“Chef’s Table” with Chez Panisse veteran Alan Tangren at Tess’ Kitchen Store

This weekend we joined about 10 other people in the restaurant-quality kitchen at Tess’ Kitchen Store in downtown Grass Valley for a preview of “Chef’s Table,” a new monthly cooking series with Alan Tangren, who worked at the venerable Chez Panisse restaurant in Berkeley for 22 years, as a chef and forager.

Tess’ “Chef’s Table” series goes public on July 26, with Alan serving a six-course gourmet meal. Alan epitomizes the chefs who are revitalizing dining in the Foothills, adding new energy and sophistication — the “new Gold Rush” as we like to call it. (See our Fall 2012 issue).

Guests gather around the kitchen at Tess’ while Chef Alan prepares a themed menu paired with wines. The ingredients are fresh and local whenever possible. It was an entertaining and educational experience, and the food was delicious.

The setting is redolent of sitting at a chef’s table in a restaurant’s kitchen: We’ve done this at One Market in San Francisco and The Kitchen Restaurant in Sacramento, for example.

The menu included delicacies such as Maryland soft shell crab, which Alan brought back to Grass Valley fresh (and live) from the Monterey Fish Market on San Francisco’s Embarcadero the same morning as our dinner. An expert forager, he also grabbed some fruit, Golden Sweet apricots and cherries, from the Ferry Building Marketplace. (The menu is below).

Friendly, approchable style

Throughout the six-course meal, Alan provided expert cooking advice in a friendly, approachable style. He lives on the family farm in Chicago Park, Bierwagen’s, famous for its tree-ripened fruit and a stop on the famed Donner Fruit Trail on the Colfax Highway.

Alan grew up visiting the farm as a child. As we’re written before, the Colfax Highway also is an up-and-coming wine trail, with wineries such as Solune and Montoliva.

To our satisfaction, Alan paired some of the dishes with Solune’s wine. One of them was the Barbera Rosé, one of our favorites. Alan and Jacques Mercier, owner-winemaker of Solune, are friends just down the road from one another.

Each dish was expertly prepared and served. The portions were generous. Alan’s dinner presentation includes some of Chez Panisse’s touches — such as servings of fresh fruit at the table after dinner. He and Chez Panisse owner Alice Waters have worked side-by-side, including authoring two cookbooks together.

Some of the cooking techniques we learned were: how to pan fry and prepare the fresh crab; how to sauté the fresh Delta lamb; and tips for ensuring a perfect soufflé (easier said than done).

The demonstrations during the dinner were suited to a novice or an expert chef because of Alan’s approachable style. If you’re not a chef, just relax and enjoy the meal.

Alan also is teaching a “Thursday Night Market Forage” this summer where he will lead a tour of the farmers market  and return to the kitchen and prepare a delicious dish — a fruit tart, summer soup or salad, for example.

Under owner Steve Rosenthal, Tess’ is becoming a a regional hub to make you a better cook. It is the largest store of its kind in the region, with 6,200 square-feet in a striking three-story structure. It has every imaginable kitchen item, along with its cooking classes.

Read more about Alan, Tess’ and the “new Gold Rush” in our summer issue. For more information about Tess’ cooking classes, visit the store’s website. Visit our new mobile friendly website to plan a trip to Tess’ Kitchen Store.

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