At the Farmers’ market with Roland Passot
Roland Passot, the chef of the iconic French restaurant in San Francisco, La Folie, is a charming and charismatic man and a recognizable figure in a sea of merchants at the Farmers’ Market in San Rafael. I joined him one Thursday morning to talk about his restaurant, his food and the man himself — a man, whose famous restaurant has become, in the last twenty years since he opened it on Polk Street, an institution for fine dining, fabulous food and a culinary experience for the senses.
He goes to the Farmers’ Market at the Civic Center each Thursday and Sunday to buy produce for his menu, a ritual so engrained since his childhood years in Lyon that it feels to him like going to church. With his easy-going personality, he weaves down the stalls greeting merchants, laughing aloud, asking about their business and their day, and seeing what looks good, fresh and ripe. He tells me that he knows most of the local farms, what they produce and what they bring to the market, and that he tries, as much as possible, to buy from all of them to make them happy. He seems at home, genuinely joyous to see and say hello to everyone.
“We are lucky to have farmers’ markets in the Bay Area,” he tells me, “because they bring European culture. When I finish shopping, I like to stay on at the market and chat with my friends.”
We stop at Paul’s stand, a French cheese maker, who produces fresh cheeses in small quantities. Roland asks him what kind of cheese he brought today. “Un petit marcelle frais and sec, un pavé, une bûche très jeune,” Paul responds. After carefully examining and sampling each one of them, then pausing to think for a second and staring back at the cheeses, Roland settles for le pavé et la bûche to offer to his clients at La Folie that same night. The merchants at the neighboring stalls are waiting for their clients while Paul makes a comment about their patience and calmness in contrast to the loud merchants at the French farmers’ markets. Roland nods in return, smiling, still admiring the cheeses.
Strolling along through the abundance of the Californian harvest, we meet a charcuterie vendor from “Fabrique Délices” who offers us a taste of coppa, pâté, rillettes and rosette de Lyon (dry sausage, Lyon style). A talkative Dutch woman hands Roland a a full bag of green vibrant salad. He seems impressed by the quality and the variety. He tastes and smells the raspberries offered by another farm and buys some for the restaurant. Then, he tells the tomato merchant, after looking and gently pressing his tomatoes, that he would stop by on Sunday.
When he bought a few dozen duck eggs, I asked him what he would do with them. He explains to me that he is offering on the menu of La Folie a tempura of duck eggs, served on a pancake of sweetbreads and truffles, with a salad of green beans. “The egg is poached softly and then fried, but it stays soft in the middle (moelleux au milieu),” he explains.
As we walk from one side of the market to the other, the music in the background changes. We hear a banjo, then a band. It feels somewhat like a fair.
“Socializing is a big part of French culture. In France, people don’t take themselves seriously. We tend to forget our age. We like to spend time with friends, eat at restaurants and dance.”
It is one of the reasons he opened La Folie Lounge, adjacent to La Folie. He wanted to add a casual touch, to create a comfortable place where people can enjoy themselves while sampling a lounge menu, as well as order food from the restaurant in a more relaxed setting. He wanted to appeal to the younger, professional, tech-savvy generation, who are expanding their palate level to finer culinary experiences and who are ready to be impressed and captured by his food.
Roland can also be seen dining regularly with his family at the Left Bank restaurant in Larkspur, which he co-owns with a partner. The Left Bank was envisioned as an improvisation of a 1920 Parisian style brasserie in the style of Les Deux Magots. It offers regional French dishes — tartes lyonnaises (Roland is from Lyon), tartes flambées, quenelles, coq au vin, bouillabaisse, cassoulet, pâté de canard, pâté de campagne, escargots. The restaurant’s fantastic terrace and sunny location draws crowds of people and regulars. It is a place close to Roland’s home (Marin) and dear to his heart, a place where he goes to enjoy French food with family and friends — when he is not creating dazzling, palate-pleasing dishes at La Folie.
- La Folie
- 2316 Polk Street, San Francisco
- (415) 776-5577
- Visit website!