How, exactly, do you get a namesake tomato? This question doesn't come up often, but at the second annual Tomato Dinner at Oak at Fourteenth in Boulder on August 16, a lovely heirloom fruit sporting the name Steverino was introduced by chef Steven Redzikowski.
"Well," explained Wyatt Barnes, owner of Red Wagon Farm in Longmont, "if you're a loyal customer starting from the day we started farming and you buy a shit-ton of tomatoes, you might get a tomato named after you."
The tomato in question proved to be a plump, greenish-red fruit full of sunshine sweetness and classic tomato goodness that made its debut at the dinner. But it wasn't the only tomato to make waves.
Chef David Viana of New Jersey farm-to-table restaurant Heirloom Kitchen, who cooked alongside Redzikowski at the dinner, had shipped out 25 pounds of the famous New Jersey beefsteak, a large, bright-red beauty that chefs around the country swear by. "I don't know if it's the soil or the heat or that they ripen on the vine," said Viana of his tomatoes. "But I do know they are sweet and full of flavor."
The dinner wasn't a tomato battle, per se, but it was a great way to showcase both the East Coast and Colorado gems over a seven-course meal. After an array of tomato-y appetizers, the first plate brought Red Wagon Farm red vine tomatoes whipped into a fondue with the farm's basil, the perfect dipping substance for a piping hot parmesan pretzel with fennel. Next came the chilled Garden State tomato and buttermilk soup with fried crab, tobiko and zucchini, a refreshing dish that let the tomato shine. Redzikowski followed that up with Gulf red snapper crudo with circles of Red Wagon Farm tiger tomatoes mingling with jalapeños, with crispy onions on top.
Viana also whipped up a delicate bite of eggplant parmesan featuring the New Jersey beefsteaks, which arrived right before a succulent meatball made with Pat LaFrieda dry-aged beef that came atop basil agnolotti with stewed Steverino tomatoes.
Dessert also wowed with a brown Betty topped with whipped ricotta, heirloom tomatoes, Palisade peaches and a basil sorbet made with eight pounds of the herb, according to Barnes.
But the Steverino was the surprise star of the show...which was funny, given that it came about almost as a joke. When Redzikowski was purchasing about 250 pounds of tomatoes a week from Red Wagon Farm, he recalled, "I said, 'We get so many tomatoes you should name one after me.' And this year, he did."
The Steverino isn't the only kind of tomato Barnes grows; he also does a large variety of cherry tomatoes, heirlooms, paste and red tomatoes. Over the years, the farmer has tried out hundreds of varieties, and he works on growing new ones every year. Barnes, along with his wife, Amy Tisdale, opened the Longmont farm fourteen years ago. They'd started out running a stand at the Boulder County Farmers' Market, which is where Redzikowski first met them.
"I was looking at his stuff and thought, 'Jesus, this stuff is pristine'," the chef said. "I started talking to him at the market, and from there we decided to try to work together."
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Now Red Wagon Farm provides the luscious red fruit not only to the Boulder restaurant, but also Redzikowski's other restaurants, Brider and Acorn, both in Denver. "He [Barnes] is pretty easy to work with, and I like that he tells me when I need to change the menu because something is running out or going out of season," the chef said.
Today Barnes and Tisdale are out of the markets and work with restaurants and sell farm shares, or CSAs, to single customers. While that means you won't be able to purchase the Steverino or any other produce from Red Wagon Farm, you can at least try the goods at one of two dozen restaurants they supply, including Avery Brewing Company, Potager, Beast + Bottle and Corrida, to name a handful.
Will the Steverino wind up a mainstay at those spots? We won't know until Barnes sees how it grows a second year. But if it's a success, you can bet it will be at the next tomato dinner at Oak at Fourteenth, along with other juicy, sunshine-filled fruits.