Former Sacramento chef searches for the best local produce for area restaurants.
For Jim Mills of Produce Express in Sacramento, life is all about produce. And every day at the Produce Express warehouse, he receives tons of it, from just about every region in the Golden State.
But the bulk of this produce doesn't stay at the warehouse long. Within a few hours much of it is trucked out to restaurants and businesses throughout Northern California, some delivered by Jim himself, who is a sales representative for Produce Express. He spends hours on the road, visiting farmers and chefs, taking the produce from one to the other and educating both parties along the way.
Started in 1984, Produce Express is a wholesale distributor of fresh fruits and vegetables. In many ways businesses like Produce Express and people like Jim Mills are the link between 1,300 restaurants in Northern California and produce grown throughout the state.
On a recent summer day, Jim loaded up the truck at Del Rio Botanical farm in Yolo County, where Suzanne Peabody Ashworth is keen to get restaurants to try the fresh fava beans and greens she's growing. As a farmer, Suzanne says it's refreshing to find someone like Jim who understands both about the needs of farming and the demands of being a chef.
"If he weren't doing all the deliveries and making all the connections, I wouldn't have time," said Suzanne.
Her fava beans and boxes of her braising mix were eagerly received at the Magpie Caterers Market and Café in Sacramento. Chef Ed Roehr wasted no time turning them into a delicious gnocchi dish.
The restaurant has an extremely busy kitchen, but to Jim, who's in his 60s, it's like a home away from home. He knows about the stresses chefs face, because he used to be one. For 14 years he was the head chef for the Paragary Restaurant Group in Sacramento. Today he's traded in his chef's hat for the opportunity to promote, educate and even celebrate produce with other chefs, hoping to make their life easier.
Chef Ed at Magpie Caterers says Jim does indeed make his life easier. "Having someone you can depend on and someone you can trust to give you the information about where food is coming from, and you know you're getting the real answer, is a big deal."
And with 300 to 400 produce items in its warehouse daily, Jim Mills will keep those much-appreciated produce deliveries coming.
For more information about Produce Express, visit www.produceexpress.net.
For more information about Del Rio Botanical, visit www.delriobotanical.com.
For more information about Magpie Caterers Market and Café, visit www.magpiecaterers.com.