The Year in Food

Top East Bay chefs, farmers, and restaurateurs reflect on 2011.

I finished out the year by talking with some of the East Bay’s biggest food personalities, finding out their highlights from 2011 and what they are resolving and looking forward to in 2012. The responses were sincere, inspiring, and sometimes hilarious. This week we review their favorite moments from last year; next week we consider what lies ahead.

Samin Nosrat, creator of the Pop-Up General Store, former sous chef at Eccolo: “Watching our incredible community come together time and time again to make big changes. I’ve always subscribed to Howard Zinn’s words, ‘Small acts, when multiplied by millions of people, can transform the world,’ and I love watching people take things into their own hands. From the Bake Sale for Japan and Eating for Education (my project for Chez Panisse’s 40th birthday), to a friend who spearheaded an $800,000 fundraising effort to keep her son’s school afloat, this year brought countless opportunities to be inspired by what’s possible when we band together for what’s real and important.”

Novella Carpenter, urban farmer, author of The Essential Urban Farmer: “That for a few hours, Frank Ogawa/Oscar Grant Plaza hosted vegetable plants instead of petunias during Occupy Oakland. Of course the city came and ripped up the plants.”

Kevin Best, co-owner of B Restaurant and Bar: “The highlight was the support we received from the community during the beginning of the Occupy Oakland movement. I’ve never felt so connected to a community.”

Amy Murray, chef and co-owner at Revival Bar + Kitchen: “The food scene continues to blossom here, with the advent of our Local Butcher Shop and meat CSAs. The number of great farmers grows with the number of markets. People are also becoming more aware of the benefits of eating organic, especially the twenty-to-thirty-year-olds. They embrace sustainability, carry their own water bottles, use canvas bags, Ball jars for coffee, etc. There’s a lot of hope for the world in this generation.”

Aaron and Monica Rocchino, owners of whole-beast butchery The Local Butcher Shop: “The Local Butcher Shop opened!!!”

Gail Lillian, owner of Liba Falafel food truck: “Building a new truck, and then having the dreamy first day of working on it when I couldn’t believe it was mine.”

Charlie Hallowell, founder of Pizzaiolo and Boot and Shoe Service: “The highlight was actually being able to step back from my two restaurants and have a little more time at home. I was able to spend another night each week at home with my kids and had time to finish some long overdue projects at the house. I also had time to travel to Japan and China and to cook with some really amazing people. I have spent most of the last seven years eating more from the work side of the plate; 2011 was a year of really luxurious time.”

Anya Fernald, creator of Eat Real Festival and CEO of Belcampo Meats: “It was seeing my husband Renato open his pasta company, Baia Pasta, in Jack London Square. Part of the thrill was having him move all of his industrial pasta equipment out of the back of our loft and being able to finally wipe the bookshelves clean of their durum-flour crust (kind of kidding), but it was also just great to see him start realizing his dream of making a great American dry pasta and to own his own business. He immigrated to America five years ago, so watching him now navigate all the FDA craziness, packaging design, and everything else that goes with starting a company makes me really proud.”

James Freeman, owner of Blue Bottle Coffee: “Personally, seeing my son Dashiell turn eight was a big highlight. Eight is all about pizza, Hot Wheels, Star Wars legos, swimming lessons, fart jokes, bacon. It’s really so much fun. Dinner at Noma with my beautiful wife was pretty thrilling, too.

“Professionally, launching a kiosk on the Highline in Manhattan and a trailer in the Castro were the most visible things we did. I’m also proud of all the work that we did behind the scenes to improve our training department, our sourcing, our record-keeping, our production efficiency, and reducing our landfill waste. It doesn’t sound super-sexy, but all those incremental improvements set the stage for a really exciting 2012. Both of our roasteries were also certified organic by CCOF in 2011, so even though we’ve been roasting organic coffee for a long time, we could finally post it on our bags. We also added about 45 jobs with good benefits, and promoted a lot of great employees to managers. All of our shops were so busy in 2011 — I’m constantly amazed and humbled that so many people want to stop in for coffee.”

Peter Levitt, co-owner of Saul’s Restaurant and Delicatessen: “2011 was the year that Saul’s finally made the switch to smoking our own pastrami in the store. We’d been getting all of our product from LA but we found out the smoker wasn’t being honest with us; we were getting who knows what kind of meat. Now we source our meat from Niman Ranch, Creekstone, and Bill Niman himself, so we have more trust. We’re one of the only places in North America brining it, rubbing it, and smoking it in the store. It’s such an improvement over getting cooled pastrami in plastic wrap from hundreds of miles away.”

Russell Moore, chef at Camino: “We had a lot of amazing guest chefs this year, people I really respect, like Nancy Silverton, Yotam Ottolenghi, and Gabrielle Hamilton. Gabrielle actually said, “Fuck you and your fucking beautiful kitchen!” Oh! We also got into my favorite publication of all time this year, The Art of Eating.”

Be sure to visit the Express website for more highlights from these and other East Bay food personalities.


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