Goodbye to the Vesta truck...

Goodbye to the Vesta truck...
April 2013: We're sad to announce that the Vesta Flatbread food truck's last service will be April 13th. We are tremendously grateful for you, our amazing customers. Your support, loyalty, and positive feedback kept us going while we grew our business from a humble pop-up tent at two farmer's markets to a flashy brick oven-bearing food truck serving 4-5 days a week in three different cities. It's been an incredible ride. Vesta will be on hiatus for the remainder of the year, but stay tuned for more Vesta news in the future, as our quest for a brick and mortar project progresses.

What is Harissa?

This is the single most asked question at our stand these days.

Harissa is a staple sauce in North African cuisine, a condiment as well as an ingredient. The ketchup, if you will, of countries like Morocco, Tunisia and Algeria. In the Sahara region it often has a smoky element. While it is typical quite spicy, we keep ours accessible by using Urfa and Aleppo chiles from Turkey, which have great flavor but not much heat. In Northern Africa and even Spain and France, the stuff abounds in grocery stores - sold in tubes, tins and jars.

It's roots go back to the spice traders who returned to North Africa with chiles from the New World.

Vesta's harissa is made from scratch using roasted red peppers, sundried tomatoes, onions, garlic and a myriad of spices including cumin, coriander and sumac - a sour-sweet dried bush berry culitivated in the middle east. 

Perhaps the most classic use of harissa is in Merguez au Harissa, a spicy lamb sausage slathered with harissa and served in a fresh roll. This North African staple has become a fixture on the streets of Paris as well.

Harissa can be mixed with olives, added to tagines for heat and flavor, or served with eggs, as we do in our farm egg flatbread with yogurt, feta and herbs. We also pair our beef flatbread with harissa and carrot jicama pickle, the intense earthiness from the sauce balancing nicely with the sweet tartness of the carrot pickle. Coming this summer we will feature a grilled eggplant flatbread with harissa.

If you do like your harissa spicy, check out our Laszlo sauce. Named after Jenya's fiery doberman, we offer it to the folks who like to heat it up a bit, just like Laszlo does.

-- Traci

Why Vesta?

Vesta, goddess of the hearth, was worshiped during Rome's empire. We were drawn to the symbolism behind her name; just as she represents the fire required in each home to nourish its occupants, we hope to capture her essence by honoring the most basic, oft forgotten elements of a transformative meal.

The most vital of these elements is bread. Organic wheat and white flours, salt, yeast and water are combined to create our dough each evening. After resting overnight it is shaped in the morning, rolled and baked as it has been for thousands of years, on a hot surface.  

A transformative meal at Vesta begins with the cultivation of ingredients. How each farmer treats his/her soil, what the animals raised for milk and meat are fed, how the vegetables grown are protected from pests, and so on. Most of the magic happens before they reach our kitchen, and we are curious about the details.

We care about the ingredients for two reasons. One, it is true that a finished dish only tastes only as good as its worst ingredient. Secondly, our goal is to converge inspiring farmers, respectable ranchers, phenomenal cheese makers, and outstanding millers around our kitchen. One of the most rewarding elements of this work is the relationships we forge with our suppliers. What do they represent? By carefully choosing we can create a rich community and a wealth of knowledge around us. Without intention, we may find ourselves surrounded by empty commercial transactions and little connection to those with whom we work on a weekly basis.

Because of the elevation of the feminine within her circle of worship, Vesta's name resonated even more with us. The Vestales, woman who pledged 30 years of celibacy to focus their energies on tending Vesta's fire, were a highly regarded order in Roman society: unlike other women, they were free to own property, make a will, and vote; and were given the power to free condemned prisoners and slaves with their touch. Being a woman-owned businesses, we wanted to pay homage to the amazing things that can transpire when woman and essential life forces like fire get together under one roof.

I have worked at many kitchens in my days, just as many run by woman chefs as male. But I have stayed much longer in the kitchens where other woman dwell, spending the majority of my culinary career in predominately female-run operations. While it is rare to find female-chef owned restaurants, I have always sought them out. In my experience, there is more harmony among the staff, and the cooking tends to be more soulful, less architectural.

We pay homage to the worship of Vesta and the hearth by honoring what is sacred in food; how it connects us to the earth, the seasons, our senses, and through it's bearers, the greatness that surrounds us.

-- Traci 

Somos pocos pero somos locos! (We are few, but we are crazy!)

As I look over our menu, I realize we are on our way to becoming locavores. While some of our ingredients originate outside a 150-mile range, all of our suppliers are in close proximity.
Local - meats, dairy and produce

Our meats come mainly from ranches in the North Bay. We are still trying out purveyors, but this week you'll find Fulton Valley Poultry and Niman Ranch Beef in our sandwiches. While Niman Ranch originated near Pt. Reyes, they've grown so large that they now source from family farms all over the country - we don't actually know which farm their beef comes from each week. We do know that they are organic, GMO-free, and all that good stuff. In the near future, we hope to begin using the grassfed Prather Ranch or Marin Sun Farms Beef, when the season changes and demand for the cut of beef we use loosens up.

Straus Family Creamery concocts our whole milk yogurt. Head northeast from the Straus farm, and you'll land at Sebastopol's Redwood Hill Farms, our source for feta. As for eggs, we've been picking them up at our markets each morning. We are looking for a steady supplier of fresh farm eggs.

Aside from jicama (can't find) and limes (prohibitively expensive), all our produce is organic. We've been shopping at Berkeley Bowl because we can't yet meet the minimums of Veritable Vegetable, a vegetable middlewoman that sources from local organic farms. Once we get our bearings with the market schedule, we also hope to search out more direct relationships with farmers.

Not so local - flour, olive oil, vinegar and spices

Central Milling, supplier to Acme Bakery, the Cheeseboard and other fantastic bakeries around town, provides the wheat and white flours used in Jenya's master flatbread recipe. Most of this grain is grown at high altitudes in Washington State.

Pantry ingredients like oil, vinegar and spices are also harder to source. There are several excellent producers of olive oil and vinegar in the Bay Area, but I've yet to find any we can afford. I will keep searching.

Dried coconut and sugar are two well traveled ingredients we're resigned to using. Soon I will begin to look for fair trade and organic versions of both.

Since Vesta's culinary inspiration comes from the Middle East and Mediterranean, spices are the vehicles which transport our sandwich lovers to another place, sending their tastebuds on a mini vacation. Whole Spice, a company which I discovered at the Oxbow Market in Napa, provides all our spices, from the cardamom in our iced Turkish coffee to the sumac in our harissa. They carry, hands down, the highest quality spices I have found in the Bay Area. I was first won over by their urfa chile powder. Urfa is named for Turkish village where the peppers are culivated. They are dried in the sun and then sweated beneath leaves at night, giving them the earthly flavors of tobacco and smoke. Whole Spice's Urfa, along with their Aleppo peppers and a slew of other spices, are tools of culinary alchemists and the secret to our harissa.  Given our desire to keep prices accessible, using Whole Spice is a bit of a luxury, but one we feel is well worth it.

-- Traci

Urfa Peppers drying in the Turkish Sun