Celebrating the Tomato With Farm-to-Table Dining
THE RANCH Restaurant & Saloon
1025 E. Ball Road. Anaheim, CA 92805
f all the single ingredients to admire, few inspire complete subservience like the just-picked heirloom tomato that’s still warm from the fiery rapture of summer — indeed, a work of art by Mother Nature. Ask any reputable, talented chef, and they’ll agree that tomatoes are best left in their natural state for consumption. So we did. We sat down with Executive Chef Michael Rossi of THE RANCH Restaurant & Saloon, we dug deep, and things got juicy when we started talking about how much we mutually love tomatoes, especially during the summer months. When speaking with Chef, I lamented on my experience of dining at one of the beautiful farm dinners that Edwards Ranch Estates used to host, the farm that Chef Michael Rossi uses to source most of his produce. I remembered touring the tomato garden with a yellow parasol, shielding me from the unrelenting sun that day. I can still taste the Heirloom Tomato Water shooter when I look back, and I continue to re-watch my slow-mo and boomerang videos of fiery action preparing the famous Cowboy Ribeye that THE RANCH restaurant is known for. And, of course, I can’t forget about those delicious ice cream Macaron sandwiches made by Chef David Rossi (Chef Michael’s brother and Pastry Chef) … delish.
To get the conversation going more towards the present with tomatoes, I started off by asking Chef his favorite way to eat this vegetable-like fruit. Chef Michael Rossi prefers enjoying a tomato prepared simply, sliced open with just a touch of sea salt, to add magnetism to the wedding of flavors — bringing out the sweetness and balancing the acidity.
As a patron at THE RANCH restaurant, take one bite of tomato from Chef Michael’s Heirloom Tomato Salad off his summer menu, and you too can be transported to the central part of Edwards Ranch Estate, or what Chef likes to call tomato heaven — home to more than sixty varieties. One bite and you’ll understand that simple is best. Each tomato in that salad that lays before you has its own characteristic, texture and body. Some are more dense, fuller or hallowed with more seeds. Chef Rossi says, “That’s the beauty of making an Heirloom Tomato Salad. It’s simple but with different shapes, colors and textures. You can look at the salad and just get it. It’s not just a tomato. The tomato has so many different personalities rather than just taste.” When you have an ingredient of this caliber, you don’t need to elevate, just celebrate.
As Dan Barber put it so eloquently in his book, “The Third Plate: Field Notes on the Future of Food,” “Truly great flavor — the kind that produces plain old jaw-dropping wonder — is a powerful lens into the natural world because taste breaks through the delicate things we can’t see or perceive. Taste is a soothsayer, a truth teller. And it can be a guide in reimagining our food systems, and our diets, from the ground up.” This dish by Chef Michael Rossi is capable of providing just that, that esoteric, out-of-body, farm-to-table dining experience. With each bite, you’re pushed further and further into the farm. Close your eyes, and you can feel the sun radiate as your skin perspires beneath that yellow parasol. With each step further into the garden, the soil sinks beneath your feet and the aromatics and sounds of the space fill your senses. If you let the bite linger a bit longer, you might even be able to see the chili peppers growing just beyond. But before you get lost in the corn, open your eyes, because you’re just beginning your dining experience at THE RANCH restaurant. You haven’t even gotten to the main course!
Chef Michael Rossi doesn’t just have access to the beyond impressive Heirloom Vegetable Farm at Edwards Ranch Estate; he conceptualized it. About a year and a half before the restaurant even opened, Chef Rossi was brainstorming in a test kitchen, drafting plans for not only a restaurant but also the farm that was going to produce the food. Home to about eight hundred tomato plants, this all-natural organic farm, located in Orange towards the Santa Ana mountains, also produces herbs, citrus, lettuce, strawberries and peppers, among other bountiful crops, for THE RANCH Restaurant & Saloon’s seasonal menus.
While geeking out talking tomatoes with Chef, I couldn’t help but turn the tone of the conversation to a more serious front. Being a native of California, I needed to address the topic of water. A lot of people are talking about water in California right now, thanks to Mark Arax and his investigative journalism on The Wonderful Company. Through his Netflix documentary “Water & Power: A California Heist,” his KCRW podcast interview with Evan Kleiman, and his article in The California Sunday Magazine, we learn more about industrial agriculture and its role on water policy within our state. I couldn’t help but wonder, as a local farm, what does the Edwards Ranch do to be mindful of water usage?
Chef filled me in on one example of how incredible his boss, Andrew Edwards, is and how committed he was to the success and mindfulness of the restaurant’s ethos. In the beginning, the farm was using a lot of water. Andrew didn’t just tell his farmer what to do to try and cut back on water usage, he sent him to irrigation school to learn the drip system to better control and manage the farm, “The drip system is our way of being mindful and responsible. The drip system has been a great vehicle to be able to have a luscious garden and still be smart. The way the system works is with a manageable timer; it will go off and gives the crops the proper amount of water,” said Chef Rossi. If you’re familiar with Andrew Edwards background as President of Extron, it’s no surprise that you’d see this technical precision when addressing a problem, “Andrew is a big believer in execution and efficiency, so we’ve been able to use it in our own company, like the technology. It’s that kind of brain and technology that helps you think outside the box. With 700 pounds of tomatoes coming in, you have to figure out what to do with the amount not being used on the menu. Andrew has taught me the mindset of technical precision with the ingredients that we gain. He is a perfectionist and has made me one too. It helps with knowing what to do with tomatoes that are crushed; we decided to roast them and put them in the blender to make a sauce instead. We choose to dehydrate cherry tomatoes to make them sun-dried for a risotto, to not make it too watery when they burst. The technology part of it is using your brain like the engineers we are surrounded by at the Extron headquarters.” From the farm all the way to the food that’s before you, not one detail is overlooked.
If you care about where your food comes from, and how it gets to your plate, then this rustic yet elegantly designed restaurant was made with you in mind. Dine on regional, locally sourced, American cuisine with an impressive wine selection, and, don’t forget to save room for dessert! Chef David Rossi is whipping up whimsical creations that we can’t help but plan ahead for, like, literally the moment we sit down at our table. Perhaps it was their award-winning Cowboy Ribeye that brought you to the table, but we guarantee it’s the technical precision that goes into each and every item on their menu that will secure your return. To start, may we suggest ordering a Tomato Martini?
VS. WITH CHEF MICHAEL ROSSI
Pickling Tomatoes vs. Tomato Jam
“Tomato Jam. We make awesome popovers made from doughy egg batter. We serve them with butter and homemade jam.”
Drink vs. Eat
“Eat for sure, but we do make a Tomato Martini with our tomato water …”
Dehydrated vs. Candied
“Dehydrated because you can do a lot more with it, like powders and chips.”