Califonia Bountiful

Fig frenzy

Today the Golden State remains the nation's No. 1 producer of figs and demand doesn't seem to be slowing down for the once-forgotten fruit.

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With so many exotic and alluring ingredients right at their fingertips, you'd think chefs would have a hard time picking out their favorite--but not Sondra Bernstein. For her, it has always been the fig. Sondra even showed her dedication to the fruit by opening "The Girl and the Fig" restaurant in 1997 in Sonoma and the smaller "Fig Café" in Glen Ellen.

Almost everything on her menu comes from nearby farms, which Sondra scouts out herself. The figs, of course, are picked at the peak of freshness, thanks to executive chef John Toulze, who spares no expense in getting all of those fresh figs from the tree to the table. Every day, he climbs on top of the restaurant's roof and picks the fresh figs right off the fig trees that surround the restaurant.

"Oh yeah, I get some funny looks when I do it. But as a chef, you always want fresh, local ingredients to work with and it doesn't get much fresher than this!" Toulze said.

When they're not picking figs off their own trees, Sondra and John get the main ingredient for many of their dishes from the fig capital of the country--the Central Valley of California. Farmer Kevin Herman is a third-generation grower who never guessed that figs would be the centerpiece of his Madera farm. He says he's thankful to people like Sondra, who have gotten people into a fig frenzy.

"The growth and the demand and the interest in figs is just completely taking off. I'm doing 10 times the volume of fresh figs I was doing five years ago," Herman said.

Today the Golden State remains the nation's No. 1 producer of figs and demand doesn't seem to be slowing down for the once forgotten fruit. No one is more excited about that than Sondra Bernstein, the woman who helped this fig frenzy take off.

But there's still one question that she can't seem to escape. Why figs?

"For me, the fig is a symbol. Their season is so short and when you get your last fig, you have to wait another six months before you get another one. So really, for me, it means get the most out of every day because it's going to be gone sooner than you think!" Bernstein said.

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