The art of the fresh
May/June 2011 California Country magazine
Story by Barbara Arciero
Photos by Sarah Lee
From farm to table defines palettes in the capital.
Chef Patrick Mulvaney
"Whatever comes through the front door goes on your plate."
That's how Sacramento chef and caterer
Patrick Mulvaney summarizes the farm-to-table philosophy that has guided his success as proprietor of a Zagat-rated restaurant.
But Mulvaney's Building & Loan—a cozy, converted 1893 firehouse in Sacramento's Midtown—is not the only place where he celebrates the Central Valley's year-round growing season and his close relationships with its farmers and ranchers.
And the front door through which his customers walk is dramatically different at the new café he runs with wife and business partner Bobbin Mulvaney. This door leads into the atrium of the city's iconic Crocker Art Museum—a massive, light-filled dining room constructed as a community gathering spot during the museum's recent $100 million expansion.
"Food is art," is the way Bobbin explains the synergies at work at the Crocker Café. "Inspiration is all around us."
The Mulvaneys say one of their goals is to provide artfully arranged food that enhances the visual experience of museum visitors. Turns out, the café—which is accessible without an admission fee—has become a destination unto itself.
"We really just wanted to make a comfortable environment where we could showcase the bounty of our region," Bobbin said, as Patrick shared anecdotes about the local food purveyors he partners with throughout the year.
"The idea of community is really central to what we do," he said. "For us, that community revolves around food—it's production, it's eating it and talking about it, it's thinking about it.
"Art can move people, and we hope that our food moves people."
Packing it in
Chef Patrick Mulvaney and his wife Bobbin run a successful catering company and two restaurants—including the Crocker Café at Sacramento's newly renovated Crocker Art Museum. Guests at the museum can eat in the bright, air café, or the Mulvaneys' staff will pack them a picnic basket to enjoy on the museum grounds.
What does it take to make meal on the go a meal to remember?
Patrick Mulvaney offers these suggestions for packing a perfect picnic:
"When putting together a picnic basket, you should keep a few things in mind: Will it still be tasty when you get to your spot, and is it easy to eat? If you are bringing a bottle of wine, don't forget a corkscrew or open it at home and put the cork back in before you leave. Bringing real china and silverware will add a touch of class—and don't forget your biggest napkins. You can wrap everything in the napkins so they don't break on the way home.
"When Bobbin and I pack a picnic, we always look to what is local and fresh. In winter, citrus fruit is a great refresher. We are lucky to have beautiful tangerines and blood oranges—a wide variety growing all around us in the valley. And as February gives way to March, citrus will give way to strawberries, which in turn give way to apricots and cherries and then nectarines and peaches. These fruits are replaced by apples and pears and then citrus comes around again in the winter.
"We always have an eye toward presentation when we are putting together a picnic basket. A selection of fresh vegetables with dip—strips of red bell pepper, celery and carrots, plus broccoli and cauliflower florets—is a great example of color popping out to catch your eye.
"And remember, produce in season not only tastes better, it is better for you."
Editor's note, March 2012: Matt and Yvette Woolston of the Supper Club in Sacramento now operate the café at the Crocker Art Museum.