Oakland's Pickle Champ 

We help pick a winning jar of pickles at Eat Real, where the push for food-truck reform revved its engines. Also, the East Bay's efforts to help farmers in Japan aren't over.

I was asked to be a judge last week during the annual Eat Real Festival in Jack London Square, on a panel evaluating DIY pickles. Though it has a heavy street-food element, Eat Real is also a sort of urban county fair for anyone born before — well, before anybody you know actually went to any sort of official county fair.

Part of the mission of Eat Real's organizers is to empower home cooks to learn how to do things our parents thought only big companies could do, stuff like animal butchery, jam making, or brewing lager. In demos and competitions, Eat Real seeks to spark continued interest in the so-called homesteading arts — things like pickles.

Sean Timberlake, who runs a DIY food website based in San Francisco called Punk Domestics (PunkDomestics.com), helped organize the day's contests. I was one of eight judges on the pickles panel — Jonathan Kauffman, SF Weekly food critic (and former Express food writer) was one; so was Karen Solomon, author of the inspiring, serial-comma-loving DIY books Jam It, Pickle It, Cure It and Can It, Bottle It, Smoke It.

We considered eight entries in categories like sauerkraut/kimchi, relish, and fruit or vegetables canned fresh, from apple chutney to old-fashioned cucumber dills (interestingly, the only pickled cukes in the bunch), judging for appearance, texture, and taste. The overall winner: Maricela Yee, who made something called Lil' Miss Kim Chi Chi, kimchi with a drag queen's name and freshness to match. It was bright and crunchy, with relatively little fermented funk, and crystalline acidity. A worthy winner, if I do say so myself.

And it was heartening that people are still spending long afternoons in their kitchens perfecting recipes for chow-chow relish or fat, beautifully blackish pickled cherries. I was proud to have a small part in the contest.

Food-Truck Drive Continues

Also at Eat Real, Guerrilla Grub vendor and Oakland Mobile Food Group founder Elizabeth August was on hand with a petition asking Oakland's policy makers to expand mobile food vending. Earlier this month, I wrote about efforts by August and others to convince the Oakland City Council to revise the 2001 street food ordinance. (August is seeking permission to launch a food pod in Mosswood Park, but has so far been stymied by delays in implementing changes to mobile vending policy.)

On Saturday, August was allowed to set up a table in the festival's Craft Marketplace (organizers waived the fee). Ironically, Eat Real is one of the rare times food trucks are officially permitted in Oakland (outside, of course, the so-called Pilot Project zone in Fruitvale and other parts of East Oakland). The petition drive was part of August's efforts to let the city know how unfair she thinks that is.

Chez Panisse Launches Japan Relief

The bake sales and other fundraisers for Japan after the spring earthquake and tusnami? They're not over. This Sunday, Berkeley's Chez Panisse is hosting a ramen dinner to raise funds for OPENharvest, a more elaborate relief effort by the food-based performance collective OPENrestaurant, the folks (including Chez Panisse host Sam White) who staged the all-day tribute event at the Berkeley Modern Art Museum for the restaurant's fortieth anniversary

First, the ramen dinner: three courses, including fried squid salad, ramen, and toasted rice ice cream with yuzu marmalade, plus a glass of beer or wine, starting at 6:30 p.m., for $50 (you can get tickets at Eventbrite.com — search for OPENramen).

In October, the OPEN group is marshalling in Japan for the fall harvest (the first following the chain of disasters), together with Tokyo-based Food Light Project, for something called OPENharvest.

It'll be an edible installation at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Tokyo. "OPENharvest will be an opportunity to tell the story of some of the great food producing communities throughout Japan, document visits to these producers, and to think critically about food production in Japan," the OPEN press release read. "And we hope to bring a bit of the country into the city by bringing farmers and fishermen into Tokyo to gather with and meet the people who eat the vegetables, meats, and fish they produce." Chefs and artists from both California and Japan will collaborate, though in typical OPEN fashion a lot of the details are still emerging, sort of organically. Event proceeds will benefit several of the food-producing communities in the disaster zone.

There's a Kickstarter page (Kickstarter.com/projects/openrestaurant) where you can purchase T-shirts or just make straight-up donations. Sounds cool. /p>


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