joined about 10 others at Tess’ restaurant-quality kitchen, where we sat around the table. Alan prepared the meal in front of us, showing his techniques as well as entertaining us with his own stories. Alan was joined by wine expert Dawn Empson, who shared her knowledge of wines and explained the pairings she had chosen.

The menu included five courses paired with five wines, including dessert, and candied Valencia orange peel and Cassis chocolate truffles at the end.

We are devoted food lovers, and are always excited to visit with Alan. We noticed the menu included braised rabbit and asked Alan if the purveyor was the Penryn Rabbit Farm, where Chef Eric Alexander of Carpe Vino often buys fresh, local rabbit. Sure enough, it was.

And we noticed that the menu also included smoked duck breast. Again, we asked Alan if it was from Grimaud Farm in the Central Valley, where we often order duck for home delivery. (Try the smoked duck or whole Muscovy Drake). Alan confirmed that “yes,” that was his choice, and he proceeded to explain the local duck’s attributes.

We also were excited that one of our favorite local wines on the menu: Szabo Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc. Owner Alex Szabo is a ebullient winemaker, or “unfiltered,” as some of us joked. I hope you visit his tasting room on Broad Street in Nevada City to try the Sauvignon Blanc.

A learning experience for all food lovers

Knowing where your food comes from is important (Alan was a “forager” for Chez Panisse), and we were happy that the menu included some of our favorite local purveyors.

But we also learned about new ones from Alan and Dawn. Examples included Broadfork Farm near Chicago Park for fresh tomato and basil, where Alan was a regular. The tomatoes were freshly picked. His haricot vert (thin green beans) for the salad came from the Central Valley.

Alan and Dawn both introduced us to an excellent dessert wine, M. Chapoutier Rimage from Banyuls, France, as well as a super smooth red for its price — Conte Priola Rossa from Italy.

The dishes were imaginative: Pan-friend Alaskan halibut with a saffron mayonnaise and sweet peppers. Alan explained the trick to using just the right amount of saffron — sometime a challenge for chefs.

The Roseanne plum tart with raspberry ice cream included plums from the Bierwagen Farm (Alan is related to the farm’s owners). He told us the light-fleshed plums were named after Roseanne, one of the Bierwagens, who picked the plums herself this past week.

The dessert was delicious, and Alan shared that he learned the art of making dessert crust from Jacques Pépin, the internationally acclaimed French chef.

The service at Chef’s Table is attentive. Staff members are on hand to fill your wine glass or your water glass, clear your plate — and, as etiquette would dictate, serve the women first. Some are food experts in their own right, such as Annica Hagadorn, who teaches a canning class. We visited with Annica, and she gave us some helpful tips on canning which we had not considered.

We also enjoyed visiting with our fellow dinners, who included the manager of the Nevada City Farmers Market, where our magazine is a sponsor. Vanessa also is a wine representative for Mountain Peoples Wine Distributing, founded by local Michael Funk, who also co-founded UNFI, the leading organic foods distributor. (We are writing about Michael in our upcoming fall issue — dedicated to the Yuba River watershed).

While the knowledge can be in-depth, Chef’s Table is not pretentious or stuffy. The atmosphere is casual and relaxed.

All told, the evening at Chef’s Table is one of sharing delicious food, sharing food knowledge and visiting with one another in an intimate setting. It is paradise for food lovers but also an educational experience for anyone who enjoys exceptional dining.

The listing of upcoming Chef’s Table experiences is here.

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