Chef Loretta Keller is one of the forces who fomented the San Francisco restaurant scene as we know it today, back when she worked alongside Jeremiah Tower at Stars, one of those kitchens that awakened the whole city to what a new era of fine dining could be.
When considering all of those white tablecloths in her background, it's kind of a surprise to learn that Keller is just as comfortable foraging for mushrooms as she is hunting wild boar as she is thrashing about for eels at low tide as she is behind the stove. Currently helming her Coco500 establishment, Keller — a James Beard nominee for best chef in the United States — is also the chef who opened the Moss Room at the California Academy of Sciences and the two great eateries at the newly revamped Exploratorium on the Embarcadero.
But when she comes to Healdsburg, where she's kept a home in the Dry Creek Valley for some 21 years, she's here to relax and cook with friends, as she will on Thursday, Feb. 6. And such friends!
Blacksmith, artist, and Renaissance man Angelo Garro is one such buddy. Garro came to national fame when Michael Pollan wrote about the Sonoma County wild boar hunting trips he took with Garro in The Omnivore's Dilemma. Pollan paints Garro as garrulous and wise, hidden behind a screen of cigarello smoke as he guts the sow that the writer eventually landed.
(Garro is also the creator of Omnivore Salt, perhaps the only Kickstarter campaign to feature a two-minute film made by Werner Herzog; we're pleased to carry it — not Werner Herzog — in our larder.)
Chef Colleen McGlynn is another. With husband Ridgely Evers, McGlynn owns Healdsburg's DaVero Winery, which is known for its natural Italian varietals and excellent olive oil program.
"Colleen and I met cooking," Keller says, speaking by phone from her San Francisco restaurant. "And have known each other for a long time." She laughs. "I don't even want to go into the numbers."
Keller also met Garro through the San Francisco food community. "We had hunting in common," she explains. "He's been very generous with me in teaching me how to hunt and he's a great teacher — really generous with his time and knowledge. We've been boar hunting quite a bit. We've been on fishing forays quite a lot, too."
For the Feb. 6 dinner, Keller and Garro plan to forage wild mustard greens from area fields. They had planned to pick mushrooms, too, but as Keller sighs, "this drought is just killing us." Even without the necessary rain, the meal promises to be stellar, paired with DaVero's wines and featuring gorgeous local foodstuffs. Garro is packing his pasta machine to make fresh stuff onsite from whatever he and Keller return with from foraging.
For Keller, this brief mid-week break in her professional rounds is a natural. McGlynn lives in the North County, Garro is a regular fixture, and she lives here parttime. "We want to support SHED and the community," she says. "It's in the spirit of friends getting together to cook. We're all farmers and foragers and professional cooks.
"Plus," she chuckles, "it's an occasion for Angelo and me to get out of the city."
Loretta Keller and Friends Supper. Thursday, Feb. 6, from 6-9pm. Tickets are $75-$95 and going fast. Get yours today.
Here's a peek at the suggested menu:
Seared Atlantic Scallops, Endive, DaVero Meyer Lemon Oil, Buddha's Hand
2013 Malvasia Bianca
Angelo's Handmade Pasta, Wild Mustard Greens
Braised Lamb Shank, Moroccan Spices, Roasted Heirloom Winter Squash, Mint, and Preserved Lemon
Bittersweet Chocolate Cake, Candied Kumquats, Caramel and Chantilly
HomeFarm late-harvest dessert wine