When we first moved to Marin County, California over ten years ago (I can’t believe it’s been that long!), I knew nothing about the area we moved to, let alone much of California as a whole. All I knew of Marin County was that it was near Sonoma & Napa — wine country. I didn’t drink wine then, and still barely do now — I know, sacrilege to live so close to wine country and not drink wine (and not be a dog person, but that’s another story for another time). So, whenever we visited wineries with friends or family, they’d be sipping the wine, and I’d be hanging out in the gourmet food section. Rows and rows of fancy cheeses, olive oils, balsamic vinegars and these little jars of heaven with the label “a girl and the fig.” Growing up in Chicago, people rarely ate figs (especially back in the day), and I don’t think I had even ever tried one until shortly after we moved to the West Coast. But there was something always so mystical about the beloved California Fig — the epitome of “gourmet” in this little Midwestern-girl’s eyes. I had no idea who or what “the girl and the fig” was, but when I saw that little jar with the two words “fig” and “caramel” together, I knew I had to try it!
This little jar of caramel hails from the FIGfood line created by the charming team of Chef Sondra Bernstein and Chef John Toulze of the beloved Sonoma restaurant, the Girl and the Fig. I had the privilege of photographing this duo for a second time at an event hosted by Fresh Starts Chef Events, a project to support Homeward Bound of Marin, a homeless shelter in Marin County, California, providing food, shelter and job training for those in need. The Marin County Cooking Class for the month of September featured a rustic provencale menu to “Greet the Fall.” The restaurant, which was founded in 1997 and loved by both tourists and locals alike, was first opened in Glen Ellen, CA, but now resides in downtown Sonoma. Much of their ingredients comes from the 2 1/2 acres that they farm at Imagery Winery. Chef Toulze described their food as “simple food,” that they’re just “enjoying the bounty” and are “shepherds of the food in God’s country.” Their modesty and charm are further evidenced by Lady Gaga’s recent visit to the restaurant, whom Chef Bernstein sheepishly claimed she had never even heard of before.
Many wonder how the name of the restaurant came about. Chef Bernstein shared that while she was brainstorming names, a fig literally fell from the tree she was sitting under. She loved that the fig could be so many things — “sweet, savory, raw, cooked” as well as “voluptuous, biblical, and historical” all at the same time.
The menu for the evening began with a shared plate of Padron Peppers with Herbed Bread Crumbs.
I had never had padron peppers before, but they’re likened to shishito peppers. They are usually mild tasting, but, “Every tenth pepper is a landline,” joked Chef Toulze. The chefs had grown 220 padron pepper plants on their farm, which thrived regardless of the California drought, and apparently offered a steady supply of food for the gophers in the area. Although I’m personally not a huge pepper fan, I loved how it was served as a plate to be enjoyed together. Plus the herbed bread crumbs added a nice crispy, garlicky finish!
The appetizer was followed by a delicious Heirloom Tomato & Watermelon Salad.
Chef Bernstein prepares the tangy vinaigrette for the salad.
Layers of juicy heirloom tomatoes and sweet watermelon were stacked and drizzled with a yellow tomato vinaigrette (why have I never thought to make a vinaigrette with blended tomato before?!?) and crumbles of feta cheese. A really delicious combination of flavors! Love the sweet-salty-sour profile.
And so pretty!
The main course of the evening was a delicious Provencal Petrale Sole.
Chef Toulze shared that at the restaurant, they use a light breading of Wondra flour, which is perfect for fish.
They also use clarified butter, which they feel tastes better as half of the water is boiled off.
This light and tender sole was topped with a tasty blend of shaved fennel, orange, olives, roasted red pepper, and lemon juice.
Chef Toulze shared that he actually cuts with his knife touching his fingers as to not cut himself, and that when a sharp knife is used, you don’t need to apply as much pressure in chopping ingredients.
Chef Toulze supremes the oranges and adds them to the vinaigrette. If only there were a gadget that would supreme oranges for you!
The chefs and students prepare the fish entrees in the back kitchen.
It’s always fascinating to see how it all comes together — like a dance!
Love the colors and bright flavors of this dish!
Finally, my favorite course of the night — dessert! A creamy and light Black Mission Fig Claflouti with Homemade Caramel Sauce.
Chef Bernstein considers dried figs “another food group.”
I’ve made cherry and blueberry clafouti before, but have never had it with caramel sauce — the sauce puts it over the edge! So good! The chefs shared that softer fruits work better in this dessert because it cooks quickly and is similar to a “gigantic baked crepe.”
Check back next month for a night of “Dim Sum and Tea” with Cookbook Author and Chef Joyce Jue! In the meantime, try this delectable recipe for Black Mission Fig Clafouti, and don’t forget the caramel sauce — yum!
Black Mission Fig Clafouti
For the clafouti:
1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/3 cups sugar
Pinch of salt
2 1/2 cups whole milk
1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon unsalted butter, melted
6 tablespoons Armagnac or brandy
8 large eggs
12 fresh figs, halved (1 cup rehydrated dried figs, quarter, can be substituted
For the caramel sauce:
1 cup sugar
6 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 cup heavy cream
Powdered sugar, for garnish
For the clafouti:
1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees farenheit. Butter a 9-inch cake pan and set aside.
2. Sift together the flour, sugar, and salt in a large bowl. Form a well and using a fork, mix in the milk, melted butter, Armagnac, and eggs. Beat until smooth and strain through a fine-mesh sieve.
3. Place the figs facedown in the cake pan and cover with the clafouti mixture. Bake for 45 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the middle of the clafouti comes out clean.
For the sauce:
1. Heat the sugar in a stainless-steel pan over medium=high heat and stir occasionally until the sugar turns brown, about 5-7 minutes.
2. Remove the pan from the heat, add the butter, and whisk until the butter has melted. Add the cream and continue to stir constantly until the crew is completely incorporated. Makes about 1 cup.
Slice the clafouti into 6 slices and transfer each slice to a plate. Drizzle each slice with the caramel suce and dust with powered sugar. You can also warm the clafouti in a low temperature oven before serving.