Home garden delivers for restauranteur
By Dan Vierria
Locking onto a snail with laser-guidance precision, Randy Paragary delivers a lightning strike on the gluttonous gastropod. “He died during the journey,” he says. With apologies to escargot, snails would be wise to steer clear of this backyard vegetable garden.
Randy Paragary, his wife Stacy and executive chef-business partner Kurt Spataro have kept Sacramentans well fed and entertained for decades. While retaining his local dining and entertainment venues, Paragary has evolved his interests in recent years to include Midtown’s new Fort Sutter Hotel and (drumroll, please) his backyard tomatoes and other edibles.
Preparing for the grand opening of the 105-room boutique hotel this fall and navigating an interrupted dining scene because of COVID-19, Paragary has found comfort and satisfaction tending herbs, fruit trees and veggies at his Sierra Oaks home.
A recent backyard renewal project transformed space behind the couple’s garage from a children’s play area to a small farm. Gone are college-age son Sam’s old swing set and slide, replaced by nine redwood raised vegetable beds designed by Stacy. A composter in the corner decomposes the garden’s organic matter. The spacious yard is dotted with fruit trees where the family harvests blood oranges, lemons, limes, apples, grapefruit, figs, avocados and olives.
On this warm summer morning, Paragary surveys the beds of tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, lettuces, onions, herbs and other tasty goodies. The snail is the morning’s lone casualty. A few rogue weeds earn an “I’ll-deal-with-you-later” glare.
Prior to this ambitious home garden project, Randy’s only hands-on gardening was an occasional lone tomato plant or basil in a pot. Once the raised beds were built and planted, everything changed. Now, he introduces his precious tomatoes like a proud papa.
“This one is ‘Big Beef,’ this one ‘German Pink’ and over here, ‘Rainbow,’” he says, double-checking each label. He grows about two dozen heirloom and hybrid tomato varieties. Many are cherry tomato types.
“We love produce from the beds. Eating fresh is the main thing, but there’s too much production for our personal use,” he says.
The abundance of fresh produce necessitates bagging and delivering the excess to Paragary’s restaurant kitchens.
“The chefs appreciate the enhanced produce and it’s right-out-of-the-garden fresh and fun to grow. I get a great deal of satisfaction seeing people enjoy it.”
Mint from a raised bed might find its way onto his breakfast of berries and yogurt, and later into a mojito at the restaurant bar. His homegrown Italian flat-leaf parsley has enhanced the sliced mushroom salad. Basil has crowned Margherita pizza. A slab of his tomato, plucked that very morning, has brought an acidic bite to the grilled salmon BLT at Café Bernardo.
“One of our servers might inform the table, ‘By the way, the tomatoes are from Randy’s backyard,’” he says.
Randy Paragary shuttles bags of produce from the home garden to his restaurant kitchens a couple times a week. Tomatoes and basil are daily hauls during most of the summer.
Fresh, local produce has long been featured at Paragary’s restaurants, decades before the farm-to-fork movement. He was greatly influenced by Los Angeles chef Wolfgang Puck and Alice Waters, owner of Berkeley’s Chez Panisse. Waters and Puck pioneered California cuisine, the marriage of locally grown and raised ingredients, sustainability and presentation.
After visits to the restaurants of Waters and Puck, Paragary had Sacramento’s first brick wood-fired pizza oven built at Paragary’s Bar & Oven in the early 1980s. Later, a kitchen was added. He scoured small farms in Yolo and Sacramento counties for the freshest produce.
In the early 1990s, he and Spataro planned and oversaw a vegetable and herb garden in an open field adjacent to Paragary’s Bar & Oven at 28th and N streets. Today, the site, once dubbed “Paragary’s Herban Garden,” is a parking garage.
His home garage now serves as the seed-launching area where lettuce and tomato seeds germinate by a sunny window. Paragary has become acquainted with pushing a wheelbarrow, pruning, weeding and repairing irrigation systems. But he admits he has much to learn.
“I’m still not good with beets and carrots,” he laments about the root vegetable learning curve. “Except potatoes. I can grow potatoes.”
Dan Vierria is a University of California Cooperative Extension Master Gardener for Sacramento County and former Home & Garden writer for The Sacramento Bee. He can be reached at email@example.com. For answers to gardening questions, contact the UCCE Master Gardeners at (916) 876-5338, email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit sacmg.ucanr.edu. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram: @insidesacramento.