The fruits of their labor
Midtown Association splits with Unseen Heroes, a Black-owned events company that operated Midtown Farmers Market for more than 5 years
On any given Saturday morning, rain or shine, the Midtown Farmers Market is filled with as many as 90 vendors selling fresh produce, artisan goods and wares that stretch over two city blocks in the heart of the Lavender District.
But it wasn’t always that way.
Unseen Heroes, an award-winning events and marketing agency in Oak Park, was hired by the Midtown Association to run the day-to-day operations. With that contract, Unseen Heroes says it not only introduced its extensive list of diverse vendors to the market, but also grew its social media presence from 253 followers to more than 31,000 on Instagram. As years passed, the market eventually expanded from one to two blocks to accommodate the growing list of vendors, who sell everything from fruits and veggies, to empanadas and handmade jewelry.
So it was a shock to Unseen Heroes’ co-owner, Roshaun Davis, when he received an email from the Midtown Association’s executive director, Emily Baime Michaels, stating the contract between the two organizations was being terminated as of June 1. Unseen Heroes’ last day operating the market is Saturday, June 27.
“These relationships are ours. We built these relationships, we leveraged our relationships and had people come into the market that would not necessarily have even done business with Midtown [Association],” Davis says. “It was just that bewilderment of like, ‘How are we going to make this work?’ For us, it’s always been community first, so we didn’t want to pull all the vendors away from the market.”
SN&R asked Michaels why Midtown Association made the decision to split from Unseen Heroes during the height of farmers market season. She says it was due to “18 months of performance issues.”
“The majority of the performance issues are ones that they themselves actually document on worksheets that they turn into us every month that talk about the performance of the market,” Michaels says. “Our market manager that works for Unseen Heroes, their responsibility is to fill out how many vendors we have, whether we have all their insurance on file, whether we posted correctly on our social media—all of the pieces that come with running the market, and consistently, those were not being completed.”
Unseen Heroes’ farmers market manager, Hope Rodriguez, says that’s not true.
“I’ve only been with this organization six months, and since I’ve been here, a big part of my job was making sure that the insurance situation was met. And I’m very on top of paperwork and making sure that permits are filed—and that everything is filed to a ‘T,’” Rodriguez says. “I can’t speak to what they did before I came on, but what I know from starting January forward, everything that I’ve done has been to a ‘T.’”
Under the contract, according to Davis, Unseen Heroes received 75% of market profits and Midtown Association accepted 25%, plus sponsorship monies of as much as $30,000. When negotiating a potential new contract with Michaels, Davis says he was offered 5% of the market’s profits, but under the conditions that he would not speak to the public about the deal and would also have to sign a 30-mile non-compete clause. That would mean Unseen Heroes wouldn’t be allowed to hold such events as Gather, its annual community party in Oak Park.
“For us, our relationships are still our relationships. A lot of those vendors did not come to the Midtown Farmers Market. They came to Gather to be in Gather and we said, ‘Hey, we have another opportunity for you to make money and get out in front of a different audience. Why don’t you come over to the Midtown Farmers Market?’” Davis says. “That’s where a lot of people came from, and that’s how they started the market was through us in that way.”
Rodriguez, who says she has operated various farmers markets for the last five years in Hayward, Vacaville and in San Rafael, says that the Midtown Association chose to hire a woman with no farmers market management experience to replace her.
Michaels told SN&R that she’s confident her team will be able to take over and run the market successfully.
“I’m not in a position where it’s appropriate for me to speak on any of my employees’ behalf about their personal information, but I am comfortable to say that we are more than competent to continue to run the market,” she says.
“They can’t stand behind Black Tuesday because they’re not standing behind a Black-owned business currently. You can’t post something and say you’re supportive of the current movement, but not be aware of the decision you just made to destroy a Black-owned business.”
Hope Rodriguez, farmers market manager
Robert Cao, owner of Wheel Lemonade, a longtime vendor in the market, told SN&R that he was disappointed to hear of the split. He says Unseen Heroes took a chance on him when he first opened his small business. Now he owns a brick-and-mortar.
“It upsets me to hear how the Midtown Association (MA) has dropped Unseen Heroes,” Cao said in a written statement. “It just doesn’t seem right that you just release someone (UH) after all the hard work they did planning, promoting, and popularizing the current MFM. … Unseen Heroes is also a small business, so I am sure they are affected by the economic effects of this pandemic.”
On recent Instagram posts, the Midtown Farmers Market blacked out its page for Blackout Tuesday in support of Black Lives Matter and also posted in support of the LGBTQ community.
But Rodriguez argues that those posts run counter to how the Midtown Association is treating Unseen Heroes, which is Black and Latina owned.
“Again, they can’t stand behind Black Tuesday because they’re not standing behind a Black-owned business currently. You can’t post something and say you’re supportive of the current movement, but not be aware of the decision you just made to destroy a Black-owned business,” Rodriguez says. “I mean, this was their chance, especially given the times we’re in, and it’s not even to say that they should’ve hired me. … but they could’ve hired a Hispanic, they could’ve hired a Black person, or any person of color, or a gay person for that matter, but they didn’t. They chose to go with what they know best, and it’s the white woman.”
One recent Saturday, the Midtown Association passed out letters to each vendor notifying them that they were taking over the market in-house and a new farmers market manager would be coming on board.
Some vendors turned to Unseen Heroes for answers. So Davis says he sent out a statement to clear the air, which was met with an email from Michaels on June 9.
“Good afternoon Roshaun, we have prepared a counteroffer that laid out terms not far from your request in efforts to support your business and then received a copy of the UH letter issued,” the email said. “This by your own authorship has ended our ability to find a common space to work together.”
When SN&R spoke to Michaels on June 17 and asked whether Unseen Heroes would be compensated for its part in building the market throughout the years, she said an invitation is still out to them. …
FULL STORY PUBLISHED JUNE 22, 2020 WITH SACRAMENTO NEWS & REVIEW
Burns So Good
I have an affinity for spicy food, though it wasn’t always that way. When I was in kindergarten, my dad shouted from the kitchen, “Mija! Do you want a pickle?” I loved pickles. He knew this. And although this particular pickle looked strange, I bit into it—only to suffer through heat waves and watery eyes that come standard with deep-green jalapeños. Oh, the joys of growing up in a Mexican household.
Now when I see spicy food trending, I seek it out. I enjoy testing my spice-boundaries and swimming in the euphoric feeling triggered by capsaicin (the compound that makes hot peppers hot). Enter Nash & Proper, a Nashville-inspired hot chicken food truck that serves a straightforward menu of crispy-fried chicken thighs, wings and tenders dunked in varying levels of liquid fire.
My first visit was at its location in Oak Park, where N&P parks in front of T&R Taste of Texas BBQ on Wednesday and Thursday afternoons. The spice levels: Mild “a bit of heat,” Medium “now you feel it,” Hot “it’s burning” and Cluckin’ Hot “get the cluck outta here.”
I ordered The Sammich ($12, Medium), a generously layered beast that requires two hands to manage. A soft, buttery bun is grilled until lightly charred before two crunchy boneless thighs are dipped in hot sauce and stacked with vinegary, green cabbage slaw, a few dill pickles and crowned with a top bun accompanied by Fuego Sauce, a mildly spicy aioli. I ensured my first, large bite included a bit of everything.
The textures alone were deliciously satisfying. The pillowy, toasted buns and the crisp cracklings from the chicken’s batter echoed with crunch inside my head, while the thigh meat was both tender and juicy. This tantalizing mouthful was followed by toothsome moments of fresh cabbage slaw and the occasional dill pickle punch. I dove back in for another gargantuan bite.
Luckily, I was dining solo on the trunk of my car, so I had no shame. Between bites, I enjoyed creamy potato salad ($3), cubes of cold potatoes in a dill-forward dressing acted as an excellent cooling method. Still, Medium didn’t quite scratch the surface of spiciness that I craved.
I continued to chase the capsaicin dragon on a follow-up visit, when the truck was at SacYard Community Tap House, with a basket of Cluckin’ Hot wings (three for $10) served on slices of white bread with pickle slices. The wings and drumettes were such a deep red it appeared an ominous warning. Once I popped the drumette from its wing, I took a conservative bite and waited.
Cluckin’ Hot is deceptive. I stopped myself from taking a second bite as the heat began to billow on my palate like a desert storm cloud taking over the entirety of my mouth. The heat builds slowly and digs in to stay awhile. As time passed, I craved more as it burned so good. A deep inhale seemed to make things worse so I tore off a piece of white bread and chewed until the heat slowly cooled.
With beads of sweat beneath my glasses, Cluckin’ Hot took me there. A very hot, but pleasantly slow burn. Would I order The Sammich Cluckin’ Hot? No. That ’wich is meant to be savored. But would I order a basket of wings that hot again? Most definitely. Would you?
PUBLISHED MAY 9, 2019 WITH SACRAMENTO NEWS & REVIEW
Life and Tacos
Whether during the early mornings as he got ready for school, or in the evenings after dinner, Josue Acosta says his dad always had a fresh pot of coffee brewing. Coffee was a comforting aroma throughout his childhood that fueled conversations and relaxed the family.
For Acosta, growing up Salvadoran meant coffee was an anytime beverage. “Its culturally been passed down that after your meal you start smelling coffee,” he says. “That’s been my family since I grew up.”
Inspired by his cultural connection to coffee and an insatiable taste for flavorful tacos, Acosta launched Zoe Coffee and Tacos in January 2018, popping up at weddings, breweries and fundraisers to pair what he says are a match made in culinary heaven.
“One of the biggest memories I have is cooking with my dad. He would explain to us what he was doing and he would always talk about how he learned from his grandma,” Acosta says. “That idea always stuck with me. Him seeing his grandma and me seeing him. I don’t need to know the exact recipe, I just need to observe, see him and remember the flavors.” …
FULL STORY PUBLISHED OCTOBER 24, 2019 WITH SACRAMENTO NEWS & REVIEW
For years, my father worked graveyard shifts at a shingle plant in Shafter, a small town in Kern County. He slept while my brother and I were in school and he worked long hours while we were home. But sometimes, as the sun crept over the horizon, he’d wake us up with, “I bought doughnuts.” We’d spring out of bed and run to the kitchen where a square, pink box held all of our favorites: old-fashioned, maple and chocolate bars, blueberry cake donuts and classic rainbow sprinkles. We’d sit at the table and talk about our days and listen to how his nights had been as we enjoyed the early morning together.
I held onto this memory as I stepped into Milk Money, a sweet shop located in Midtown’s Ice Blocks corridor, where small-batch craft doughnuts and ice cream are served six days a week. At Milk Money, the doughnut of the day is posted on Instagram at 6 a.m. and it sells out quick. Its offerings are playfully named such as A Lime Called Quest, Clockwork Orange and other fun variations, including Hello Kitty, Ludacrismis and Figgy Pop ($3.50 each).
One evening, my family and I stood in line under the pink neon sign that read “Makin’ dough” and found out that the Andre 3000 (a vegan brioche doughnut with caramel glaze, dark chocolate drizzle and crushed peanuts) was the only doughnut left.
As fans of hip-hop duo Outkast, we ordered some, plus doughnut holes ($3) and a waffle cone packed with Peanut Butter Drumstick ice cream ($4.50). The doughnut was very dense instead of the light and fluffy sweets of my past. Sure, dark chocolate and peanuts are a pair made in confectioner’s heaven, but that’s nothing to write home about.
The doughnut holes were also heavy. The ice cream, on the other hand, was superb: creamy, salty and sweet with all the familiar flavors one would expect from the words Peanut Butter Drumstick.
On our Sunday morning visit (we weren’t going to miss out on variety this time), we ordered the two options behind the dessert case: The Milk Money and a classic lime-glazed doughnut with rainbow sprinkles. We also snagged a scoop of peach ice cream ($3.50) and an ice cream sandwich ($8).
The sandwich is customizable depending on what cookies and ice cream are available. We ordered a peanut butter cookie sandwich with soy vanilla ice cream, which had a chalky flavor that didn’t hold up well when sandwiched between two cookies that tasted as though they’d been left out all night. The standout during this visit was the peach ice cream, which tasted like grandma’s peach cobbler: savory, buttery and packed with bold peach flavor churned into a single scoop.
Milk Money’s house pastry is an orange creamsicle-glazed brioche doughnut with coriander and brown-sugar streusel. It’s absolutely delicious. Its use of coriander was just enough to give the doughnut a warm, spicy fragrance that plays nice with this sweet treat. The pastry dough was thankfully not as dense as the Andre 3000. Instead, it was sturdy enough to dunk into coffee, but rich and tender like brioche. The lime glaze on the rainbow-sprinkled version was a bright and delightful citrus twist on this old-time favorite that reminded me of Trix cereal.
As my son and I shared a rainbow-sprinkled bite, I was reminded of those early mornings waking up to that pink box filled with glazed goodies. Whatever the occasion, Milk Money may be the place to treat your inner sweet tooth.
The Paprika Steeper
Mark Lastuvka came to Sacramento from the Czech Republic, and now rises early to cook goulash at La Trattoria Bohemia
The scent of tonight’s dinner special—tandoori-spiced halibut—wafts from the kitchen. Lively
conversations fill a warmly lit dining room with not an empty seat inside La Trattoria Bohemia, a Czech and Italian restaurant that opened in East Sacramento 17 years ago.
In the center of the merriment sits restaurant owner Mark Lastuvka, enjoying a glass of red wine with his girlfriend. A friendly chef, he’s passionate about the quality of food he serves his customers, whether it’s the Italian handmade ravioli, pizza and lasagna or the Czech dishes of his childhood, including beef goulash, chicken paprikash, handmade späetzle and schnitzel, which he made all the time as a kid. The Czech dumplings are his top-sellers.
Lastuvka’s place is one of a kind—the only Czech restaurant in Sacramento.
“I come every morning and I cook. Today, I did beef goulash and Bavarian goulash and soup,” Lastuvka says. “Goulash takes three hours, so you have to come in the morning and start it because it takes all day to prep. The goulash, I needed to twist it a little bit and make it for here to get people used to it, because it’s different in Czech. But now it sells very well.”
In Lastuvka’s goulash, he says, he uses precise portions of meat and vegetables, whereas in different regions of Eastern Europe, a homemade recipe would incorporate just about anything.
Lastuvka moved here from the Czech Republic in 1990. While taking English classes, he met two men who offered him a job washing dishes at Roma II Pizzeria on Folsom Boulevard. There, he met owner Maria Guerrera and learned the essentials of authentic Southern Italian cuisine over the next decade.
“She’s like my mother,” Lastuvka says. “My mom is back in Czech, so Maria became my friend and mother, and she helped a lot.”
Lastuvka was working two jobs, seven days a week, split between an early morning construction job and Roma’s on the weekends. Understandably, he started to get tired. So he decided to bring a little taste of Czech to Sacramento …
FULL STORY: THE PAPRIKA STEEPER. Published in the Sacramento News & Review November 30, 2017.
Best Meat and Gravy Heaven
On a warm Wednesday afternoon, the savory aroma of roasted meats lures hungry foot traffic off the busy sidewalk on 10th Street and into a line that stretches from one end of the eatery back to the front door. Inside Bud’s Buffet, the ambience is reminiscent of a lunchtime cafeteria, what with its loud chatter, modestly decorated dining area and fast-paced assembly line.
Since 1988, this old-fashioned lunch spot has been revered for its thick portions of peppery pastrami, baked ham, barbecued pork, and corned and roast beef (just to name a few) packed into soft French rolls. Here, the menu is simple: specialty deli sandwiches, cold Italian pasta and macaroni salads, and hot daily lunch specials that rotate during the week, like lasagna and spaghetti served with side salads, or chopped steak served with Bud’s signature mound of mashed potatoes and gravy. Recommended on the specialty hot sandwiches menu: the spicy “Diablo” with roast beef, melted pepper jack cheese, housemade chipotle sauce and jalapeños. Or, try Bud’s classic Reuben with deli-sliced pastrami, Thousand Island dressing, sauerkraut, spicy brown mustard and Swiss cheese.
Despite its lunchtime rush, the steady ebb and flow of customers makes this afternoon lunch stop a quick place to enjoy a filling meal, but bear in mind Bud’s is only open during the workweek from 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.
Published in the Sacramento News & Review’s Best Of 2017 Issue.
Community kitchens support local food and drink artisans in
America’s Farm-to-Fork Capital
On a hot Saturday afternoon, ice-cold drinks and root beer floats are served inside the Burly Beverages Gift Shoppe & Tasting Room, an old-fashioned soda fountain located in the Del Paso Heights neighborhood. Rows of specialty sodas, seltzers, and cocktail essentials line the shelves, and co-owner and founder Gabriel Aiello welcomes guests from behind a sleek corner bar lined with black and chrome bar stools. The doorbell rings, and Aiello opens the door for two women so they can taste the variety of small-batch soda flavors Aiello’s seasonal menu features. For Aiello, this brick-and-motor location was once a simple dream. Still, the challenges that keep many small-batch culinary businesses from realizing their dreams are very much a reality.
With more than 11,000 small family farms in the Sacramento Valley, local culinary artisans are able to draw much inspiration from the abundance that surrounds them year round. That vast foundation allows them to create new ways to savor the region’s lush bounty of fruits and vegetables.
Whether they operate a food booth, run a pop-up supper club, or are a small-batch producer, independent culinary business owners share a passion for sourcing homegrown ingredients and highlighting the authenticity derived from their handmade goods. Still, the expense of launching a culinary dream — especially in its beginning stages — proves difficult for many small producers. So they turn to commercial kitchens and rent space as a more cost-effective approach to sharing their handcrafted goods with the masses. Yet with the growing number of culinary artisans in a booming agricultural economy, kitchen space is extremely limited, which often hampers these budding businesses with a farm-to-fork ethos. Nevertheless, the drive for homemade taste and DIY spirit persists. …
READ THE FULL COVER STORY: CULINARY DREAMS. Published in Edible Sacramento’s Fall 2017 Issue.
Cooking with Precision
Local MasterChef Junior competitor adds chemistry to his kitchen experiments
While some youths ask their parents for bats and balls, 14-year-old Adam Wadhwani recalls a time when he asked his mom for a blow torch, CO2 cartridges, and a set of sharp knives.
For most parents, that would be a strange and tall order to fill, but for Wadhwani’s mother, Emel Wadhwani, these gadgets were simply kitchen tools that propelled a then-9-year-old boy’s culinary interests to a level where dishes mirrored restaurant-quality fine dining.
“As a parent, you are sometimes jolted into realizing that your kid does have something special going on, and you need to really support him,” Emel says. “When he got interested in food, it wasn’t just an attempt to create delicious stuff, which he does very well. But he was also interested in the technique and the technology and the equipment that goes with it.”
At the edge of 12 years old, Adam and his mother flew to Los Angeles to try out for the FOX television show MasterChef Junior, hosted by world-renowned chef Gordon Ramsay and award-winning pastry chef Christina Tosi. More than 4,000 young chefs between the ages of 8 and 13 auditioned for the series in order to earn a spot in the Top 40 and the chance to win the $100,000 grand prize.
Adam garnered a place by baking chocolate cupcakes filled with strawberry compote and topped with a buttercream frosting that was infused with smoked cinnamon and nutmeg. His cupcakes not only earned him a signature white apron, but this Sutter Middle School student also received a high five from the famously ill-tempered Ramsay.
“A lot of what compelled me about MasterChef was getting to be around other kids who enjoyed the same thing I did … and with professionals who knew what they were doing and could help guide us to make us better,” Adam says. …
READ THE FULL STORY: COOKING WITH PRECISION. Published in Edible Sacramento’s Fall 2017 Issue.
For the Love of Cheese
For Greater Sacramento’s resident cheesemongers, every cheese tells a story. From its funky flavor profiles to the creameries and farmers who spend decades perfecting their cheese recipes, every detail is essential. Amid an abundance of well-stocked cheese collections throughout the region, edible Sacramento stepped behind the counter to turn to three cheese experts for tips, tricks, and tales. These pros not only carry great respect for cheesemakers, but they also aspire to eliminate the intimidation factor that naturally follows such boundless selections … no matter how you slice it.
A homegrown devotion
Growing up on a small, organic pear farm in Mendocino County, Calif., allowed Rebekah Baker to see the personal connection between produce and its cultivator from a young age. With these experiences at her core, Baker believes the best part about having worked in the cheese industry for the past decade is the variety of narratives that follow every decadent wedge she tastes.
“Behind every incredibly delicious cheese, there is a story. There’s a cheesemaker. There’s a company. There’s a family. There’s a town. There’s a dairy animal that made that milk,” Baker says. “When you taste a really excellent cheese, you know there was someone somewhere along the line who has an intense passion about what they’re doing.”
Baker’s worn many hats within the cheese business, from cheese buyer and specialty associate at Whole Foods Market in Santa Rosa, Folsom, and Roseville, Calif., to Nugget Markets, where she was the corporate director of specialty cheese for three years. Now, she works for Tony’s Fine Foods in West Sacramento as the category manager for cheese. Baker’s dedication to the world of cheese is measured in both years and the countless hours she studied to earn the elite certified cheese professional title from the American Cheese Society.
For Baker, the only wrong way to enjoy cheese is to not eat it. From her experience, tasting cheese is the quickest way to find the one that tickles all the senses. A turning point in her career was when she sampled a five-year-aged Gouda that gave Baker her wow moment.
“It was just the craziest dark, caramel color, and it had these lighter flecks of crystals throughout, and the texture was very firm,” Baker says. “The flavor just blew me away with its burnt caramel, whisky, and cherry notes. When I first tried it, I stopped talking and just tasted for like five minutes. The flavor lingered and kept evolving and changing.” …
READ THE FULL COVER STORY: FOR THE LOVE OF CHEESE. Published in Edible Sacramento’s Summer 2017 Issue.
Eat on the Street
Uncovering Greater Sacramento’s Mexican street food
The most authentic flavors of Mexican cuisine are not always tasted in full-spread dishes accompanied by rice and beans or served in a restaurant setting. Instead, the essence of traditional Mexican fare is found streetside, served near parks, in alleyways, and on the busiest corners of the city.
Street food is simple. It’s savory tacos garnished with cilantro and chopped onions and served from a small cart near Southside Park. It’s crunchy chicharrónes, fried pork rinds spiced with lime and chili sauce. It’s the comfort factor present in each bite of an elote, corn on the cob rolled in mayo, chili powder, and Parmesan cheese and enjoyed on a stick.
These curbside treats, with their savory and spicy flavors, originate from some of the oldest regions in Mexico. Street food may be straightforward, but it’s served with a story and spiced with love by people who savor authenticity.
Wrapped in tradition
When Yolanda Yanez was a little girl, her mother taught her the traditions of tamale making in Michoacán. Back in those days, tamales were made by the dozen. Now, Yanez and a small team — which includes her husband, Pedro — prep and steam between 400 and 1,000 tamales in one day.
In her family-run business, Yanez also enlists the help of her sons, Andres and Valente; her daughter, Julia; and Andres’ wife, Sandra, who all are regular faces during every farmers’ market location in the Sacramento area. The markets run from May through October, when Yolanda’s Tamales are sold in bulk.
Tamales start with masa, a corn-based dough that traditionally is made of lard, salt, and baking powder. The masa is spread onto a cornhusk before it’s filled with a variety of meats, chiles, cheeses, or vegetables. Once the tamale is assembled, it’s folded tightly and steamed until the masa is firm. …
READ THE FULL STORY: EAT ON THE STREET. Published in Edible Sacramento’s Summer 2017 Issue.
Devil May Care Ice Cream owner Jess Milbourn scoops up nostalgia and other delicious childhood treats
Across the I Street Bridge in West Sacramento is Devil May Care Ice Cream, a little red parlor that aims to rekindle a time where a scoop of the frozen confection was the ultimate childhood treat. Inside, ingredients from local companies like the Allspicery and Burly Beverages line the shelves. Canisters of cardamom, cinnamon and vanilla bean pods sit near bottles of root beer, ginger beer and orange soda syrups used as twist on the classic float. Much like the name of his business, owner Jess Milbourn says he approaches his recipes with a fun and reckless attitude because at the end of the day—it’s ice cream. But, don’t diss vanilla. For Milbourn, it’s not only his favorite flavor, but also the most misunderstood.
“It’s such an underrated flavor, but why is it any more plain than chocolate? I put more flavor into my vanilla than my chocolate,” he says. “Vanilla uses two different vanilla beans with some extract, and it just accents everything so well.”
With more than 30 years of experience as a chef and graduate from the Culinary Institute of New York, Milbourn opened the small shop last November and introduced ice cream combinations like coffee and donuts made from Camellia Coffee Roasters and old-fashioned glazed donuts from City Donuts just up the street.
Classic flavors like vanilla and chocolate, cookies and cream, and peanut butter and fudge also make regular appearances on the menu, but his latest creation made with chamomile and kumquat is truly unique. Floral aromas are met with slightly tart pieces of kumquat. The combination tastes of honey, but with a light and sweet finish. A native of West Sac, Milbourn recalls picking chamomile with his grandmother along the river as a child. It’s also where he returns to source the wildflower.
It’s not just a nostalgia trip though, Milbourn says. The greatest feeling he says is seeing his customers smile.
“I get to have kids come in and eat their first ice cream cone and look like that,” To demonstrate, Milbourn shares an Instagram photo of a boy holding a cone with a huge smile on his face.
“It’s the coolest thing. Kids are happy and families come in for celebrations. People come here to celebrate and enjoy life,” he says. “That’s the most soul-satisfying thing is to see happy people, especially the kids.”
Published in the Sacramento News & Review’s “Summer Guide” Issue May 25, 2017.
Olla Swanson cooks up family traditions
Home cooks bring a certain finesse and authenticity to the dishes they know well. In many homes, you’ll find no recipe books sitting on the kitchen counter, no second-guessing of measurements, and often the simmering and spicing of home-cooked meals solely depend on the cook’s palate, which continuously assesses all the familiar flavors lightly bubbling on the stovetop until they’re just right.
All of these methods ring true for Olla Swanson, a seasoned home cook who was taught how to make rice properly by her mother at age 4. Her advice: Wash it three times.
Growing up in a large Filipino household, Swanson inherited the natural ability to cook traditional-style Filipino dishes from her mother, Olivia, and her Aunt Lupe.
“When I was growing up, my mom and my Aunt Lupe between them had eight children, and we all grew up together in this big house, and there would be so much food,” Swanson says. “I like how Filipino food makes me think of community and all of us eating together, especially if there’s a big party. Also, it’s hard to find. The only way you can get it is if you make it.”
Under the moniker The Olla Factory, Swanson now serves the Filipino dishes of her childhood during a rotating Monday popup dinner series at Sacramento’s Old Ironsides restaurant, to crowds she hopes will discover a love for these foods that meant so much to her and her family. …
READ THE FULL STORY: FILIPINO FLAVOR. Published in Edible Sacramento’s “Cooks!” May/June 2017 Issue.
Turning the soil, caring for seedlings and tasting homegrown bounty is what gardening is all about. For Judith Yisrael, growing nutrient-rich food for her family and her surrounding community is an everyday way of life. She is the co-founder of Yisrael Family Urban Farm, a half-acre plot of land in the Oak Park neighborhood where she and her husband, Chanowk, work hard in the soil and in the community. In January, Sacramento County’s board of supervisors unanimously passed the County Urban Agriculture Ordinance, a law that will allow residents to legally grow and sell crops, keep bees and even raise chickens and ducks at home. For the Yisrael family, the news means they will open and operate an urban farm stand selling organic fruits and vegetables to their neighborhood.
“Remember, we’re not just growing food when we’re talking about urban agriculture,” she says. “We’re actually growing community, we’re growing hope and we’re growing health.”
With a passion for growing herbs, vegetables and colorful flowers, Yisrael thinks about how to create biodiversity in her garden by the use of companion planting, which she says is a natural system where the plants and insects take care of themselves. She makes homemade soaps and salves and infuses oils with ingredients from her backyard bounty, and she still found time to help Sacramento Magazine with a month-by-month guide for our readers with a green thumb. …
READ THE FULL STORY: GARDENER’S ALMANAC. Published in Sacramento Magazine April 1, 2017.
Carving a Niche
The Proletariat will offer a taste of Jersey
The historic Sacramento Tofu Co. building at 1915 6th St. is taking on a new role thanks to the owners of the Southern-inspired restaurant South, located in Sacramento’s Southside Park. New Jersey native Ian Kavookjian and his wife, N’Gina, plan to launch their Garden State-inspired deli, The Proletariat, in August.
“One of his biggest complaints about California is there’s not really a lot of delis that are reminiscent of the delis that Ian grew up [with] on the East Coast,” N’Gina says. “That’s something that he definitely wants to recreate in Sacramento, so he has a little piece of home here.”
The Proletariat predominantly will be a breakfast and lunch spot, and the menu still is in the development stage, but customers will be able to stop by and grab freshly prepared sandwiches and salads, an assortment of deli-sliced meats and cheeses, as well as house-made pastries and desserts. The more-than-3,000-square-foot space also will house a bottle shop serving beer and wine during happy hour for guests to enjoy in house or to purchase bottles to take home after a long day’s work.
The downtown eatery also will sell some of South’s tasty menu staples behind the deli counter, such as its popular meatloaf.
“What I like about a good deli is variety,” N’Gina says, “especially when you look in the case and you see so many beautiful, house-made items. I like being able to get a sandwich and taste the quality in the bread, the meat, and the cheese. It’s the simplicity of really great ingredients speaking for the food, as opposed to piling a bunch of stuff on and giving it a crazy name.”
Published in Edible Sacramento’s “Fresh Start” March/April 2017 Issue.
The Oak Café preps the new bevy of top chefs
On the culinary television show Top Chef, a recurring challenge for the competing chefs is to group into teams to open a new restaurant with a cohesive theme and vision in just a matter of days. Sacramento’s American River College Culinary Arts and Hospitality Management program does something similar each semester with its four-star restaurant, The Oak Café, except every week the menu is refreshed.
Each week, the new menu of appetizers, entrées, and desserts is made from scratch with locally sourced ingredients from Del Rio Botanical in West Sacramento, Soil Born Farms in Rancho Cordova, and ARC’s horticulture department gardens. The variety of cuisines served at the restaurant includes anything from classic French to Cuban or American Southern food, according to program department chair Brian Knirk.
“One of the most important things that our students learn is attitude and respect for the kitchen and the ingredients,” Knirk says. “But what we also try to instill in them is an understanding of the details required to make food great and the process by which you achieve those outcomes.” …
READ THE FULL STORY: TRAINING GROUND. Published in Edible Sacramento’s “Fresh Start” March/April 2017 Issue.
Art’s Utility Player
Gioia Fonda’s upcoming “Give a Fork” installation aims to start a conversation on food deserts, hunger and solutions.
Polish your grandma’s treasured silverware; straighten—or don’t—the contorted cutlery caught in the garbage disposal; whatever your approach, artist Gioia Fonda wants Sacramento to give a fork. Ten thousand forks, to be exact. …
READ THE FULL STORY: ART’S UTILITY PLAYER. Published in the Sacramento News & Review, March 24, 2016.
15 Years of mewithoutYou
Philadelphia post-hardcore five-piece mewithoutYou will celebrate its 15th year together this year, continuing to log thousands of miles touring across the United States. Vocalist Aaron Weiss, alongside brother and guitarist, Michael Weiss, started the band in 2001, signing with Tooth and Nail Records later that same year. The band—which also includes drummer Rickie Mazotta, bassist Greg Jehanian and guitarist Brandon Beaver—continues to craft dramatic, sometimes experimental, soundscapes that echo the singer’s trance-like vocal angst. The band’s recently released sixth album, Pale Horses, not only challenges mewithoutYou to revisit the band’s natural tendency toward the more theatrical, aggressive musical performance, but also revives the emotional honesty found in past albums. Submerge recently caught up with mewithoutYou vocalist and founding member Aaron Weiss to discuss how he developed his eccentric, spoken-word vocal style, what inspires the band’s performances night after night and mewithoutYou’s religious-based labels. …
READ THE FULL INTERVIEW: ON A PALE HORSE. Published in Submerge magazine, June 22, 2015.
Sacramento Chefs and Farmers Share Tips on How to Use Every Last Bit of those Summer Vegetables
Farmers markets are popular with just about anyone looking for fresh, locally grown produce. So fresh, in fact, that many times the fruits and vegetables displayed in mounds at merchant tents are often picked from the field the previous day. … Even though many farmers market fiends challenge themselves to cook what they bring home each week, too often stems, leaves and rinds end up in the garbage. Chefs and farmers alike, however, say these overlooked pieces have tasty nutritional value. Executive chef Jon Clemons at The Porch Restaurant and Bar says he likes to think about creative ways to use the entire vegetable. He and his staff use a variety of techniques to transform rinds, cobs and even buckets of green tomato odds and ends into delicious fare. …
READ THE FULL STORY: WASTE NOT, ENJOY MORE. Published in the Sacramento News & Review, July 23, 2015.
Ax murderers, Charles Manson and ghost dogs—is this historic Midtown mansion the scariest, creepiest haunted house in Sacramento?
A stone lion’s head hovers over a wide entryway, solemnly watching passersby, some of whom, catching sight of the house just beyond, slow their pace to examine the gothiclike structure that’s sat unoccupied for more than 20 years. But drooping palm trees and an iron gate edge the perimeter, keeping the curious away as it guards one of the largest, oldest mansions in the historic Boulevard Park neighborhood. Located on the corner of H and 22nd streets, it’s considered one of the most mysterious and perhaps the most haunted house in Sacramento. Indeed, this mansion conveys a spooky sense of intrigue thanks, at least in part, to its yawning emptiness. The home, now owned by a Northern California-based family trust, was built shortly after the turn of the century, and in the years since it has inspired countless stories—some grislier than others. Most have one thing in common: They are, at least according to the house’s current deed holder, decidedly untrue. …
READ THE FULL STORY: THIS OLD HOUSE. Published in the Sacramento News & Review, October 18, 2012.
Gioia Fonda transforms gutter garbage into art
Ordinary hurricane fence morphs into happy orange flowers, familiar green baskets that once held strawberries transform into whimsical city skylines and forks found abandoned in Sacramento’s gutters glisten brightly. These are Sacramento City College assistant art professor Gioia Fonda’s recycled treasures. And her art. “I feel that people aren’t being as creative as they could be with their trash,” Fonda says. “There are possibilities in objects. A lot of things could be repurposed.” …
READ THE FULL STORY: POSSIBILITY IN OBJECTS. Published in the Sacramento News & Review, April 22, 2010.
Dale Smallin, who recorded the wild cackle at the intro of the classic Surfari’s hit ‘Wipe Out,’ now enjoys a mellow life in downtown Sacramento
Resting underneath a green awning outside downtown’s Capitol Park Cafe, Dale Smallin inhales one last drag of his Pall Mall red cigarette as the hectic traffic of Ninth Street whizzes past. Partially relying on a wooden cane, Smallin slowly enters the cafe for his daily meal, greeting the waitress, Sally, by name. Determined, he heads straight to his usual spot, second table on the right, and politely waves away her offer of a menu. He has it memorized. To many customers in the cafe, Smallin is an ordinary man enjoying a ham grill with fries. And although his days may appear routine, Smallin’s memories of youthful endeavors are tales of rock ’n’ roll history—and one unforgettable laugh. Smallin was manager of the surf-rock band the Surfaris, known for their 1963 hit “Wipe Out.” And Smallin’s voice was responsible for the maniac-like cackle that taunts listeners in the song’s opening moment. …
READ THE FULL STORY: AN UNFORGETTABLE LAUGH. Published in the Sacramento News & Review, March 11, 2010.