Last week’s International Association of Culinary Professionals (IACP) annual conference started off with optional Saturday tours; always one of the best parts of the annual conference. It gives you the chance to explore a part of the host city’s food culture in depth, this year San Francisco’s.
I lead the “Alice Waters Edible Schoolyard & Lunch at Pizzaiolo” tour. To give you an idea what the day consisted of, here’s how the tour was presented to IACP members:
Take a tour of the original Edible Schoolyard in Berkeley, founded by Alice Waters. For over 16 years, the Edible Schoolyard Project has created an edible education curriculum for public schools, using gardens and kitchens as interactive classrooms and helping every student have an affordable, nutritious, organic lunch. There are now Edible Schoolyards throughout the US.
The Edible Schoolyard Project is opening the garden on a Saturday for this special IACP tour. Afterward there will be a lunch at Pizzaiolo based on a menu selected that day. Pizzaiolo’s chef and owner, Charlie Hallowell, worked closely with Alice Waters for nearly a decade and fully embraces her philosophy of sustainability. Michael Bauer of the San Francisco Chronicle refers to Pizzaiolo as “…the Chez Panisse of the new generation of diners who go for lusty flavors and casual surroundings.”
I’ll say it up front: our lunch at Pizzaiolo was the best meal I had during the entire conference. No, more than that: the meal goes down as one of my best meals ever. My fellow diners fully concurred; the news of our luncheon went viral among the hundreds of conference participants, elevating our tour to one of the top events of the conference.
Ingredients at Pizzaiolo are local, seasonal and sustainable; the springboard to a great meal. Owner Charlie Hallowell and his team of chefs and food professionals transform these ingredients into spectacular dishes through original combinations that excite the palate and are beautifully presented.
We started off with Star Route Farms Garden Lettuces, followed by Blood Orange and Grapefruit with Avocado, Fennel & Chervil. Our third appetizer featuring local produce was Riverdog Asparagus & Marinated Beets with Kumquats, Spring Onions, Almonds and Herbs: an explosion of flavor and color.
Our primo piatto was Local Manila Clams from the Wood Oven, with Saffron, Thyme, Cream and Hot Pepper. The hot pepper provided a mere hint of bite and the herbs and cream a delicate flavor that perfectly complemented the rich flavor of the clams.
Our secondo piatto, Emigh Farm Leg of Lamb with Polenta, Tokyo Turnips & a Fava Bean Salsa Verde, was nothing short of amazing. The tender lamb was cooked to perfection. The salsa verde was prepared with garden-fresh mint; the turnips were tiny, tender and gorgeous: we couldn’t stop talking about them. The seasonal fava beans were tender and buttery and perfect with the lamb.
I tried to reproduce this dish a few days later and it was delicious, but no fava beans or baby turnips were to be found. I used asparagus and beets, provided in our weekly veggie box. If you’re in the Bay Area try to reach out to Charlie Hallowell to find out who his produce purveyors are.
The perfect sweet touch to conclude our meal was a Walnut Brown Butter Cake with Dirty Girl Farm Fresh Strawberries and Crème Fraîche.
Pizzaiolo is full of natural light, rustic wood tables, clean-line cutlery, earth-tone ceramic tableware and vases laden with wild violets and greens. The atmosphere sets the pace for great things to come.
Both white and red wine were served; I drank a hearty, full-bodied Spanish red.
Pizzaiolo makes all it’s own bread. It’s rich and crusty, with a crumb that comes from the bread baker’s carefully developed and tended mother yeast. We couldn’t stop eating the bread; we used it to sop up the dressings from our three vegetable appetizers, the clam sauce and the mint salsa verde. And in between courses we lathered the bread with butter.
If you’re thinking of heading over to Pizzaiolo for the same meal we had don’t bother. The menu changes daily and reflects what’s seasonal, local and available that day. Not to worry: each day Pizzaiolo prepares an amazing menu.
Pizzaiolo is always closed for lunch, but is open for dinner Mon – Thurs from 5:30 pm – 10 pm and Fri & Sat from 5 pm – 10:30 pm.