Occidental Chowdown Report: Gerard’s Paella and Farmers Market
This evening three chowhounds trekked out to west Sonoma County to stroll through Occidental’s farmers market (Fridays, 4pm to dusk, June to October) and put together a grazing dinner from the prepared foods booths.
We sampled an unusual Irish soda bread from Tancho Baking of Forestville. She had warned us that the caraway seed was “strong”, and yes, indeed it defines the taste of this soda bread most deliciously. I also found the light texture very spongy and more like a yeast bread. This made the baker beam, looking pleased that anyone had noticed. She said that it was the interaction of baking powder and baking soda in her recipe.
Rainbow’s End Farm had samples of a wide range of stone fruits, what a great season we’re having this year! And to quench our thirst, it had a small jug of blackberry and plum agua fresca that had much more fruit than your run-of-the-mill agua. I liked the natural flavor and intensity with a minimum amount of added sugar. Kare_raisu commented that it looked like jam!
Boho BBQ, sponsored by and set up in front of the Bohemian Market, offered Humboldt County grass-fed beef brisket, Niman ranch pork shoulder, and grass-fed beef kabobs. We tried a pork plate, $10, which also included sides of macaroni salad and cole slaw. Smoke flavor was very faint and the meat was cut in slabs, and definitely needed the sauce to add character. A little sample of the beef brisket showed it to be tender and falling apart into shreds, but not that tasty either.
The highlight of this excursion was Gerard’s paella, both the man and his creation. It was definitely worth the drive for me.
Gerard checking his handiwork -
Priced at $10 for a portion of paella (either seafood or vegetarian) with green salad, we scarfed down two orders, and kare_raisu went back for more. So I’ll let him describe it.
We got the next-to-the-last piece of blackberry pie, $2.50, baked by Mackenzie, a highly personable young lady who might be all of 11 years old or so. She said the berries came from her grandparents garden. I’d been keeping an eye on the lemonde, brownie and chocolate chip stand manned by another couple of school kids, but they sold out and went home before we had a chance to try their wares.
We were disappointed that Rocker Oysterfeller’s failed to appear with the promised BBQ oysters. We heard through the grapevine that there were some mechanical malfunctions today back at the inn. Hope to catch them next time!
Many thanks to my co-host, ellenm, and to kare_raisu for joining us tonight.
Occidental Farmers Market
Occidental, CA 95465, USA, Occidental, CA 95465
Thought I'd add an update to this thread two years later. The Occidental farmers market opened for the season on Friday June 5 and I returned there, not having visited since our chowdown. It seemed like there were twice as many vendors and farms with strong local content. I bought some lettuces and beets from the French Garden's booth and sampled some local chocolates. Kashaya's brick oven pizzas were here. She had an assistant, was offering seven different kinds and had a long line. Gerard's Paella had an equally long line. When the man ahead of me asked if I'd had the paella before, we struck up a conversation and I learned that he's the sheet metal fabricator who produced Gerard's paella rigs. The set up Gerard was using for the seafood and chicken paella was larger than 2 years ago, and the guy said that he was working on an even bigger one for him. Seeing the replay of the throwdown with Bobby Flay last night, I remember Gerard mentioning that he had an advantage in our coastal breezes because he had wind skirts on his burners. Well, this is the guy who made them. BTW, Gerard won that throwdown.
Anyway, as far as the paella, it's still $10 a plate, but no side salad anymore, which was fine with me. A little after 6pm, I got one of the last portions. I asked for the socarrat, the crusty carmelized bottom, and I think that earned me an extra portion of the tasty rice. My plate had two chicken thighs on it (Gerard used drummettes in the past), but no seafood at all. I noticed that other customers had a prawn on theirs, and i didn't see any mussels, clams or fish. Some garbanzo beans, green beans, onion, and a little bit of sweet red pepper, not nearly as tricked out as I recall. The rice was tasty, but quite a bit softer. This may be the difference between getting the first serving as soon as its ready, as I did in 2007, versus what's left at the very end. I still like it, but I'll be there earlier next time.
Plate of paella -
121 Bohemian Hwy, Occidental, CA 95465
Apoligize for my late chiming in; I want to first mention what an absolute pleasure it was to meet both ellen and melanie for an excellent dinner in the open air out in Occidental.
I knew I spotted Melanie when I saw her taking pictures of those amazing paella cazos!
Well, although this was actually my first taste of a true paella, I have to admit I fell in love with this awesome dish Gerard put out. Though I have no frame of reference - I imagine this one to be amongst the upper eschalons of best Paellas in the Bay area.
The sun-yellow color of the glistening rice whetted my appetite and man did it taste as good as it looked.
There were so many different elements apparent - textures, flavors, aromas - you could not help but be enamored with the rice. Melanie first mentioned that the sole was remeniscent of butter - and my gosh was it! It was my absolute favorite part of the paella - so meltingly soft.
I have to also mention the contribution of the head-on shrimp which were juicy and 10x more flavorful than the everpresent beheaded frozen type. I used the crawdad technique on these guys.
Also interesting was the non-traditional incorporation of chickpeas - which served as a textural starch surprise interspered with the rice - very nice.
Bone in yellow tinged chicken drumettes were juicy and a pleasure to eat.
Also worth mentioning was the role of the quartered lemon - partially cooked with the rice which I adored for its lending of brightness to everything.
Ahh...I'll stop decribing the paella now - just go get some!
I really liked the pie too - it really put any of those sickly sweet pies of my past to shame - what struck me was its simple purity.
Thank you both again Ellen and Melanie for a great evening!
Fantastic to meet you too! The rice was sooooo good, could have been happy eating that rice steeped in all those flavors alone. The chickpeas surprised me, but they worked! Was happy to not have green peas in the paella. Amazing texture on the Dover sole, steamed so delicately on top of the rice. And, yes, can't forget the chicken, cooked on the bone with skin and all, stained yellow with saffron and sublimely silken in texture.
My Iberian food consultant has corrected me on the use of garbanzos and peas and forwarded some references, "BTW they also add white beans, too. Oh, and peas! Like Fats Waller said: Them beans and rice, it's all very nice."
And telling friends about this last night, one mentioned that he'd had some great paella made on site at a winery. We figured it had to be Gerard.
So go, try it!
Thanks to your group for the report and photos. The paella looks wonderful; what a treat to have this at a farmer's market.
What kind of seafood was in the seafood paella? I just can't imagine vegetarian paella tasting that great (lacking depth of flavor), so how did that compare?
And what is that contraption he is cooking on? I notice on his website that he usually uses a large paella pan w/ the heat source underneath. His website also indicates that he and his paella are at the Oakville Grocery in Healdsburg on Tues. evenings.
re: Carb Lover
Seafood in the paella -dover sole, shrimp (some with heads on --some not) and mussels. We didn't try the vegetarian. Both seemed equally popular and it looked like they sold out by the end of the market.
The cooking surface looked like a biig shallow wok and he had customized with some sort of metal apron.
re: Carb Lover
Yes, I hope to catch him in Healdsburg some Tuesday. K_r tried once and happened to catch a week that he wasn't there.
Edited to add: found a listing for a class Gerard is giving Oct 7 on the Sonoma Coast with dive ingredients through Relish that sounds absolutely amazing and the taste I was looking for. Scan down to that date.
124 Matheson St, Healdsburg, CA 95448
Melanie. Thanks for the nice review of Occidental & the Farmer's Market. The market is very fortunate to have great vendors every week. Unfortunately, Rocker Oysterfeller's appearances are not very consistent at the market due to various restaurant challenges.
You are correct about Gerard; a great guy, character and fabulous paella chef. I would love to get Bobby Flay to Occidental for a Paella throw down with Gerard. I think it would be a great show and fun.
I love the idea of a throwdown --- please work on that! We had asked Gerard about using snails or local rabbit (something you're versed in!) and he said it hadn't gone over well. I would have liked more local content, e.g., clams from Hog Island, but no question that it was delicious nonetheless. I floated the idea of pre-buying a quadrant of his paella pan cordoned off for those special ingredients.
This is a sweet little farmers market, and the timing is good for those of us driving up for the weekend. Any other recs there you can comment on?
Occidental Farmers Market
Occidental, CA 95465, USA, Occidental, CA 95465
14415 Valley Ford Road, Valley Ford, CA 94972
3691 Main St, Occidental, CA 95465
Gerald and his traveling paella has been written up quite a bit in North Bay papers. Usually he is catering private parties. Since he lives in the Occidental area he participates in the Market. Everything about it was just right. Especially the rice
Melanie sent back our order to make sure we got some of the crusty bottom -hmmmmgood.
He is an interesting guy and when the stand is not too busy --happy to chat about what makes the best paella.
The Occidental Farmer's Market also has a samosa maker (they are quite large stuffed with patotoes and peas) sold with a cilantro chutney, "handsized" meat pies (I didn't get one but they look like 'pasties' and pot pies from Mary (you may remember her from Mary's Pot Pies on Bodegea Highway. The produce available all looked great and there were also a number of herb and flower vendors
I really enjoyed meetin kare_raisu --I love mole and he turned up with the menus from the Oaxacan restaurant in Cotati. Big thanks to Melanie for pointing out this great adventure practically in my backyard. Since Rocker Oysterfeller's is on my list I was disappointed about that but am still hoping we can have a chow event there.
It says something about the paella when I forgot to mention the bbq (which I love) --we got a small sample of the beef -good and an order of the pork --very good. Personally I would prefer a spicer sauce but the meat was tasty and tender. Also while in Occidental you can get Panizzera sausage fresh at the Boehmian market. Panizzera sausage is made in Occidental no- additives and no fillers- by a third generation Occidental sausage maker.
The samosa stand was very popular, but I couldn't eat another bite! Next time.
I took the rest of the pork smothered in bbq sauce home. After macerating overnight, I liked it much better. More like roast pork covered in sauce, but the quality of the meat really shines through and the spicy heat of the sauce became more pronounced. Maybe it gained something overnight, or maybe the paella took all our attention.
Good to know about Panizzera sausage, I will try them soon. Maybe do a taste comparison with the ones I like made by Valley Ford Market so much. I think you said that Valley Ford also sells Panizzera. Always learn something from you, ellen!
Panizzera Meat Co
Main St, Occidental, CA 95465
Valley Ford Market
14400 Highway 1, Valley Ford, CA