In a few short years, Steve Sando has taken the lowly bean from a neglected legume to superstar-status ingredient. Sando’s company, Rancho Gordo, grows, imports, and promotes heirloom and heritage varieties while working directly with consumers and chefs like Thomas Keller, Deborah Madison, Paula Wolfert, and David Kinch.
Sando’s seed saving, bean production, and marketing efforts provide professional and home chefs with heirloom beans that would otherwise have been lost to history. The beans, along with corn, chiles, and tomatoes, have become key ingredients in the new American food revolution centered in Sando’s native San Francisco Bay Area. In fact, Sando and Rancho Gordo were named number two on Saveur Magazine’s “The Saveur 100 list for 2008.” Bon Appetit magazine declared Sando one of the Hot 10 in the food world of 2009. Food + Wine magazine placed Steve “at the forefront of the current seed-saving movement.” Steve’s previous book, with Vanessa Barrington, was Heirloom Beans (Chronicle, 2008).
Steve Sando came to agriculture not from the 4H club but from the grocery store. As a frustrated home cook, he decided to grow the ingredients he wanted in his kitchen. At the forefront of neglected ingredients were beans. Although they are an indigenous product of the Americas, the only beans available commercially to most home cooks were pintos, navies, and kidneys. Discovering heirloom beans to be as rich and varied as heirloom tomatoes, Sando almost singlehandedly created the market for these unique and worthwhile legumes. He now grows more than 25 varieties in California and works with small indigenous farmers in Mexico to import their heirloom beans for the U.S. market. He lives in Napa and travels frequently throughout the Americas collecting beans, friends, and adventures.