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FROM FIELD TO PLATE FARMER JORGE SALDANA GROWS HIS FOOD BUSINESS The first in a series of stories about relationships between local farms and restaurants

BY SARAH HENRY │ PHOTOGRAPHY BY ROBIN JOLIN

150120_032Farm-to-table restaurants are a dime a dozen in the Bay Area now. The term even induces eye rolling among jaded food critics. But few fast-casual restaurants can lay claim to growing a substantial percentage of their produce. Berkeley’s Cancún Sabor Mexicano, owned by Jorge Saldana, is an exception.

Each day before making the 90-minute drive to his downtown restaurant, Saldana can be found at his 10-acre (non-certified) organic Guerneville farm. On those misty early mornings, before the fog gives way to sun, he is busy checking on the status of starts, pulling garlic, and packing greens, herbs, and cactus into his van. The Mexican-American third-generation farmer says he supplies most of the produce for his expanding restaurant businesses nearly year round.

It’s been a long time coming. Saldana bought his first Berkeley restaurant business back in 1991. He started farming in the Bay Area in 2005. It’s a return to the soil for Saldana. He grew up harvesting crops with his father in Jalisco, Mexico, a state known for its diverse cuisine and dishes such as pozole (a spicy hominy soup), menudo (a soup made with beef tripe), guacamole, salsas, and birria (a goat dish). Saldana knows firsthand the importance of fresh-picked food from the fields and its impact on flavor on the plate. His dad mostly grew green tomatillos, a key ingredient in Mexican sauces and salsas, but also other cuisine staples such as tomatoes and corn.

Saldana’s love of cooking comes from his mom. When he moved from Mexico to the United States in the late 1980s to attend college, Jorge sorely missed his mother’s food. “She was such a great cook, I didn’t know how great a cook she was before I left home,” says Saldana in an interview at Cancún. “She made salsas for every meal, different moles, a ton of vegetarian recipes, wild meat like boar, and seafood. I could write three or four books just from her recipes. She made everything from scratch. She didn’t believe in opening a bag or a can. That’s where my own food philosophy comes from.”

Saldana originally landed in Los Angeles, where he had family. But he was drawn to visit Berkeley and found the people, food, ambience, nature, and diversity a better fit. Initially he thought he’d be in the U.S. for six months or so learning English, but he’s ended up calling the Bay Area home for 30 years. It happens.

And in his own understated way, he’s championed many of the good food matters that have long been associated with this farm-fresh-obsessed city: Local, organic, seasonal, and sustainable are all tenets he supports.

Read full article here > Edible East Bay

Cancún Sabor Mexicano: 2134 Allston Way, Berkeley. 510.549.0839. sabormexicano.com

Tlaloc Sabor Mexicano: 525 Commercial St.(at Sansome St.) San Francisco, CA, 94111-3005 415.981.7800

Berkeley-based Bay Area Green Tours organizes seasonal visits to Sabor Mexicano Farm in Guerneville. Check bayareagreentours.com for details.

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