Keeping “Slow Food” Alive in Sacramento
By Katie Rubin | Photography by Zephyr McIntyre
“Really nice restaurants are like heavy bicycles with really soft tires. They take a lot to get going and require a lot of speed to keep them stable.”
Ed Roehr should know as he is the visionary chef behind 14th Street’s classy and cozy Bakery and Coffee Shop, Yellowbill, and the industrial-chic, ever popular, mid-town hotspot, Magpie.
And that’s just what Mr. Roehr is committed to doing; riding the bicycles of his restaurants as long and as hard as it takes to give Sacramento the fresh, whole, real foods he believes it truly deserves.
“Magpie is a Farm-to-Table restaurant,” says Roehr. “I’ve always been interested in bringing the real food of our region straight to the plate… The thing is, when people think the hand-made croissant we make with whole flour and real butter is the same as the frozen croissant you’re getting at [any chain coffee shop], that’s when we’re in trouble as a culture and a community, I think.”
Ed would love to simply focus on his greatest passion: making amazing food for people, but because we, the people, don’t really know the difference between a frozen baked good, and one of his homemade gems (I just ate one- holy God, they’re incredible), he is often forced to spend a lot of time and energy, like any small business owner, educating the public about the value of his product, and telling a story that compels folks to listen.
In recent years, Roehr has become an avid spokesperson for the Slow-Food movement, pioneered by Carlo Petrini in Italy. First formed in protest of the building of a McDonald’s on a popular square in Italy, the Slow Food Movement stands as a proponent of the pleasure and the enjoyment of life.
Sitting down for a home-made meal, at a real dining room table, with one’s family and friends is the best way to “hold things together,” as Ed says, in a time when we are constantly being torn in a thousand directions with busy-ness, options, and endless distractions.
Uncertain at first as to the value and validity of the slow food movement’s aims, Roehr found himself “buying in” emotionally while on a family trip to Italy.
“I was sitting there in this plaza, watching my son run around one evening during this massive meal the whole community was sharing, and I thought ‘There are 30,000 people in this area, and not one of those people is going to force his kids to eat nuggets in the backseat of the car tonight.”
And that’s when it hit him.
“Just because we have so much abundance in America, doesn’t mean we have to spend all our time running… Running from place to place and from experience to experience. People are so hungry for change and variety. We just want something new to happen to us. We want to be entertained by our food.”
And while the food at Magpie is certain to entertain if not dazzle your taste buds, Ed finds himself longing for the brilliant simplicity of places like Caffe Rosso in Venice.
“During the daytime,” Ed says, “they make cappuccino and macchiato and croissants. And in the evening, they make little sandwiches, and a spritz with Aperol. And that’s it. When I went there when I was 23 years old, they made those things. And when I went back recently at age 40-something, it’s the same thing. 300-500 people a day go there. There are tables outside, and everyone looks happy. The woman who was the barista there when I was 23 is still there. She’s the manager now. Now, in America, we might call that stagnation, but I call it something simple that works.”
So. If you and your family could use some simplicity, some time together and some incredible real, whole food, head over to Yellowbill in the morning, and Magpie in the evening for a little taste of the delectable slow food movement. Ed’s restaurants aren’t a small cafe in Italy. But they’re infused with at least as much heart, passion and commitment.
And hey. Maybe take your time getting there. Because really, at the end of the day, what’s the rush?