Something was fishy about California farm’s fancy “local” caviar: It didn’t come from where Passmore farm claimed.
For years, Passmore farm in northern California stood for the best in domestically produced caviar. Michelin-starred chefs swore by the fishy pearls, and founder Michael Passmore charmed the food festival circuit, promoting sturgeon and sustainable seafood he raised on the grounds of his Tara-like mansion. But the gig is up, reports The San Francisco Chronicle. Social media and former employees have disclosed that, despite the glossy pictures of Passmore do-it-yourselfing in ponds, his business has been trucking in fish from wholesalers and passing it off to chefs and buyers as Passmore’s unique, homegrown offering. Caviar hasn’t been produced at the farm since 2017—unless you count the repackaging of the imports from Bulgaria as production. Yes, the practice of buying and repackaging under a house label is common. But Passmore fed his customers a lie about the food’s origins and care—and at a high price point. Ex-workers estimated that up to 90 percent of the fish the company sold came from other sources. “I don’t think I’ve ever defrauded people I consider friends more than when I was at the ranch,” said one former employee. Friendship may not go far for this purveyor of fine seafood; Passmore owes vendors and lenders millions of dollars and can barely keep up with utility bills for his farm-estate.