Jorge Saldana farms to make better food for his tables.

There is a right way to cook beans and it’s probably not the way that you do it. “This philosophy of beans is very important,” says restaurateur Jorge Saldana, settling into a chair on the wide veranda of a house on his Guerneville property. Dried beans, for example, must be fresh—and seasonal.Jorge-2015-m.woolsey-19


My mom would not use beans that were more than two or three months old. For her, it was brand-new, seasonal beans only,” Saldana stresses. “What most people don’t know is that old grains lose their nutrients, and I can assure that you that most of us probably get beans that are four or five years old.”

Once fresh beans are procured, they must be treated with lavish amounts of water and even more amounts of patience. Add six times the water as beans, Saldana says, and “cook them very, very slowly. That’s the trick. It takes about two to three hours, and you’ll get lovely beans.”

Saldana knows the farmer who grows his lovely beans so he doesn’t worry about getting musty seeds older than a kindergartner to slow-cook just right for his Cancún restaurant in San Francisco or his Tlaloc restaurant in Berkeley. Cinco, his 100-seat restaurant set to open at the end of August in Sebastopol’s Barlow marketplace, will receive these beans as well. He doesn’t use Rancho Gordo’s popular products because, he says simply, “I use this farmer. I know his practice. He’s just a local, very small farmer. He sells all his beans to us.”

The corn for Saldana’s tortillas and chips is processed into tortillas for his restaurants by another family whose practice is known to him. His late mother’s wisdom informs all the cooking. His father was a farmer. It’s all coming full-circle for Saldana as he prepares to open a guest house on his Guerneville land and Cinco, a new farm-to-table restaurant not too far down the road.

Saldana immigrated to the Bay Area from his family’s farm in the southern part of Jalisco in the 1980s in order to enroll in high school. Upon graduation, he enrolled in community college and majored in business. He started “a little tiny restaurant,” he says, in order to pay for school. Instead, he laughs, “I kept at the school of cooking, and that’s what I’ve been practicing for 24 years already.”

He pets the dog sleeping by his feet. “My dad was a farmer, so I learned how to hire people, and quality control,” he says. “I basically grew up as a farmer; I know how to farm. I didn’t know how to run restaurants. But I knew how to grow food, and my mom was an excellent chef—and that’s why I’m here cooking.”

Saldana settled in San Mateo and his little tiny restaurant became two well-known and bustling Mexican food spots amid an increasingly complex gastronomic map. Canún and Tlaloc feed hundreds of people from 50-item menus each day, and are known for their vast salsa offerings. A full salsa bar accompanies each restaurant, offering some 30 different variations on this classic Mexican accompaniment, from traditional tomato-based salsas to those made from strawberries, avocadoes, and mangos.


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