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Sacramento gets food famous – a Q&A with writer Ed Murrieta

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Ed Murrieta has been trying to get published in the San Francisco Chronicle for 10 years.

Murrieta, who’s been writing about food (and drinks) since the late 1980s, finally crossed that off his bucket list this past weekend, with the publication of several stories on Sacramento’s burgeoning food scene, particularly its farm-to-fork movement.

The main piece – "Sacramento growing a taste for local food" – focuses on the city’s restaurants that source their food from nearby farms, and its claim of being the "farm-to-fork capital."

"Fed by a homegrown generation of chefs and farmers working collaboratively, this formerly beleaguered bastion of blah has blossomed into a vibrant village feasting on fresh, locally grown produce, meat and fish," Murrieta wrote.

The stories – including a short piece on Sacramento’s weekly farmers’ market beneath the freeway, have have been making their rounds on Twitter and Facebook, accompanied by a sense of local pride. And why not? It wasn’t long ago that Sacramento was known as a cow town, lacking in culture and destination restaurants.

In a brief Q&A, I asked Murrieta some questions about the publicity Sacramento’s food industry has garnered. Enjoy.

How long have you been covering food news? And why food?

I started writing about food (and beverages) in the late 1980s at the Sacramento Bee. I was a sportswriter who was recruited by the entertainment editor to write a weekly column about saloons, and that led to writing about food and restaurants. I used to be the guy who made weekend food runs for the sports department and I always went for something good to eat. They trusted my taste.

I grew up in restaurants. My parents owned restaurants in Rancho Cordova and Sacramento in the ’80s and ’90s. (That my parents’ restaurant could not be reviewed in the Bee while I worked there is still a source of shame.)

I graduated from the California Culinary Academy in 2002 and wrote a baking column for the Contra Costa Times from 2002-2004. It was distributed nationally.

From 2004 to 2008, I was the restaurant critic at the Tacoma News Tribune, a McClatchy paper. I covered a lot of farm-to-fork topics.

Since 2009, I’ve been freelancing. In 2011, I freelanced medical cannabis features to the Sacramento Bee’s medical cannabis advertising section. I have two recipes published in the High Times Medical Marijuana Cookbook, published in April 2012.

Most recently, I’ve freelanced for the Sacramento Business Journal – a piece looking at downtown Sacramento restaurants in 1974 and now.

I’m 47 years old. I grew up in Roseville, moved to Midtown as soon as I could.

What was your inspiration to write about Sac’s farm-to-table movement?

Mayor Johnson’s Oct. 31 news conference. At first, it seemed a brazen claim: Sacramento – the farm-to-fork capital of America? Hmmmm….. But then, as the details soaked in and I began reporting the story, it made sense.

What has the reaction been like so far? What are people saying to you?

The usual attaboys from my Facebook friends. One reader emailed the Chronicle food editor asking why I didn’t include Waterboy in the story. Um, space considerations and the fact that this isn’t T-ball — not everyone gets a trophy. Space considerations are responsible for a great many things that readers object to.

What’s your favorite part about Sacramento’s blooming farm-to-table restaurant scene?

That editors are at least considering my pitches now. I’ve been pitching a Sacramento restaurant story for a couple of years without luck. The farm-to-fork angle made the story viable. I’ve been trying to get published in the Chronicle for 10 years. Farm to fork cracked that nut.

How has the Sac restaurant scene changed over the years? What are you most happy to see/eat?

Changed over the years? I moved from Sacramento to San Francisco in 1996. There were good restaurants in Sacramento then, but there was no "scene." When I came back in 2010, there were many more restaurants — and excitement about them.

What are some common misconceptions about Sac restaurants?

The same misconceptions folks have about Sacramento itself – cowtown. That’s not valid any longer, although I notice that some food trends I covered five years ago, like marrow bones, cheese plates and craft beer, are relatively new in Sacramento.

What do you hope the article/publicity does for the area?

I hope it gets me more work and better food.  

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