Just after 6 a.m. today, I chatted by phone with Michael Passmore, owner and operator of Passmore Ranch, which raises six species of fish in eco-friendly ponds in Sloughhouse.
He was already in the office, and with good reason. Passmore was tending to last-minute details for some very special guests today - about 50 very special guests.
One of Passmore Ranch's customers is Meadowood, the world-class restaurant in St. Helena that is one of two Michelin three-star restaurants in California (the other is the French Laundry). Executive Chef Christopher Kostow and the entire restaurant staff has embarked on an educational sojourn while the dining room is being remodeled, and one of the learning trips is to Passmore Ranch.
Kostow and company have been doing all kinds of things while the dining room is being renovated (it will reopen Feb. 18), from wine tastings to a trip to the St. Helena Historical Society so the staff can learn more about the area. Follow the restaurant on Twitter to see where the staff goes on its learning excursions.
I asked Passmore about what he believes makes Meadowood so special.
"I had one of my most fascinating discussions with Christopher after a meal there. I asked him how he built his team and what the process was like," Passmore said. "I think those Michelin stars are about so much more than the food. It takes that consistency. It takes that team.
"They have been recognized as the best, but I honestly don't think that is their mission. They are off right now and the restaurant is paying nearly 50 staff members to go learn. It's part of the passion and commitment. They are bringing the whole restaurant here. Chef wants them to see and understand where the food is coming from."
"In coordinating with them, I didn't want to bore them with another tour," Passmore said with a chuckle. "I realized we needed to move some fish, and I saw a lot of free labor, so I'm going to put them to work. They will be in the water. They will be driving tractors. They will be feeding fish. They are going to be experiencing a day at the ranch."
Well, not quite. Because also arriving at the ranch today will be two of Sacramento's brightest culinary talents: Pajo Bruich of Enotria and Bill Ngo of Kru. The duo will be doing some pretty serious cooking, including sturgeon chicharones topped with smoked sturgeon tartare (Passmore Ranch raises sturgeon).
I caught up with Bruich when he was one his way to Sloughhouse and the chef said it was an honor to cook for the Meadowood employees. He also said it was his and Ngo's way of welcoming them to the Sacramento area. Along with this dynamic duo, Enotria wine director Matthew Lewis will be pairing wines for the meal.
That's a pretty nice farm lunch!
"It's going to be a pick-and-nibble kind of thing - an extravagant pick-and-nibble," Passmore said.
Blair Anthony Robertson is The Bee's restaurant critic. Follow him on Twitter, @blarob.