Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Oakland Museum of California Explores Food System in New Exhibit Take Root

by Janelle Bitker
Tue, Dec 12, 2017 at 11:03 AM

Rodney Spencer of City Slicker Farms is featured in the exhibit. - PHOTO COURTESY OF THE OAKLAND MUSEUM OF CALIFORNIA
  • Photo courtesy of the Oakland Museum of California
  • Rodney Spencer of City Slicker Farms is featured in the exhibit.
A new exhibit at the Oakland Museum of California dives into how,

why, and where food is grown in Oakland. Take Root: Oakland Grows Food will be on display Dec. 16 through Jan. 13, 2019.

For curator Sarah Seiter, creating a food-focused exhibit was only a matter of time given the rise in urban farming and the conversations surrounding food justice issues. Taking a natural sciences perspective, the exhibit goes deep into garden ecosystems with plenty of interactive elements for kids. Think along the lines of a National Geographic-style video on beneficial insects, a building-blocks game exploring how species interact, and a garden-themed felt play space where kids can roam freely. There are also video interviews with local urban farms, including City Slicker, Acta Non Verba, and New Roots, which offer stories behind why people decide to grow food.

“A big shared thread is people are often growing not just because they like vegetables but because of a lack of access,” Seiter said.

The exhibit approaches growing through both micro and macro lenses. The really big picture deals with food deserts and Oakland’s housing crisis. Seiter hopes folks leave the exhibit contemplating politics and culture, not just soil science and bugs. “Food access isn’t as universal as we want it to be,” she said.


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Oakland's Sacred Wheel Cheese Shop to Permanently Close

by Janelle Bitker
Tue, Dec 12, 2017 at 9:12 AM

PHOTO COURTESY OF SACRED WHEEL VIA FACEBOOK
  • Photo courtesy of Sacred Wheel via Facebook

After seven years in business, Sacred Wheel Cheese and Specialty Market is closing this month.

Owner Jena Davidson cited the East Bay’s increasingly high cost of living as the main driver behind her decision to leave the Temescal, Oakland shop behind — but the whole story is a bit more complicated.

Last year, Davidson put Sacred Wheel (4935 Shattuck Ave.) on the market in the hopes of finding buyers who wouldn't change the shop too drastically. She and her mom had decided it was time to move the family back to the more affordable East Coast. According to Davidson, two of Sacred Wheel’s employees wanted to buy it and keep it just as Davidson had hoped.

When a business is sold, the new owners need to bring the space up to code, which can be particularly expensive with older restaurants. During the sale process, Davidson encountered some unexpected structural issues with Sacred Wheel’s building, which would have cost more than $50,000 to bring it into compliance with the city.

“Unfortunately neither myself and mother or the new buyers could afford to take on the extra expenses so we've had to make the very difficult decision to say goodbye,” Davidson wrote to the Express by email. “I take pride in the fact that Sacred Wheel has been a very special place for customers, neighbors, and employees for 7 years and I hope everyone can understand how hard it is for us to walk away.”

Sacred Wheel’s last day will be Saturday, Dec. 23. Over the years, the shop didn’t just build a loyal following for its well-curated selection of artisanal cheeses, cured meats, fancy oils, and local spreads; rather, Sacred Wheel also functions as a beloved neighborhood restaurant. The slabs of mac ‘n’ cheese, grilled cheese sandwiches, and Pabst Blue Ribbon-infused tomato soup are particularly delicious — and the uninitiated still have a couple of more weeks to try them.


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Monday, December 11, 2017

Oakland's Sana Javeri Kadri Seeks to Decolonize Turmeric with Spice Company Diaspora Co.

by Janelle Bitker
Mon, Dec 11, 2017 at 9:12 AM

A tin of Diaspora Co.'s golden turmeric. - PHOTO COURTESY OF SANA JAVERI KADRI
  • Photo courtesy of Sana Javeri Kadri
  • A tin of Diaspora Co.'s golden turmeric.

In February, Sana Javeri Kadri quit her cushy marketing job at San Francisco’s Bi-Rite Grocers and bought a one-way ticket to her native Mumbai, India.

At the time, Javeri Kadri was wondering where her ideal place might be within the world of food as a queer woman of color. And she was having a lot of conversations about turmeric. In 2016, turmeric dramatically rose in popularity in the United States, largely thanks to the health food movement. Turmeric-flavored “golden lattes” began to grace every hippie cafe menu in the region. It bugged Javeri Kadri — especially the widespread lack of context. “Turmeric was worthy of the attention if it came from Gwyneth Paltrow, not if it came from Indian immigrants,” she said.

Certainly, the frustration also stems from Kadri’s upbringing in Mumbai, where American fruit roll-ups reigned supreme on the playground.

“There was a huge glorification of American fast food. What I saw growing up in India was a total loss of Indian regional cuisine and understanding Indian food history,” she said. “Most urban Indians are developing diabetes and are more likely to know how to cook pasta than Indian food.”

In response, Javeri Kadri dedicated herself to turmeric. She conducted informational interviews with direct-trade spice companies and showed up at the Indian Institute of Spices Research, learning about various strains of turmeric, visiting a dozen spice farms, and developing a partnership with a young Indian farmer growing some of the best turmeric around. In August, the Oakland resident formally launched her online spice company, Diaspora Co.

Diaspora’s current turmeric is a pragati heirloom strain with 4.7 percent curcumin content — that’s the stuff known for health benefits — grown in southeastern India. I taste-tested Diaspora's turmeric against Oaktown Spice Company's turmeric in three different recipes, but really, you could just smell the difference. It was more intense and earthy, and had a bolder golden hue.

Perhaps more importantly, though, the Indian farmer is being adequately compensated. With most other spice companies, “the producer makes very little money, there are a ton of middle men, the trader makes a lot of money, and the consumer is getting a final product completely removed from the original product,” said Javeri Kadri, who added that the average Indian spice farmer earns 35 cents on a kilo of turmeric. On Amazon, you can buy the same
amount for $35.

You can order some of Diaspora Co.’s turmeric online until Dec. 17. In February, Javeri Kadri will return to India for the next turmeric harvest. And one day, she might not only return with turmeric. Her dream? “Having a pantry one day that’s all Diaspora spices.”


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Friday, December 8, 2017

Hawker Fare Spin-off Hawking Bird Opens in Temescal

by Janelle Bitker
Fri, Dec 8, 2017 at 2:25 PM

Khao mun ghai at Hawking Bird. - JANELLE BITKER
  • Janelle Bitker
  • Khao mun ghai at Hawking Bird.

Few Oakland restaurant closures caused as much devastation as Hawker Fare.

James Syhabout’s seminal Thai Isaan and Lao eatery in Uptown Oakland closed in February when the building was sold — Syhabout chose to leave before getting pushed out. But there was a glimmer of hope all along. He told reporters he hoped to open something else like Hawker Fare in Oakland in the future.

That “something else” opened today: Hawking Bird (4901 Telegraph Ave.), a fast-casual spot centered on khao mun ghai. Khao mun ghai is the Thai poached chicken and rice dish that many East Bay diners first fell in love with at the original Hawker Fare. At Hawking Bird, it comes with cucumber, cilantro, and a gingery fermented soy bean sauce and costs $11.95. You can ramp it up with a crispy fried egg or a bowl of chicken broth.

The Hawking Bird is a fried chicken thigh, here served in sandwich form. - JANELLE BITKER
  • Janelle Bitker
  • The Hawking Bird is a fried chicken thigh, here served in sandwich form.

Otherwise, Syhabout keeps the offerings short: chicken double fried in rice flour or a tofu equivalent served as a sandwich, over rice, or in a salad. There are also extras like tater tots, garlic noodles, and pickled vegetables.

The Temescal space was most recently Blackwater Station, and the general layout remains the same. Teal, white, and yellow paint keep the look fun and funky — just as you’d expect from a Hawker Fare spin-off.

For now, Hawking Bird is only open for lunch from 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday until Blackwater Station’s liquor license transfers over. Then, the restaurant will open for dinner with its mighty impressive full bar.


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Drake's Dealership Launches Brunch with Pizzaquiles

by Janelle Bitker
Fri, Dec 8, 2017 at 9:02 AM

Pizzaquiles, a pizza topped with enchilada sauce and crispy tortillas. - PHOTO COURTESY OF DRAKE'S DEALERSHIP
  • Photo courtesy of Drake's Dealership
  • Pizzaquiles, a pizza topped with enchilada sauce and crispy tortillas.


Drake’s Dealership recently launched brunch service — and it’s heavy on the novelty.

On Saturdays and Sundays, folks can head to the Uptown, Oakland brewpub (2325 Broadway) for liberal spins on classics such as Duck ‘n Syzurp, a savory waffle topped with duck confit, candied orange, pistachio butter, and maple syrup ($16); Pizzaquiles, a breakfast pizza topped with braised short rib, enchilada sauce, cotija, crispy tortillas, and a poached duck egg ($13); and the Obligatory Yogurt Bowl featuring peanut butter and jelly granola ($9).

The drinks game is strong with Red Bay Nitro Cold Brew on draft, bottomless Beermosas, and other beer cocktails. They all ought to pair nicely with live music, which will take place from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. both days.


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Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Watch Oakland Chefs Tanya Holland and Tu David Phu Compete on Top Chef

For the first time, two Oakland chefs are competing on the culinary competition.

by Janelle Bitker
Tue, Dec 5, 2017 at 9:21 AM

Tanya Holland is one of two local chefs on this season of Top Chef. - PHOTO COURTESY OF BRAVO/TOMMY GARCIA
  • Photo courtesy of Bravo/Tommy Garcia
  • Tanya Holland is one of two local chefs on this season of Top Chef.

Tanya Holland utters the very first words on the premiere
of Top Chef season 15: “I’m from Oakland, California.”

For the first time, two Oakland chefs are competing on Top Chef: Holland, the chef-owner of Brown Sugar Kitchen, and Tu David Phu, who runs the pop-up ĂN: A Vietnamese Dining Experience. While San Francisco chefs often appear on Top Chef — this season, there’s Rogelio Garcia of The Commissary and Melissa Perfit of Bar Crudo — the East Bay has yet to be represented. (Preeti Mistry of Juhu Beach Club and Navi Kitchen and Jen Biesty of Shakewell were both living in San Francisco at the time of their appearances.) The premiere airs Thursday, Dec. 7, on Bravo.

“Hopefully it’ll continue to shed some light on what we’re doing out here,” Holland said.

Top Chef is the most widely respected culinary competition show on television right now, known for catapulting contestants to new heights. Phu, a longtime fan, actually applied for season 14 and didn’t make the cut. Producers invited him back for this round, though, and he found out the same month the San Francisco Chronicle named him a 2017 “Rising Star Chef.” Meanwhile, Holland
said Top Chef has been asking her to come on the show for years. This time, she accepted to help bring attention to Brown Sugar Kitchen as it expands to Uptown Oakland and The Ferry Building in San Francisco.

“It does open some new doors,” she said. “I’m always up for that.”

Tu David Phu said the show is "one of the best things" he's ever done. - PHOTO COURTESY OF BRAVO/TOMMY GARCIA
  • Photo courtesy of Bravo/Tommy Garcia
  • Tu David Phu said the show is "one of the best things" he's ever done.

Competing on Top Chef in order to promote new projects is pretty common for more seasoned chefs. But Phu, a former executive chef at Berkeley’s Gather with stints in fine dining destinations such as Chez Panisse, Quince, and Gramercy Tavern, is looking to move into the nonprofit sector. The Vietnamese-American, West Oakland native wants to positively impact lower-income folks in the Bay Area. He’s looking toward quick-service instead of fine dining — “food that affects the masses, not just the top 5 percent,” Phu said. “I’ve worked fine dining most of my life and I wasn’t able to serve and feed people I grew up with.”

In addition to representing Oakland, Holland and Phu bring welcomed diversity to the show. Typically, the Top Chef cast is primarily white and winners have been disproportionately white and male. One Vietnamese-American chef, Hung Huynh, found victory back in season three, but a Black woman has yet to win.

The chefs are sworn to secrecy about what happens the rest of the season, though they can speak generally about the experience. “It was physically demanding, mentally demanding, a lot in the way working in a restaurant is,” Holland said.

Phu said he assumed he had things figured out as a devoted student of prior seasons. “This season, they threw a few curveballs at us that I’ve never seen before,” he said. “It’s one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, but it’s also one of the best things I’ve ever done.”


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Thursday, November 30, 2017

Oaktown Spice Shop Expands to Albany

by Janelle Bitker
Thu, Nov 30, 2017 at 1:41 PM

Erica Perez and John Beaver outside their new shop. - PHOTO COURTESY OF ERIN SCOTT
  • Photo courtesy of Erin Scott
  • Erica Perez and John Beaver outside their new shop.
Oakland's most beloved specialty spice shop recently opened a second location in Albany.

The new Oaktown Spice Shop (1224 Solano Ave.) is a roomy 1,000 square feet, featuring custom shelving, worktables, and a counter built from reclaimed wood. Apothecary-style glass jars are filled with fresh spices so you can buy the exact amount that you need. As with the original Oaktown Spice Shop, the new location features custom spice blends and knowledgable staff.

To celebrate, owners John Beaver and Erica Perez are hosting a grand opening party on Sunday, Dec. 10, from 2 to 6 p.m. with snacks, mulled cider, and bubbly.

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Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Cheeseboard Alumni Launch Dimond Slice Pizza

by Janelle Bitker
Tue, Nov 28, 2017 at 9:12 AM

Pizza with corn, chile pasilla, onions, mozzarella, feta, and limes. - PHOTO COURTESY OF DIMOND SLICE PIZZA VIA YELP
  • Photo courtesy of Dimond Slice Pizza via Yelp
  • Pizza with corn, chile pasilla, onions, mozzarella, feta, and limes.
Cheeseboard’s influence has officially reached the Dimond District in Oakland. Cheeseboard alumni Artemio Maldonado and Dwight Ferron (formerly of Sliver in Berkeley) opened Dimond Slice Pizza (2208 MacArthur Blvd., Oakland) a couple of weeks ago, baking pizzas with a similar, sourdough crust and one set of toppings each day.

As with Cheeseboard, Dimond Slice is vegetarian with vegan options. You can order by the slice ($3.50), half pie ($10.50), or whole pie ($20). Toppings so far have definitely felt Cheeseboard-esque: fresh corn, cremini mushrooms, caramelized onions, herbs, and various cheeses.

It’s a no-frills sort of space — no booze but plenty of seating and, because it’s not actually Cheeseboard, no long lines.


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Monday, November 27, 2017

The Pain Shop Brings Tartine-Level Bread to Temescal

by Janelle Bitker
Mon, Nov 27, 2017 at 9:30 AM

Baguettes at The Pain Shop. - JANELLE BITKER
  • Janelle Bitker
  • Baguettes at The Pain Shop.
For East Bay residents, Tartine Bakery feels prohibitively far away. And Pizzaiolo often sells out of its similarly styled country loaves by 10 a.m. Thankfully, there’s a new bread destination in Oakland: The Pain Shop (482B 49th St.).

That’s pain, as in the word for “bread” in French, not physical discomfort. On the contrary, The Pain Shop’s loaves may singlehandedly lift moods.

Davey Surcamp launched Pain Bakery about two years ago in San Mateo, selling his loaves wholesale to small grocery stores. Before that, he notably started the bread program at Pizzaiolo. The Pain Shop is his bakery’s first formal brick-and-mortar, coincidentally located around the corner from his old stomping grounds in Temescal Alley.

It’s a tiny spot intended for grabbing bread to-go, but manager Meagan Ranes said The Pain Shop will start serving all-vegan sandwiches in the coming weeks. It’ll be an eclectic mix, with plant-based riffs on Philly cheesesteaks and banh mi, for example. Certainly, the bread will be the highlight of the sandwiches. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, Surcamp taught himself to bake from the Tartine cookbooks. While a side-by-side comparison would probably reveal differences, the overall technique and resulting eating experience are similar. The dough is unusually wet, stretched rather than kneaded, and becomes superiorly soft with huge air bubbles and thick, dark crusts.

I only tried Pain’s classic country loaf — a spongey, slightly tangy bread that required no adornment —  but the shop also sells a few specialty styles, including whole wheat, olive, sesame, walnut, and oat porridge. Those special loaves go for $9.75, the country loaf for $9, and half loaves and baguettes for $5. Pick them up from noon to 6 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday.


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Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Food Handlers Cafe Merges Restaurant with Classroom

by Janelle Bitker
Tue, Nov 21, 2017 at 11:53 AM

Rauch Grant seriously knows how to slice fruit. - PHOTO COURTESY OF FOOD HANDLERS CAFE
  • Photo courtesy of Food Handlers Cafe
  • Rauch Grant seriously knows how to slice fruit.
Food Handlers Cafe (1260 Rumrill Blvd., San Pablo), a new restaurant just outside Richmond, mixes classic Southern cooking with a unique business model. Most diners probably won’t look past the extremely affordable American breakfast spreads, barbecue platters, and burgers — the price point is about $8.50 per person — but in the kitchen, class is in session.

Restaurant workers all need to take a ServSafe food handlers course, and managers need to pass a 90-question exam on food safety. Rauch Grant launched Food Handlers Cafe so he could teach eight-hour, ServSafe-approved courses for hopeful managers in a realistic setting instead of a sterile room. “They learn in the live kitchen,” Grant said.

Grant has cooked in San Francisco hotels and served as the food production supervisor for the West Contra Costa Unified School District for about a decade. He has also operated a Servsafe online course and exam under the name Food Handlers Cafe, but combining it with a brick-and-mortar has been a longtime goal.

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