Posted: Jan 18, 2018
Most restaurant reviews, whether on Yelp, the Michelin Guide or the Chronicle, focus on food quality, ambiance and service. But what about a metric for adherence to the "farm-to-table" ethos? A new rating system in Sonoma County aims to achieve just that.
Called the Snail of Approval, the recognition was created by Slow Food International, the organization originally founded in Italy in the late 1980s to protest the planned building of a McDonald’s at the food of Rome’s Spanish steps. It fast became an international movement, popular among progressive-minded food lovers with its focus on promoting regional cooking traditions, local agriculture and artisans, and enjoying the good life.
In short, they’re values that Sonoma County embraces, with its wineries, farmstead cheese companies and restaurants that obsess over local ingredients.
“Sonoma County is one of the leading sustainable food centers in our country,” says Peg Champion, a board member at the Slow Food Russian River chapter, which joined with another local chapter to debut the Snail of Approval winners in November. “It’s kind of funny that it’s taken us this long to get the program together.”
Before Sonoma’s program started, there were already Snail of Approval programs at Washington, D.C., Cincinnati, Indianapolis, New York City and Sacramento Slow Food chapters. The certification process recognizes many different issues that can’t be summarized under an organic label or a Yelp review, including sustainability, fair labor and humane animal husbandry, and aims to dig deep into what “farm to table” really means.
“We do know who is putting their money where their mouth is,” says Champion, when it comes to ingredient choices, fair labor and green business practices.
Sonoma County’s snail-approved restaurants are Backyard in Forestville, Diavola Pizzeria and Salumeria in Geyserville, Estero Cafe in Valley Ford, Naked Pig in Santa Rosa, Shed in Healdsburg, and Zazu Kitchen + Farm in Sebastopol and Black Piglet, a food truck from the same owners. Champion points out that several of the restaurants have their own farms or are so strict about local ingredients that they won’t serve maple syrup with pancakes. Champion says the local Slow Food chapters plan to expand the awards to food producers as well as more restaurants.
To receive the recognition, restaurants went through an application process that involved site visits from Champion and three other volunteer Slow Food members, who asked specifics about employee wages and benefits, poked through compost bins, and inspected walk-in refrigerators to check on the seasonality and quality of ingredients.
Marianna Gardenhire, who founded Backyard restaurant in Forestville in 2012 with her husband, Daniel Kedan, says the inspectors asked questions about whether the produce they use is organic and the quality of the oils they use in cooking.
“I hope that this pushes other restaurants to really change their standards and to be a little more conscious of what they buy,” says Gardenhire, who lives with Kedan on the farm that supplies the restaurant with produce, honey and other ingredients.
John Stewart and wife and co-chef Duskie Estes of Zazu Kitchen + Farm in Sebastopol and the Black Piglet, a seasonal food truck in Healdsburg, have been dedicated to the Slow Food ethos since the 1990s. They named their previous restaurant Bovolo, which means snail in the Venetian dialect, and took one of their first trips together to Bra, Italy, where Slow Food was founded. The restaurant has its own farm and partners with heritage pig farmers to source its pork.
“Getting the award was definitely a big deal for us,” says Stewart. “It was sort of a recognition for something we do every day.”
By Tara Duggan
January 17, 2018
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