How Rancho Gordo Changed the Way Eight Bay Area Restaurants Serve Beans

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Two decades after Steve Sando started Rancho Gordo in Napa, the cult hit company changed the way Bay Area restaurants and diners treat the humble bean. Chefs have been serving his ancestral legumes for years, classic fried pintos with bean tacos topped with caviar. Sando has been instrumental in educating locals about the difference between standard canned beans and older versions, many chefs have said.

While canned beans often sit on grocery store shelves for years, Rancho Gordo beans are less than 2 years old and come straight from small farms in Mexico, California and Europe. These bean varieties cover a much wider spectrum than anything in a can, from delicate and creamy white beans to chickpeas to hazelnuts and meaty beans. Chefs praise their unmatched taste and texture – and Rancho Gordo’s dedication to meticulous sourcing – for changing the bean game.

Sando, in turn, credits local chiefs with helping spread the gospel of the bean long before it became fashionable. Restaurants now represent 30% of Rancho Gordo’s overall sales.

Here are eight Bay Area restaurants that serve old beans, and their chefs showcase how beans have transformed their dishes.

The French Laundry, Yountville

In 2003, a chef visited Steve Sando’s bean stand at the Yountville Farmers Market. It was Thomas Keller from the famous French Laundry. He put beans on his menu, and other chefs quickly followed suit. Keller was impressed with both the quality of the fresher dry beans and knowing exactly where they came from.

“Traditionally, before Rancho Gordo, when we bought dried beans, we weren’t really 100% sure of the supply. Sourcing is the most important aspect for chefs, and Steve understood that, ”Keller said. “Thanks to Steve, we had the opportunity to work with the farmers and bring these ancient beans back to life. The importance then became not only what he brought, but with whom.

Almost 20 years later, beans are often served at the French Laundry; more recently, Rancho Gordo’s dense pink pinquito beans have been served with veggie eggplant agnolotti.

Kin Khao, Nari, San Francisco

Kin Khao’s popular nam tok beans, made from Rancho Gordo legumes.

Courtesy of Adahlia Cole

When Kin Khao first opened in San Francisco in 2014, one dish unexpectedly became a bestseller: a bean-centric vegetarian game on nam tok, the Thai grilled meat salad with a funky citrus vinaigrette.

The heart of it, owner Pim Techamuanvivit said, were the Rancho Gordo beans – quickly soaked in the deep fryer so their skins were crisp and tossed in a vegan vinaigrette made with fish sauce, served with lettuce and herbs for packaging. They used all the varieties available; sometimes cranberry beans, or Good Mother Stallard, a speckled bean with a rich flavor. Techamuanvivit attributes the dish’s continued popularity to the quality of the beans, with creamy interiors and their own depth of flavor.

“I tried removing it” from the menu, she said, “but every time we did it there was so much uproar.”

The inspiration for the dish came from Techamuanvivit’s Rancho Gordo hiding place in his pantry. She loves to cook fatty Royal Corona white beans in butter until their skin is crisp and have them for breakfast with eggs and bacon.

Kin Khao is temporarily closed, but nam tok beans will return as soon as it reopens. They will also soon be served at the sister restaurant Nari.

California, San Francisco

Rancho Gordo Ayocote Negro beans and caviar on a heirloom yellow chilapita masa pie in Californios in San Francisco.

Rancho Gordo Ayocote Negro beans and caviar on a heirloom yellow chilapita masa pie in Californios in San Francisco.

Provided by Val M. Cantu

Rancho Gordo beans have also launched a signature dish at Californios, a Mexican restaurant with a contemporary tasting menu. Chef Val M. Cantu raised the modest legume with his very frijoles, or three beans. The dish combined three varieties of beans (Royal Corona, Moro and Cranberry) in three different applications (mousse, broth and cooked whole). Later he was crowned with caviar and gold glitter.

“We tend not to go back in time with our dishes, but so many people constantly ask for it, including friends and family,” Cantu said. “There’s a lot of complexity in the beans at Rancho Gordo, a lot of umami… a lot of flavor you wouldn’t normally get from beans. “

Californios’ menu changes frequently, but the tres frijoles persisted for years until Cantu stopped serving it. But Rancho Gordo beans always pop up as a mousse on a vegetarian chilapita, a pie made from masa dough.

Mexican cuisine Luna, San José, Campbell

Rancho Gordo black beans served with cochinita pibil at Luna Mexican Kitchen in San Jose and Campbell.

Rancho Gordo black beans served with cochinita pibil at Luna Mexican Kitchen in San Jose and Campbell.

Courtesy of Art Cervantes | QuixoteMovies

When Jo Lopez opened the first Luna Mexican Kitchen in 2017, she was heading to Rancho Gordo in Napa to pick up bean orders. Today, his two restaurants consume 1,500 pounds of beans per week.

“Once you have them, you can’t go back,” said Lopez, a vegetarian who often eats Rancho Gordo beans at home.

At Luna, beans are the anchor of many dishes. The Ep azote black beans cooked with grass, garlic and onion, are folded into enchiladas and served with cochinita pibil. Star pintos in charro beans, a hearty bean stew served with a grilled meat platter or sizzling seafood. And the restaurant’s simmered lamb barbacoa is served with hearty lima beans and fresh corn tortillas.

Otra, Son’s Addition, San Francisco

Otra's ribollita includes Christmas lima beans from Rancho Gordo.

Otra’s ribollita includes Christmas lima beans from Rancho Gordo.

Soleil Ho / The Chronicle

Nick Cobarruvias, chef and co-owner of Otra and Son’s Addition in San Francisco, fell in love with Rancho Gordo beans in 2003, when his then-girlfriend told him to visit a special bean stand at the farmers market.

“I remember cooking them for the first time and someone said they were perfect,” he said. “Beans are great if you don’t spoil them too much and let them shine. “

At Son’s Addition (which is temporarily closed), rio zape beans – chocolate pinto-like beans that were the founding inspiration for Rancho Gordo – have long been served with a pork dish. Braised rio zapes also lay the foundation for a bean and charred corn salsa over sweet potato tacos in Otra.

Otra’s comforting ribollita stew combines meaty Christmas lima beans from Rancho Gordo with gigantic creamies from Iacopi Farms in Half Moon Bay. One of Otra’s opening dishes – pork tenderloin with ranchero-style stewed beans, a favorite of Cobarruvias who grew up in Texas – will return to the menu this fall.

The Anchovy Bar, State Bird Provisions, San Francisco

Sticky rice and Rancho Gordo vaquero beans wrapped in a banana leaf are the staple of a new dish at Anchovy Bar in San Francisco.  The dish was inspired by Chinese zongzi, but wrapped in the rectangular shape of Vietnamese banh chung.

Sticky rice and Rancho Gordo vaquero beans wrapped in a banana leaf are the staple of a new dish at Anchovy Bar in San Francisco. The dish was inspired by Chinese zongzi, but wrapped in the rectangular shape of Vietnamese banh chung.

Provided by the Anchovy Bar

Anchovy Bar chef Koji Yokoyama uses Rancho Gordo vaquero beans, a chili bean with black and white skin like cowhide, to mimic the texture of mung beans in a New Year’s sticky rice dish. Chinese he learned from his father. -law. Beans and rice are wrapped and cooked in a banana leaf for eight hours, then pan-fried. Crispy local squid mixed with a dressing of fish sauce and herbs garnish the dish.

The old Anchovy Bar dishes featured another creative take: pickled beans.

Stuart Brioza, owner of Anchovy Bar, State Bird Provisions and Progress, has been cooking with Rancho Gordo beans since the early days of the business. They’re often on the State Bird menu, currently in a donabe dish with fermented turnips and barley miso butter.

Maxine Siu, Plow, San Francisco

Rancho Gordo beans have been on Plow’s menu since the popular Potrero Hill breakfast opened 11 years ago. Midnight black beans anchor Plow’s chorizo ​​and egg dish: a layer of beans and chorizo ​​topped with two fried eggs and an avocado, along with corn tortillas on the side. The beans are cooked simply, Rancho Gordo style, with sautéed onions and garlic, a few bay leaves and water.

“I chose them for their texture and dense, rich flavor,” owner Maxine Siu said of this black bean variety. “Their skins are never hard. You can tell the beans haven’t stayed there for years.

Elena Kadvany is a writer for the San Francisco Chronicle. Email: [email protected] Twitter: @ekadvany



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