Members of the media jumped to conclusions — and, seeing them jump, their fellow members jumped too, creating a roiling dogpile these last two days over an issue that I knew from the start was based on a grievous mistake.
In a post last Friday, a San Francisco Chronicle blogger ref=”http://www.berkeleyside.com/2011/06/10/the-claremont-hotel-gets-ready-for-michelle-obama/”>enthused:
“Ever since the news broke that Michelle Obama will be talking at a fundraising breakfast June 14th at the Claremont Hotel, the hotel” — in nearby Oakland — “has been spiffing itself up. … The First Lady’s penchant for edible gardening is well-known, as she has heralded the new organic garden at the White House and been the driving force behind an ‘eat healthy’ campaign aimed particularly at kids. Alice Waters is also preparing locally grown food for the event.”
“That may explain the appearance of two new large, raised planting beds right near one of the Claremont’s entrances. The bed closest to the hotel has tomato plants nestled in wired cages, and the other raised bed is planted with radishes, carrot, beets and parsley. The new vegetable garden can’t be missed when getting in or out of a car at that entrance.”
This rumor spread almost instantly around the world, picked up by everyone from Points Local Chicago to the India Times.
But I knew that those vegetable gardens were a project — a year in the making — of Josh Thomsen, executive chef of the Claremont’s Meritage restaurant. Thomsen — who will help Alice Waters prepare the First Lady’s breakfast today — first told me about his plans last year. He has been working all winter and spring to get the first beds installed — and was appalled at the media’s suggestion that the beds had been slapped up as a last-minute decoration for Mrs. Obama’s visit.
“I have pictures on my Facebook page of me building the garden months ago,” Thomsen told me. Two different magazines, including Organic Spa, are running features about the Claremont’s new garden in their current issues. The fact that these magazines have four-month lead times proves yet again that the garden has been long in the works.
“It just annoys me as a culinarian, as someone who looks up to Alice as a mentor and who believes in the same things she believes in, that after I work and work to get okayed for this little plot of land I would be accused” of hastily assembling a garden just in order to be connected with the First Lady’s visit rather than as part of a deeper, long-term mission, Thomsen said.
“But what people read” after that blog post appeared at the Chronicle “is just inaccurate and inappropriate.” After being notified of her mistake, the blogger posted a correction.
When I interviewed Thomsen, his staff and Waters’ staff were bustling about the Claremont’s kitchens preparing for the First Lady’s fundraiser — whose menu included poached eggs, morels, asparagus, local fresh cherries, and more.
“Right now we’re peeling 800 ears of asparagus,” Thomsen said. “Tomorrow we’re doing grilled garlic toast with Acme bread. We’re serving Blue Bottle Coffee and squeezing our own juice.”
Go local: Acme Bread is based in Berkeley, Blue Bottle in Oakland. The honey for the breakfast comes from Marshall’s Farm in nearby American Canyon. The asparagus is from River Dog Farm in Guinda, the eggs from Soul Food Farm in Placerville.
“I’m going to be the one poaching the eggs,” Thomsen said. It’s a technique best achieved “by taking the right amount of time and using great product.”
Tickets for the First Lady’s fundraiser range from $1,000 to a whopping $25,000 per seat.
As for those gardens, they’ve been planted with several types of tomato — including Early Girl, Lemon Boy, Golden Zebra, and Brandywine — along with beets, curly and flat parsley, lemon thyme, mint, and Thumbelina carrots. Some of the mint will do double-duty in skin treatments at the Claremont’s spa. The rest will end up being served at the Meritage — whose everyday meals, wine dinners and fairytale-fantastic Sunday brunches are well worth a stop when you’re in town, whether you’re married to the president of the United States or not.