Ripe off the Vine

Our bleak winter and unseasonably cold and rainy spring delayed the arrival of San Francisco’s highly anticipated summer produce. But at last, summer is officially here! Squash, corn, peaches, and, my personal favorite, tomatoes are all finally showing up at all of the Bay Area’s local farmers markets. Despite their fashionably late appearance, this season’s fruits and vegetables are still expected to yield the same crisp and delicious flavors as always.

I waited patiently for these crops because I always like to use local ingredients in my cooking. The farther produce travels, the fewer flavors it retains because of the intermediary refrigeration that is required to transport it. Tomatoes in particular taste the best when they are taken right from the vine, which is why I grow them at home in my garden.

I prefer to use heirloom tomatoes when cooking because of their rich flavor. Deceivingly, heirlooms appear less appetizing than many other varieties because they are specifically pollinated by nature (bees, butterflies, birds, wind…anything from their environment). As a result, farmers have less control over their color, size, and shape. But don’t be so quick to judge a book by its cover—the best way to spot a ripe heirloom is to smell it.

All year long I wait for that delectable, earthy, just-off-the-vine smell of fresh tomatoes, so that I can add one of my all time favorite summer dishes to the menu—Grilled Halibut with Grilled Tomato Gelee, complete with basil purée and cucumber. Gelée has a texture that’s a bit similar to Jell-o, but it’s much more flavorful and dissolves almost instantly in your mouth, enhancing the flavor of any meat it’s paired with. I make this dish for my guests at The Dining Room, as well as for my family. I’m delighted to share the recipe so that you too can make it at home for yourself and for your family.


Chef Ron Siegel

The Dining Room at The Ritz-Carlton, San Francisco
600 Stockton st.
San Francisco, CA 94108