Like a growing number of Rogue Valley restaurants, Fulcrum Dining writes its menu from what's freshest at farmers markets.
"I just want there to be the least amount of steps from when things are harvested to when they're eaten," says Fulcrum co-chef and -owner Gabrielle Rysula.
A few steps — literally — separate Rysula from dozens of her fellow farmers-market vendors. As soon as Rysula and partner Chad Hahn park their mobile kitchen at the market, Hahn starts shopping.
The Applegate residents say they favor Applegate farmers such as Barking Moon, Blue Fox and Whistling Duck. But at a recent Medford market, Fulcrum purchased green beans from Sams Valley's Bigham Farms and potatoes and tomatoes from Rogue River's Runnymede Farm.
Those vegetables — often organic — complement organic, locally grown whole grains; cage-free eggs from Applegate's Kurth Family Farms; and pork raised on pastures near Philomath.
Fulcrum focuses less on whether every ingredient is organic and more on whether it's a product the chefs personally would eat. The name, Fulcrum, reinforces the ethic of balance.
"We look for that in our meals," says Rysula.
And ordering gourmet meals from a food truck adds appeal for some customers familiar with the hip street-food scenes in larger cities.
"We were one of the first — if not the first — of the higher-end food trucks in the area," says Rysula.
A higher-end restaurant was Rysula's and Hahn's aspiration since meeting in Chicago at Green Zebra, owned by James Beard Award-winning chef Shawn McClain. Green Zebra specializes in seasonal, farm-fresh vegetables, except the farms aren't exactly nearby, says Rysula.
"We knew we wanted to cook in that basic realm."
Yearning to cook closer to the source, she and Hahn heard about Southern Oregon from a friend. But when the couple arrived five years ago, they found a well-established farm-to-table restaurant scene in the likes of Larks and Amuse of Ashland, as well as a challenging economy.
An unexpected opportunity emerged in 2009 as Rysula assisted with winemaking at Wooldridge Creek Winery near Grants Pass. Eno enthusiasts traveling the Applegate Valley Wine Trail invariably came up short on dining options.
Restaurant recommendations in Jacksonville or Grants Pass cut wine-tasting tours short. Rysula and Hahn, already dabbling in catering, wondered if they could bring food to Applegate wineries.
"We wanted our business based out in the Applegate," says Hahn.
After about a year and a half of planning, the couple's custom, 8-by-18-foot trailer from Portland's Northwest Mobile Kitchens took to the street. The apparatus not only had to be road-worthy but fit for rough, country landscapes. Fulcrum sets up every Sunday afternoon at Wooldridge Creek.
"We're being asked to park at more and more wineries," says Rysula.
At wineries, Fulcrum prepares "wine-friendly" foods, such as cheese plates or chorizo burgers to pair with tempranillo. At farmers markets, the fare is more casual.
Breakfast sandwiches sell out Saturday mornings in Grants Pass. Polenta with sauteed seasonal vegetables is the crowd favorite Tuesdays in Ashland, and the meaty Cubano sandwich has a loyal following Thursdays in Medford. If a recent catering job left Fulcrum with surplus ingredients, such as wild-caught Pacific shrimp, they're incorporated into the day's dishes.
"Menus change constantly," says Rysula.
In the year since Fulcrum started setting up at farmers markets, gluten-free items have been the No. 1 request, says Rysula. So corn-shell tacos and polenta made with organic, heirloom corn grown at Bluebird Farm in Williams are menu mainstays. Quinoa salad, also made with more of Bluebird's organic grain, was such a hit that Fulcrum exhausted the entire year's supply earlier this summer. Taking the place of quinoa are organic, heirloom beans from Medford's Dunbar Farms.
"People are so obsessed with gluten-free right now," says Rysula.
For everyone else, Fulcrum serves sandwiches on artisan bread baked by Applegate's Rise Up! Cheese comes from Central Point's Rogue Creamery.
Prices range from $3 for one vegetarian taco to $8 for the Cubano with house-cured pork at farmers markets. Winery prices range between $6 for wild-mushroom crepes with blue-cheese sauce to $12 for beef short ribs with polenta.
Pairing wine with appetizers for numerous private parties, Rysula and Hahn also wanted to cook for a larger public. They served about 40 diners by reservation each month last summer in Cantrall-Buckley Park. This year, they moved Fulcrum dinners to the larger population center of Grants Pass and Off the Map Tattoo.
If a tattoo parlor seems like an odd venue, the dinners garnered plenty of positive response from guests who paid $40 for five courses highlighting seasonal vegetables.
"People love it," says Rysula.