A Farmer's Wife, who loves fine food, wine and giving back

Author: finefoodiephilanthropist

Homegrown Chef Delivers: Riaza Winemaker Dinner

Homegrown Chef Delivers: Riaza Winemaker Dinner

Watch out…two new trendsetters are making waves in Lodi Wine Country: Riaza Wines and Lodi native Chef Nick Guantone are both scoring high marks for elevating the food and wine scene in a MAJOR way! A couple of weeks ago I had the pleasure of […]

Francis Ford Coppola Rolls out the Red Carpet

Francis Ford Coppola Rolls out the Red Carpet

Winegrape Growers Treated to an Afternoon of Fine Food and Wine Francis Ford Coppola has it all…exceptional wines, amazing architecture, an on-site restaurant, unique gift items, expansive pool, and multiple tasting bars. I rarely head to the Healdsburg area without making a pit stop, or an […]

Building Stronger Food Communities with the Fresno Food Expo and Simon Majundar

Building Stronger Food Communities with the Fresno Food Expo and Simon Majundar

Fresno Food Expo Partners with Simon Majundar to Highlight the Valley’s Culinary Credentials

A few weeks ago I was afforded an incredible opportunity from a childhood friend. She runs the Fresno Food Expo, the largest regional food show in America, and she had big news. Author, Broadcaster, and Food Network personality, Simon Majundar, would be attending the Fresno Food Expo for the second year in a row. And even more impressive, were his plans to sit down with owners, restaurateurs and the chef’s behind the culinary gems of the Central Valley for a round table discussion.

On June 20th, these folks, an intimate crowd of thirty, gathered at the Annex Kitchen in Fresno. The goal; to serve as a catalyst in highlighting the region’s bounty of agriculture and how to build stronger food communities. 

Upon arriving we were greeted by the gracious staff of the Fresno Food Expo and ushered into the rustic, industrial yet modern dining room of The Annex Kitchen. Guests mingled while tasting wine supplied by CRU Winery Company, beer samplings from Tioga Sequoia Brewing Company, beautiful platters of charcuterie courtesy of Busetto Foods and tasty olive oils from ENZO Olive Oil. I mean…talk about celebrating the foodie fabulousness of our region, right? 

As the only blogger in the room, I did my best to introduce myself to many of the restaurateurs. Growing up in Fresno, many of my favorite dining establishments were present for the luncheon, including the iconic Erna’s Elderberry House and Max’s Bistro. I was also thrilled to meet the owners of Trelio and Limón Peruvian Cuisine. There was an invigorating conversation with Simon regarding my  new adventure with blogging, and it was inspiring to say the least. 

As the program progressed, we were shown a delicious line-up of family style plates showcasing local producers. First up was a salad of ripe local peaches, delicious burratta and pickled onions. There was also a beautiful beef tartare with arugula, parmesan and wild mushrooms. Last on the lineup were two tantalizing pizzas: a Bianca with sausage, sage and ENZO Fresno Chile pepper Olive Oil and a local favorite featuring the fresh corn from the Fresno State University Farm Store. 

Chef Majundar then presented his version of the top five food trends around the world and how they are playing out regionally.

  1. Hyperlocal Sourcing: We live in the food capital of the world. With the most beautiful produce ever created. Folks want to know where their food is grown, or even the name of the farm…think Niman Pork or Mary’s Chicken. I personally see this playing out a lot in Lodi right now. Restaurants are using social media to identify where the produce highlighted in their dishes is coming from and adding meaningful descriptors on menus. Farmers, in turn, are highlighting which restaurants are using their product. It is a win-win for food enthusiasts!
  2. Food Communities: This is a very important part of the message! The restaurants, owners, chefs, farmers, wine and spirit producers, distributors…all need to band together and build a strong network. For example, on a chef’s one night off a week, he might dine out at another local restaurant and share his experience on social media, essentially giving that restaurant a third party endorsement. It might mean gathering after work once a month for Industry Insider nights where chefs can gather over a few beers and chew the fat over the challenges and opportunities they might share in common. It is SO much more than this…but I’m long-winded as it is.                                                                                
  3. Natural Wine: Majundar spoke of the current emphasis to make natural wines and feature them in local restaurants. He recommended that restaurateurs inform guests that their wine menu features natural wines and what the term actually means. Ironically, I was aware of this trend given that here in Lodi, several wineries have launched their own version of natural wines called the Lodi Native project. It has been a huge hit! 
  4. Rediscovering Brandy, Boutique Spirits 
    If you travel at all, I am guessing you have seen this trend playing out in all its glory. Most of the restaurants in San Francisco or Healdsburg, for example, are only featuring small batch, boutique distilled spirits. The focus, once again, goes back to the local, or even hyper-local emphasis in the food, wine and spirits world. The rise of Brandy is an excellent example.
  5. Rediscovering Table Side Presentation Does everyone remember the 80’s and 90’s fine dining scenes of servers in tuxedos making Caesar Salad table side? Well it’s back…sort of. Simon suggests that food is entertainment and that we have abandoned the theater of it all! Across the country we are seeing more and more establishments bring back the theater of dining. From shrimp grilled table side, to the classic flombe of Banana Fosters, diners are celebrating the spectacle of eating out again!

He also shared with us a few trends he doesn’t love, including the use of truffle oil, half plate presentations, a chef’s stringent rules regarding substitutions, and the popular trend of serving food on wood cutting boards or platters. 

On a side note, I would like to commend Mr. Majundar for his incredibly welcoming demeanor and enthusiasm for conversing with the guests. For me, the greatest part was his genuine affection for the Central Valley, a region that often undermines its own incredible culinary value. 

Kudos to the Fresno Food Expo for bringing together the Valley’s food community, to Simon Majundar for championing our cause, and to the restaurateurs who were able to attend. And also a HUGE thank you to the Annex Kitchen and the Pardini Family for hosting this fabulous event! May the valley I was born in, and the region that I live in, find its place to the top of the world’s food destinations as it deserves! 

The event that inspires all of this awesomeness is the Fresno Food Expo! The Fresno Food Expo will be held on Wednesday, July 26th and Thursday, July 27, 2017, for tickets and information, please click here! Simon Majundar will be back on Thursday for Expolicious, so do not miss this opportunity to explore the amazing foodie finds of our region, connect with local producers and sample some of the best dishes in the Central Valley. 

Fresno Food Expo: The Fresno Food Expo provides a platform that increases the commerce and connectivity of Central California food and beverage related companies, while creating a regional identity centered on the celebration of food production and the experience food inspires.


Fine Foodie Philanthropist

Suzanne Ledbetter

Bradley Ogden and Bokisch Vineyards- A Spanish Foodie’s Dream: Wine and Roses Wine Dinners Part One

Bradley Ogden and Bokisch Vineyards- A Spanish Foodie’s Dream: Wine and Roses Wine Dinners Part One

Two weeks ago I had an opportunity to spend a few hours in the kitchen with a world renowned chef right here in Lodi, CA. Over these past couple of weeks I have reflected on what it meant to me and my future with this […]

Tasting Tour, Festival, and Private Dinner: ZinFest Part Two

Tasting Tour, Festival, and Private Dinner: ZinFest Part Two

Each year my husband and I host some of our dearest friends for the ZinFest weekend in Lodi. With over 80 wineries in the Lodi region, choosing our itinerary can be a tough gig, but someone has to do it! While ZinFest is in full […]

Vintner’s Grille, an Industry Insider Dinner- ZinFest Part One

Vintner’s Grille, an Industry Insider Dinner- ZinFest Part One

Each year 700 guests consisting of vintners, growers, sponsors and visitors converge upon Lodi Lake for an evening showcasing Lodi’s most celebrated winegrape–Zinfandel! The evening is dubbed Vintner’s Grille and features wine tasting, a family-style dinner crafted by Angelina’s, live music by The Ben Kolber Project and dessert by Tony Lawrence, Wine Chef for You. This event is the official kickoff to Lodi Wine’s Zinfest and sells out every single year!

Guests Tiffany Book, The One Cool Thing and Emily Hetzner, Wine and Roses

Upon arrival, we were treated to hand-passed appetizers and a LOCA branded wineglass. Our group bellied up to one of the wine stations for a sampling of Lodi’s stunning rosés.

Matt Manna, of Manna Ranch and Matt Focacci, Lodi grapegrower, pour wine for guests as board members of the Lodi District Grape Growers.
Attendees mingle before dinner at Lodi Lake

After mingling with industry insiders, guests head to their assigned tables for a farm to fork meal. The dinner started with a harvest salad showcasing local walnuts, chopped apple, crumbled blue cheese and dark leafy greens.

First Course paired with Lodi wine!

Next up the staff came out with HUGE platters of New York Prime Rib, Pesto Grilled Chicken with Pepper Jack Cheese, Creamy Pesto Rotini and Grilled Brussel Sprouts. Feeding 700 dinner guests in a timely manner is a logistical nightmare, but Angelina’s always delivers. I can promise you one thing…you will never go hungry at Vintner’s Grille!

Guests Jason and Amelia Blote pose for the camera

The best part of the evening is as the sun starts to set on Lodi Lake and the band fires up their instruments! I am always amazed watching a crowd of several hundred people rocking out on the dance floor to the tunes of The Ben Kolber Project. Kolber is a friend, farmer and owner of KG Management, who also happens to be a classically trained musician from the Berklee College of Music. He and his band nail it every year!

Ben Kolber, of the Ben Kolber Project, putting on a show on the main stage


Out of all of the events that I attend in Lodi, the Vintner’s Grille is by far my favorite. The staff at the Lodi Winegrape Commission does a fabulous job of putting on a memorable night. Thank you doesn’t seem adequate enough to the crew who pulls it all together.

Bob Colarossi, Estate Crush, Craig Ledbetter, Vino Farms and Aaron Lange of LangeTwins Family Winery and Vineyard raise a glass of Lodi Zinfandel

This event is attended by all of the folks behind Lodi Wine.  From the farmers who cultivate the grapes to the vintners that make the wine, to the farm equipment companies, insurers, sponsors, wine industry media and marketers…they all gather under a huge white tent to celebrate Lodi Zinfandel.

The Lodi AVA is home to over 100,000 acres of wine grapes. Located just 100 miles east of the San Francisco Bay  the region, historically known for Zinfandel, is producing beautiful wines made from a multitude of varietals. Winegrape growers have diversified their plantings to include varietals of the Southern Rhone, Portuguese, Spanish, German and Italian regions. In fact, in 2015, Lodi was honored as the Wine Enthusiast Region of the year! For more information, please head over to Lodi Wine.

Cheers to Lodi for another fantastic showcase of all that our region has to offer.

Fine Foodie Philanthropist

Suzanne Ledbetter

Photos by F3 Studio Photographers



Big Hats, Big Hearts, Big Money

Big Hats, Big Hearts, Big Money

Over 400 guests donned big hats, big hearts and big pocketbooks for the Hospice of San Joaquin’s Fourth Annual Kentucky Derby Fundraiser. The event, or shall I say spectacle, was held at the Sargent Equestrian Center on Saturday, May 6, 2017. The Kentucky Derby is […]

LangeTwins Launches ZinFest Weekend with Winning Wine Maker Dinner

LangeTwins Launches ZinFest Weekend with Winning Wine Maker Dinner

There are winemaker dinners and there are LangeTwins Winemaker Dinners. To launch Lodi’s most popular wine festival weekend, LangeTwins Winery stepped up their game in a BIG way! They flew out James Beard nominated Chef Molly McCook of Ellerbe Fine Foods and her partner, Richard […]

Farm to Fork Perfection: Ag Safe Dinner

Farm to Fork Perfection: Ag Safe Dinner

What a great time to live in Lodi Wine Country! The sun is shining and last week I had the privilege of coordinating a dinner for AgSafe’s board of directors! My husband recently joined the board, and when news came Lodi would be hosting their meetings I jumped at the chance to arrange a beautiful farm to fork dinner. Let’s temporarily ignore the fact that we would be boarding a plane for Hawaii for a 7 night stay. Ten days to plan…get a caterer, organize the decor, order rentals, plan for a crisis. In reality, I guess I had three days! But I thrive under pressure.

Rentals from Celebrations Party Rentals

Needless to say, it has all come together! Marisa Manna-Ferrell , of So Eventful gave me the name of Paul Ratto,of Heritage Dining and Events, to be our private chef for the evening. He crafted an extraordinary menu given his modest budget, highlighting the bounty of agriculture in our region.

Private Chef Paul Ratto passionately describes his dishes to guests

Paul’s version of good food is micro-local. He likes to source his ingredients from our community and preaches clean, robust flavor profiles in his food. This was evident throughout each course, where Paul used the freshest ingredients possible and seasoned them perfectly with coarse sea salt and Calivirgin Olive Oils.

Tonight was no exception. The charcuterie platter was OFF the charts. I mean, check this bad boy out? Honestly, the second it was put down, it was devoured in 15 minutes!!!

This beauty featured Bruno’s Peppers, another local product

As guests enjoyed their wine, the staff hand-passed garlic rubbed crostini with goat cheese, Delta farmed asparagus and Calivirgin Citrus Hand Buddha olive oil.

The butter lettuce salad with strawberries, burrata, avocado, pickled onions and shaved-grilled asparagus was the perfect pair to the Ledbetter Family Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc.

Loved these flavor combos!
Disclaimer, this wine is not for sale, just a fun family project!

Chef Ratto also acquired some massive New York cut steaks that he served with a local chimichurri sauce. It was bright, herbaceous and intoxicating. Many guests poured it over their entire meal! Oh, and even the coffee rub on the steaks was local, sourced from the Cotta family’s coffee beans. We paired the dinner with Justin 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon Paso Robles, Meomi 2015 Pinot Noir, Garnet Vineyards 2014 Pinot Noir Stanley Ranch and Michael David’s 2014 Freakshow Cabernet Sauvignon.

To finish an exquisite dining experience, we, once again hit up a local perennial favorite, Michael-David Winery’s Farm Cafe, which sells a wide variety of buttery and flaky homemade pies featuring local ingredients like Apple or Strawberry-Rhubarb, which was everyone’s favorite!


The evening was perfect. Would you check out the sun setting on the Mokelumne River behind us?

We are so lucky to live in Lodi and have an abundance of fresh vegetables, fruits, wines and olive oils at our fingertips. Cheers to another successful event featuring fine food, wine and philanthropy! 


More about AgSafe

The mission of AgSafe is to advance the food and farming industries commitment to a safe, sustainable workforce and food supply, by providing practical education and resources.

The organization has trained over 60,000 growers, farm labor contractors, packers, shippers and processors, along with their supervisors and workers, in the most critical safety, health, human resources and food safety issues.


Thanks for following along…until next time!


The Fine Foodie Philanthropist

Suzanne Ledbetter

Headshots by F3 Studio Photographers
May Madness: Kentucky Derby, Babes & Bouquets, James Beard Chefs Dinner and ZinFest

May Madness: Kentucky Derby, Babes & Bouquets, James Beard Chefs Dinner and ZinFest

Anyone else ever wonder when life is going to slow down a bit? Well, I can assure you, in Lodi, it isn’t going to be in May. It’s so crazy I’m terming it May Madness! There are just SO many exciting things happening in Lodi […]