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Food & Wine

From the farm to your plate: Parcel 104 educates diners about their meals through its own farmers ma

The scent of smoked-simmering brisket drenched in rhubarb barbecue sauce filled the muggy afternoon summer air outside Santa Clara's Parcel 104 restaurant June 27.

Passers-by sampled brisket sandwiches fresh off the grill while they scouted for fresh organic produce at the restaurant's farmers market. Parcel 104 is the only restaurant on the Peninsula to sponsor its own farmers market.

"From the beginning, the concept of the restaurant has been to use totally fresh organic ingredients in everything and to use small produce guys to supply the fruits and vegetables," said Robert Sharpe, general manager of Parcel 104. "We thought it would be really cool to see some of the small local artisanal producers actually show people what they do by bringing their produce here."

Parcel 104 hosts the organic farmers market outside the restaurant every Friday, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. The market features locally grown organic produce, wine tasting, cheese makers, bread makers and purveyors of other organic products.

Parcel 104's cuisine chef, Michael Rosen, said California is the capital of the world when it comes to organic produce. The farmers market takes fine dining one step further - educating diners about the food on their plates from farm to restaurant.

"When we purchase the produce we get it directly from the actual farmers," said Rosen, a veteran chef of 17 years. "Everything is fresh and seasonal. I go around to each stand every Friday to see what the farmers have, and then I write out my menu for Friday and Saturday night based on the produce at the market."

Carlos Sanchez, Parcel 104's pastry chef of a year and half, also selects his items for the dessert menu depending on what organic fruits are gathered at the peak of the season. Each Friday he sells a selection of same-day-baked pastries, such as nectarine and cherry pies, to the public at the Parcel 104 stand.

America Fresh distributor and grower Brian Gardiner supplies Parcel 104 with seasonal and fresh produce, which he said he tries to get to the restaurant within 24 hours of harvesting.

"Bradley Ogden and Bart Hosmer (Parcel 104 chefs) are really into fresh-flavored produce," Gardiner said. "There are lots of chefs that talk about fresh produce, and there are people like Ogden and Hosmer who actually get the freshest produce available."

Efren Avalos, an independent organic farmer, said to be considered organic, produce must be grown using no chemicals, pesticides or fertilizers, and the land must be free of these non-organic ingredients for at least three years.

"Organic produce is the healthiest way to go," Avalos said. "I bring the community fresh vegetables and fruits that are harvested the same day that they get it."

It is a more expensive and time-consuming process, but Avalos said he grows bountiful harvests.

"The quality isn't perfect, but the people that buy from me love my produce," Avalos said.

Todd Spanier, the self-proclaimed "King of Mushrooms," wore a vibrant mushroom print shirt as he advised and educated people about his passion for organic exotic edibles. "It's all about the 'shrooms'," Spanier said, as he lifted a giant 3-pound puffball mushroom from the table.

Spanier, who provides his elusive wild fungi delicacies to Parcel 104, said the mushrooms he sells are organically wild, which means they are foraged from wooded areas where no pesticides are sprayed.

He also said he sells the most expensive food in the world --- truffles. He held up a small truffle in the palm of his hand. "I'm selling this one for $75," Spanier said. "That's cheap. In the winter, it's an easy $500 to $1,000 a truffle."

Spanier said truffles are coveted because "they have the power to infuse." "Truffles are so gaseous that the gas binds with fat lipids," he said.

Donna Pacheco, owner of Capricious Cheese, sliced nibbles of aged (five months) organic goat cheese for people to sample as she proudly announced that her cheese ranked No. 1 out of the 467 cheeses submitted to the American Cheese Society in 2002.

Sharpe said because Parcel 104 changes its menu every day in order to use the most fresh and seasonal produce available, the restaurant decided to bring the farmers and distributors to help promote the concept of the restaurant.

"This is another avenue for them to sell their goods," Sharpe said. "We want these smaller guys to stay in business."

Parcel 104 and its organic farmers market is located at the Santa Clara Marriott, 2700 Mission College Blvd. in Santa Clara.

For more information, call 408-970-6104.

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