Farm-to-Court: A Day in the Golden 1 Kitchen
by Laurel Harrison
Did you know that we, as Sacramento-ans (Sacramentonians?) live in the largest arable valley in the world? We have access to a veritable cornucopia of fruit, vegetables, meat, wine, and beer, all in our very own backyard. It’s no wonder the farm-to-fork movement is successful in Sacramento when you take note of the big names in our corner; namely, Chef Santana Diaz, Executive Chef at the newly established Golden 1 Center.
Last week, the SacFoodies had the opportunity to peek behind the curtain and receive a full tour of the Golden 1 kitchens, led by Chef Diaz himself. We at SacFoodies love to support and learn more about local eats and establishments, so we jumped at the chance to learn more about Golden 1’s “90% from 150” program. Through this program, Chef Diaz and his staff source 90% of their ingredients from within 150 miles of the arena. As a foodie, I was fascinated – what does an arena kitchen look like sans “big box” food? What does a prep day look like when you have whole, fresh ingredients to prep for thousands of people?
Chef Diaz has set out to change arena food from the ground up, completely transforming what it means to make, buy, and eat food in a sports arena setting.
From the get-go, I was impressed by the attention to detail and hands-on nature of Chef Diaz and his team. There were no dark corners in this arena kitchen – everything was gleaming, pristine, and utterly dedicated to the production of quality food. Even though I had been to the arena and eaten the food, I had no idea just how much of the arena food is done in-house. I got to walk through the walk-in freezers and see tub after tub of pickling jalapenos, pickles, and onions (for the nachos), rows of rising dough (for the pizza), and huge mixing bowls of ground lamb (for the gyros). Nothing calls to me like tubs of house-pickled jalapenos – if you’re pickling those bad boys in-house, I feel like I’m in good hands.
It’s hard to pick my favorite aspect of the food production at Golden 1, so I’ll share a few highlights of the day.
- The pastry kitchen. Did you KNOW that Golden 1 has a full, rollicking pastry kitchen right under your feet? Did you realize that they make all their flavors of ice-cream in-house? Chef Rodrigo Cuadra, former pastry chef at the Citizen Hotel, gave me a mini-tour through his kitchen, let me taste test some coffee ice cream (it’s delicious – no surprise there), and even let me take a peek at the upcoming Easter dessert plans. He works to treat Golden 1 like a fine dining establishment, and for Chef Cuadra, that means you end your meal with a dessert. Chef Diaz described Chef Cuadra as one of the one of the best pastry chefs he’d had the chance to work with, and I felt very lucky to get an inside look into a pastry kitchen of this caliber.
- There are two tandoori brick ovens in Golden 1. They use them to make in-house naan. Other arenas – call me when you start making naan, in-house, using traditional methods. I’ll be waiting.
- Seeing actual whole ingredients in the kitchens, especially from local farms and ranches. It was really heartening to see local names, like Llano Seco pork, instead of big company labels and ingredients.
- I loved hearing about Chef Diaz’s plans for future menus at Golden 1. While still in the works, he mentioned his hopes of creating a seasonal game-focused menu for the Club ticket holders. These menus would incorporate local and seasonal game, such as venison, dove, and rabbit, into menus for the more exclusive clubs and private dinners. Considering the bounty of game in the Central Valley, and its rise in the foodie world, I think it’s an incredible and innovative idea. How neat is it to have a large-scale sports arena that would serve seasonal game meat? It’s unheard of, and undeniably cool.
Because of our location, Chef Diaz and his team are able to provide Sacramento with a level of food and access to local ingredients that simply wouldn’t be possible in areas with less access (i.e., Alaska). We’re lucky to have such proximity to local farmers, ranchers, wineries and breweries. As people across the U.S. continue to seek out and receive increased food education, they’re going to demand options that are more sustainable, more environmentally friendly, and all-around tastier. Chef Diaz and his team are working hard to provide that option in an arena setting – changing the concessions stand monotony into a truly curated local-eats program.
I wish I had unlimited time and space, because I could write about my time in the Golden 1 kitchens ‘til the locally-sourced, grass-fed cows come home. Not only am I hungry after writing this – I’m hopeful. As someone who grew up on a farm, I know how amazing the farm-to-fork movement is, and how much Sacramento has to both offer and to gain from taking part in it. I love it that I can eat a real dinner when I go to the Golden 1 Center, whether it’s a porchetta sandwich, chicarron-loaded Juanchos, or a slice of Paragary’s pizza, I know that the food I eat comes from real ingredients and a real kitchen. We don’t have to sacrifice good food for a game day anymore – after all, why should we? It’s all right here under our feet, in the bustling, innovative kitchens of Chef Diaz and Co.
L-R: Brien Kuznicki, Sous Chef; Rodrigo Cuadra, Pastry Chef; Laurel Harrison, SacFoodies; Santana Diaz, Executive Chef; Dennis Sydonor, Sous Chef; Henry Rivera, Sous Chef (Taken at the entrance to the Golden 1 Main Kitchen)