At the beginning of the month was my birthday, and birthdays mean presents. But for my past three birthdays, Anthony has been surprising me with experiences instead of physical gifts. Two years ago was a Santa Rosa and Tahoe trip. Last year was a day trip to a dairy farm. And this year was the most special of them all: a full day in the kitchen at Emmer and Rye.
Oh, Emmer and Rye. My first balanced cocktail was consumed here, made with house made pecan orgeat. And so was the best pasta of my life. Experiencing both of these things was eye opening to say the least. I have a significantly higher expectation for pasta now, ever since that first cacio e pepe. There's a distinct mouthfeel that makes me crave it. Slightly chewy, a little gritty, very much perfect. And the flour they use, made in house from milling ancient grains (blue beard durum), has an amazing flavor that you can't get with store bought flour. The ones at the grocery stores are stripped of all nutrients and flavor to extend shelf life, but real flour has an earthiness that all parts of the grain (bran, germ, and endosperm) provide.
There was so much excitement running through our veins and we both couldn't sleep the night before the big day. It was like we were kids all over again, waiting for Christmas. At 10 am as soon as we walked into the kitchen, Chef Keith got us started with fresh pasta making. We started out by cracking about 50 Yonder Way Farm eggs (aka my favorite farm that sells eggs with the orangest yolks) followed by what felt like half an hour of kneading and rolling out the dough. He was so elegant in the way he handled the sheets as they passed through the pasta machine, it looked effortless. But the truth is, it's quite difficult and Anthony and I clumsily tried to follow along. We filled our pasta with fresh ricotta that was prepared for us, and made cute little gondolinis.
Keith also led us to the garden where a variety of herbs grew, most of them foreign to me. A leaf that tasted of root beer, spinach with bright red stems, magenta shiso, a bright red edible flower, clover leaves that had notes of citrus, and many others I've already forgotten. We were handed things to try, one after another, and at one point my hands were full of different leaves and flowers. As an amateur gardener and cook, this was pure heaven.
But the most amazing part of Emmer and Rye is their pantry full of home made vinegars. Fennel vinegar, melon and orange vinegar, red wine vinegar, chili top vinegar. Giant tubs of prickly pear vinegar fermenting. The also had home made miso and a fuzzy white fungus called koji to make it. I can see why Keith was so excited to show us and let us try some of it. It was his trophy cabinet full of fermented ingredients you can't find anywhere else.
In addition to growing their own herbs, one of the guys there likes to forage for wild ingredients around the area. He brings back whatever he finds and the rest of the crew plays around with the bounty. When we were in the kitchen, it was clear that prickly pear was in season. Herb and prickly pear brined pork loin, prickly pear vinegar, prickly pear syrup for the bar. Seeing this first hand, I witnessed Emmer and Rye keeping what they preach close to heart: seasonality and sourcing local ingredients. It's a simple concept that people have been practicing for thousands of years, yet in this current world, it's something that we've lost a lot of. But it's evident from the dishes at Emmer and Rye that fresh ingredients at their peak season can make for amazing flavors.