Knowing the Source of Your Food - Part 2

by Olga Schafranek |

We had the pleasure of hosting former Top Chef contestants Melissa King and Casey Thompson at the Sturgeon Farm this month for a tour. This was an opportunity to continue our mission to collaborate with creative and talented minds and make sure that the people who use our product really understand where it comes from and what makes it so special. I hadn't been on the farm in a while so it was also interesting for me to see how much has changed and grown since my last visit. 

Chef Melissa is the chef ambassador for Whole Foods Market and makes some bomb ice cream flavors for Humphrey Slocombe, like Hong Kong Milk Tea and Yuzu Cream. Melissa is getting a lot of buzz in the culinary world - she is named as "40 Under 40 Rising Stars" and one of "The Best Female Chefs in San Francisco". To no surprise, Chef Casey was selected Fan Favorite on her season of Top Chef. Casey currently consults for restaurants and hotels, offering her unique and clever food style for a variety of cuisines. She appears at many events on the culinary scene, putting together inspiring dishes. 

The tour started at Kathy's House - the estate house by the farm property that was once owned and inhabited by an interesting and kind woman. A fan of Tsar Nicoulai's practices, she offered the house to the company and donated the profits to charity. With a large welcoming tree out front and an inviting pool in the yard, Kathy's House has become the heart of the Sturgeon Farm. 

We visited the lettuce greenhouses where Ali, Vice President of Tsar Nicoulai, explained the amazing work we are doing with UC Davis and some of the best minds in aquaculture and aquaponics. As fans whirred above us, we peeked at some of the floating roots underneath the vibrant, luscious heads of butter lettuce. Little honeycomb shapes bobbed in the water below, trapping the nutrients in the water for the greens. We were each able to take a bite of some hearty lettuce on our way out.

Ali explained how everything we do at the farm is just following Mother Nature's lead to create something even more amazing.  As I have mentioned on the blog before, the nutrients absorbed by the lettuce come from the natural fish waste in the tanks. In hydroponics, these nutrients are added in to the water. We don't have to do that. We actually add nothing extra besides a little bit more water to make up for evaporation. There is also no risk of E. coli because there is no soil. Everything is as efficient and sustainable as it can be. The lettuce grows because of the fish (just like water hyacinth might naturally grow on a pond) and the fish thrive with the help of the lettuce. 

The tour also included a little farm with chickens (from which we get fresh eggs), goats, turkeys, and a beautiful horse. This farm sits outside the smoke house which has grown a lot since the last time I saw it. The team on the farm smoke sturgeon and salmon themselves, using a recipe created by our resident Willy Wonka, Auggie.

After trying out several different wood varieties, he discovered that the neighboring farm's applewood created the best flavor. Is that not the very essence of "terroir"? We all happily tried samples of the smoked sturgeon and salmon, which paired beautifully with fruit pulled from trees growing on the farm, I mean...

Our fish are grown where they live. The chefs, Ali, Xenia (Tsar Nicoulai's graphic designer) and I joined Auggie at the different tanks housing the tiny 2018 fish in one area to giant veterans in another. They spawn here, they hatch here, they grow here. They are carefully separated (by hand) first by size, later by sex. They are cared for, they are respected. Auggie caringly and easily scooped up a baby fish in his hand and talked about how they are grown here on the farm. Casey commented on how she hasn't seen anything like this. It's true, we are the only sturgeon farm doing what we do, from the very start to the absolute finish. Our farm team is made up of real, salt of the earth people, making a product with integrity, passion and pride. We all tried to catch and say hello to a little fish, but none of us could come close. Auggie is a true sturgeon whisperer. 

We create single origin, single batch caviar. We strive to work with the brightest people in all our collaborations. Our partnerships keep growing and becoming more and more exciting. We were thrilled to have Melissa and Casey on our farm - two chefs who are innovative, passionate and care about their craft. Because of their love for local and sustainable ingredients, we were so honored to take the time and show them why and how we do what we do!

The tour ended where it started, at the heart - Kathy's house - where we shared our caviar and smoked fish with Melissa and Casey. Warm toasts and interesting ideas for the future (and Pringles!), were passed around the table. It could not have been a better day! 

Na Zdarovye!