15th Annual Heirloom Tomato Festival Recap

Last Saturday was the 15th Annual Heirloom Tomato Festival benefiting the School Garden Network; it was a lot of fun as always.  It was a beautiful day in Santa Rosa and everyone was enjoying themselves.  We had over 120 varieties of heirloom tomatoes to taste, delicious tomato-inspired dishes from local restaurants and of course, a wonderful assortment of Kendall-Jackson wines to try.

One of my favorite dishes was the Happy Camper s’mores from CutieCakes in Sebastopol – they were comprised of Sundried and Heirloom Tomato Graham Cookies with Chipotle, Cayenne Fudge Sauce and a Toasted Tomato & Vanilla Bean Marshmallow.

I had the honor of competing in the Chef’s Challenge with three amazing chefs from the hit show Top Chef: Kevin Gillespie, Jennifer Carroll and CJ Jacobson. We had such a great time. The 30 minutes we had to cook in went by so fast, but the chefs were able to make some wonderful dishes in that short amount of time. Unfortunately I didn’t retain my crown, but congratulations to Kevin for winning the challenge.

A big part of the event every year is the Tomato Grower’s Competition.  Even with this late summer we’re having, there were some beautiful tomatoes that were entered. Larry Wagner, with his Pink Berkeley Tie Dye tomato took home the title as Best Of Show. This year we saved the seeds from the Best in Show and all the other 1st Place winners to add to our collection for next year.

Now that the Tomato Festival is over, what are we going to do with all those leftover tomatoes?  We’ll make another batch of Smoked Fennel & Tomato Soup.  Several Tomato Festival guests asked for this recipe, so here it is below.

Smoked Fennel and Tomato Soup
Serve with Kendall-Jackson Vintner’s Reserve Pinot Noir
Serves 8

This makes a great dish for your vegetarian friends because the smoked fennel and onion make this soup taste like bacon has been added.  The sweetness of the smoked fennel makes a perfect match for the soft, smoky finish of the Vintner’s Reserve Pinot Noir.


  • 1 large fennel bulb, sliced in half lengthwise
  • 1 small yellow onion, peeled and sliced into 1-inch thick rings
  • 4 ounces butter
  • 1 Tbsp. fennel seed
  • 1 medium carrot, peeled and diced small
  • Kosher salt
  • 5 lbs. red heirloom tomatoes, cores removed and rough chopped
  • 12 ounces heavy cream

Specialty equipment needed: Camerons stovetop smoker and oak chips


  1. Place 2 tablespoons of finely ground oak chips in smoker and heat on stovetop (make sure to do this in a well-ventilated kitchen or outdoors). Allow the chips to burn and then cover to put out the flames.  Let the chips smolder until the smoke color changes from a greenish hue to white.
  2. Place the fennel and onion into the smoker and smoke for 4 minutes over medium heat.  Remove the fennel and onion and rough chop into small pieces.
  3. In a large sauce pot, melt the butter and add fennel, onion, fennel seed and carrot.  Season with salt and sweat over medium heat until vegetables are soft and the onions are translucent.  Add the tomatoes and cook for 15 minutes or until tomatoes begin to fall apart.  Add the cream and cook for an additional 15 minutes.  Remove soup from heat and carefully process in a blender until smooth. Season to taste and strain through a fine mesh strainer.  Reheat soup and serve.

Any leftovers can be frozen.