.The Main Dish in Berkeley Headlines Food Fest

POC Food & Wine Festival creates global vibe for tastings

The Main Dish is the biggest event taking place in Berkeley over the POC Food & Wine Festival’s inaugural weekend. The festival’s founder, Gina Mariko Rosales, said she and the event organizers wanted to curate an inclusive weekend of events for everyone. “You want the festival tasting vibe; come to The Main Dish,” she said. More intimate dinner experiences—family meals with food and wine pairings—bookend the festival at events that will take place in San Francisco.

Rosales noted that the Sip & Scratch Industry Night Reception on Friday, May 3, will include important panel discussions. Conversations that night will focus on “seeing us and raising our voices because it is very scary to do things like this,” Rosales said. “I curate to the Bay and if Bay folks show up, to have the community support, then I’m like, success!”

Oakland-native and Top Chef-alum Tu David Phu will participate in The Main Dish event. He’ll be collaborating with Denise Huynh of Oakland’s Tay Ho. “We’re basically family, and we try to find opportunities where we can partner up,” Phu said. Phu went to Tay Ho on his first date with his wife. “They’re known for making bánh xèo, a Vietnamese rice paper crepe,” he said. “The thing I’ve always loved about that establishment is the mom makes it only for lunch, and it’s always fresh.”

Seven years ago, Rosales’ events company, Make it Mariko, launched UNDISCOVERED SF Filipino Creative Market. After building up a commercial corridor in SOMA as a Filipino cultural district, other multicultural communities reached out to her to ask how they could establish something similar. “That’s how we came up with this concept of the POC Food & Wine Festival,” she said. The festival will provide a space to bring the Filipino, East Asian, Pacific Islanders, Black and Latino communities together, “to create something that’s bigger than any one of us.”

Rosales also admits to being an oenophile. “I’ve loved wine forever, but I started learning about the lack of diversity in the wine industry,” Rosales said. “We’re not only creating spaces for people of color. We want to create spaces where they can be celebrated and uplifted because they’re often left out of these larger spaces.” POC- and women-owned small-batch and midsize winemakers heard about the festival, and many of them have asked to participate.

For Rosales and her team, the POC Food & Wine Festival is the first part of a much larger plan. “We want to launch monthly pop-ups and events where we can celebrate diverse businesses,” she said. “We want to buy a 25-acre plot of land in the Bay Area that can be a retreat center and vineyard, and who knows what else we can do with that?”

Chef Phu has participated in food festivals around the country, but he said this one stands out. “It’s an equitable space that’s truly about the celebration,” he said, which isn’t always the case on the food festival circuit. “Those [other festivals] are only made possible by charging the guests an exorbitant amount on ticket prices, and then having vendors donate their time. It’s a really fucked-up ecosystem,” he added.     

“They pay chefs per bite at some of these festivals,” Rosales said. “Even though we’re a startup festival, we’re paying chefs 12 times what some of these huge, national festivals are paying in order to make it accessible for vendors just to be here because we know how hard it is for restaurants right now.”

Phu said, “Gina is doing this remarkable thing in 2024. In a time of incredibly high overhead costs, she’s celebrating these [food] producers who are pouring their heart and soul into this craft, not just to feed people but to keep cultures and narratives alive.”

Another participating chef, Emily Lim of Dabao Singapore, previously turned down a festival that offered to pay $1 per bite. “I felt like that was an insult,” she said. “It was really nice to see that they [the POC festival] were paying a very reasonable rate because we’re putting a lot of hours into this.”

Apart from the opportunity to get the word out about her cooking, Lim signed up for the festival to be part of a community. “Coming together and being part of this is more important than the marketing side of things,” she said. She even canceled a family trip so that she could participate. “This is meaningful, and I can always go on that trip another time.”

POC Food & Wine Festival, May 2-5, Berkeley and San Francisco, pocfoodandwine.com.

The Main Dish, May 4, at Ciel Creative Space, 935 Carleton St., Berkeley. Tickets available on a sliding scale. More details here. 

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