Chefs and Farmers Star in a Film Tribute to Monterey Market



A new movie by a fledgling solo filmmaker is a Valentine to Berkeley's Monterey Market and its owner, the perpetually smiling Bill Fujimoto. Made by Ojai tangerine grower Lisa Brenneis, Eat at Bill's had its first screening in the store's parking lot on Hopkins Street last September. It resurfaces twice in coming weeks at two showings in Berkeley.

For decades, Monterey Market has been a nexus for shoppers, small growers, and some of the Bay Area's pickiest chefs. The movie shows the produce market from the inside: Brenneis and her husband own Churchill Orchard, an Ojai Valley citrus farm that began selling Pixie tangerines to Fujimoto in 1990. For years he was their only wholesale customer � just as he is for scores of other small farmers. In the film, Fujimoto acts as both buyer and mentor for growers showing up in cars and minivans packed with fruit and salad greens. An affable guy always ready with his checkbook, 60-year-old Fujimoto is heard frequently asking: "What else you got?" Brenneis wanders the back of the store during the daily "hour of the chefs," when restaurant customers pick up phone orders and sample Fujimoto's best finds. In one sequence, Zuni Cafe's Judy Rodgers turns Michael Tusk of Quince on to some outrageously sweet Placerville cherries: they're ugly, Rodgers warns him, going on to coo that they're the best she's ever tasted in California.

Eat at Bill's is an affectionate look at one of Berkeley's quirkiest and most cherished institutions. The filmmaker plans to release a DVD of additional segments from the market later this year. For now, pick up a copy for $20 at Monterey Market, 1550 Hopkins St., Berkeley; 510-526-6042. Or check out one of the following screenings: Sat., Feb. 17 at 8:00 p.m. at the Eighth Street Studio, 2525 Eighth St., Berkeley (visit Edible East Bay's Web site for details); or Thu., Mar. 15 at 7:30 p.m. at The Hillside Club, 2286 Cedar St., Berkeley (visit The Hillside Club's Web site for info).

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