Califonia Bountiful

Aromatic California crops help restaurants thrive

For some chefs, it's the smallest ingredient that makes the biggest difference—such as fresh herbs.

What makes a good restaurant? Is it the location? Is it the chef? Is it the food?

Almost from the beginning of time, man has depended on fresh herbs for a variety of uses. Did you know rosemary was a symbol of fidelity for the ancient Greeks? And in medieval times, fennel was put in keyholes to keep out ghosts and evil spirits. During World War II, branches of rosemary were burned to keep germs from wounded soldiers. Today, herbs still have a variety of uses and here in California many get their start at Jacobs Farm in Pescadero.

In 1980, Larry Jacobs started the farm with only one small row of tarragon. Today, it grows more than 200 different types of herbs and has become the largest organic herb grower in the country. The farm grows a wide variety, from the most popular—sage, thyme and rosemary—to the most unusual--pineapple sage, cinnamon basil and lemon balm. Jacobs Farm herbs are sold throughout the United States and are a big hit with chefs, who love the fresh flavor of herbs to add spice to dishes without adding calories.

One of those chefs is Peter McNee. Executive chef at one of Sausalito's most popular restaurants, Poggio, Peter worked with owner Larry Mindel to start their own herb garden that would support the restaurant. They collaborated on a special idea: a hillside garden located a mere 100 yards from the restaurant.

"Fresh herbs can't get any more fresh that that!" Peter said.

"This is a dream come true for me," Larry said.

It seems fresh herbs are taking meals from the mundane to the magnificent for farmers and chefs alike.

"The market has just gone through the roof. The growth we've experienced seems to show people are cooking with fresh culinary herbs and are doing more and more of it," Brendan Miele from Jacobs Farm said.

"I depend on them. They're not just used for garnishes anymore," Peter said.

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