CITY SLICKERS URBAN BIKE TOUR

“We’re not guerrilla farming, throwing seed-bombs and running away…”
On a recent Sunday I joined up with about 25 others for an event showcasing City Slicker farms organized by the newly formed art and community events group Local Social. A brief stint in West Oakland piqued my interest in City Slickers, which reappropriates dormant land for community farms. I was made privy to the tour via the sharply written and savvy newsletter of local darling, The Wine Mine. Let me get this straight, a wine-tasting garden bike-tour triple feature? I had no clue so many of my favorite things could be rolled into one activity…
City Slickers was formed about 10 years about as a response to ‘structural inequality’ in the West Oakland area. It turns out West O is a natural choice for this type of endeavor. Although blighted on and off again since the Depression, in prosperous times the neighborhood housed the most affluent denizens of Oakland. The dilapidated Queen Anne’s and other old Victorian houses boast gloriously huge lots, most of which unsurprisingly lie fallow. Disease is rampant in the neighborhood, which is exacerbated by the dearth of healthy food options. Though the recent addition of the Mandela Foods Co-op has been a blessing for the community, decades have passed with very limited options. Residents have turned to either one of the 40+ liquor stores in the area or the more recent 99 Cent Store which features culinary delights such as knock-off Hostess Snowballs and spicy cheese fries.
The tour was loosely formed, informative and entertaining. We toured 3 farms in the area. The first stop was the WOW garden on 537 Lewis near the West Oakland Bart station, a narrow triangular shaped plot. Following that we toured the Center Garden, on Center and 16th, which houses bees and chickens in addition to food crops. The final and most entertaining stop (maybe it was the wine?) was Big Daddy, formerly a burned down and blighted gas station. A long term resident told us a lot of funny stories as well as the fact that 18K of Big Daddy’s $30,000 start-up grant was eaten up on the fencing alone. CS obtains most of their cash flow through grants and private donors. There is additional revenue generated by sales of community farm produce, which operates on a sliding scale for local residents. The three gardens produce eggs, honey, fruit and vegetables. They all operate on a volunteer basis and utilize suped up tricycles with flatbeds for transportation.
The periphery of each garden features native ‘pollinators’ that serve to lure in the good bugs. The farm operates through the biointensive method, which functions by upping the nutrients in soil to maximize yield. This method relies heavily on worm-casing fortified soil derived through the onsite composting and manure. They also utilize two planting methods, inter-cropping and companion planting. They experiment with differing pruning methods on their fruit trees to maximize yield.
Another offshoot of CS farms is the Backyard Garden Project. In the past 5 years BGP has installed or set up the infrastructure for over 100 gardens in West Oakland. This service provides raised bed gardens, plants from their greenhouse and ongoing mentoring to low-income residents. Recently awarded with ‘Best Urban Farm’ through the East Bay Express, City Slickers Farms continues to enrich the city of Oakland via community building and outreach.
Required reading
‘Carrots Love Tomatoes’ by Louise Riotte
‘Worms Eat My Garbage’ by Mary Appelhof

Lee ‘Cubby’ Nakamura, Tokyo Fish Market


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Mmmm…..delicous monkfish. With a face like that, how could you not pine for its entrails???

Not too long ago, I had the pleasure of spending some time with local fish-master, family man, and all around likable Lee “Cubby” Nakamura from Berkeley’s amazing Tokyo Fish Market. Warm and well-spoken, Nakamura gave me the inside scoop on the industry. In the 25 years he has been in business he’s seen the seafood world undergo a myriad of changes . Starting out his culinary experience at the revered Berkeley Bowl, he moved over to Tokyo Fish Market in 1990. He eventually came on as a partner alongside Larry Fuji whose family founded the institution 46 years prior. The following details my conversation with Nakamura-san on all things pescedarian .

Do you have any thoughts in regards to sustainability you would like to reflect upon? The days of the individual fisherman are long gone. The fisherman can no longer make their boat mortgages of 300K or more in the current state of over-fished waters. Even the relatively pristine waters of Alaska and Canada are being threatened with plans for oil pipelines looming. Of course the contractors, developers and our own government will assure they are fail-proof. The fact is that accidents can and do happen as we’ve all witnessed time and again. No project is without danger.

So how about the mercury controversy? The importance of being aware of the safety of our food has been made evident time and again. To set the record straight, the highest levels of mercury have consistently been found in larger fish such as tuna, swordfish, and bass.

What do you see as the future of the seafood industry? The future of the fish industry lies in fish farming. Given the dwindling fish supply, it is the only true answer. As demand has increased I’ve seen prices soar higher every year. Of course the farming has it’s own set of issues and has received criticism due to hormone usage, questionable feeding practices and higher concentrations than seen in nature used by some less scrupulous farmers. With all food, one should research the supplier.

FYI: Salmon, catfish, tilapia, cod, carp, and trout are the most farmed fish on the market. Some of the more well known states for fish farming include Idaho (Trout), Washington (shellfish and crabs), Oregon (Salmon and shellfish), and California (striped sea bass

What are some things the average big-nose is afraid to try? Well, a lot of people are afraid of the Uni (Sea Urchin) mostly due to the texture, Tazukuri is also hugely popular in Japanese culture which you don’t see commonly consumed in America (anchovies in sugar, sake and soy sauce), there’s the tako (mini-octopus), and of course natto, which is very healthy (sticky/stringy fermented soybean with a strong smell and flavor). I was really surprised when the whole monkfish liver thing caught on..

Where does most of your (our) fish come from? Most of the market’s fish supply comes from Hawaii although local shellfish and crabs and salmon can also be obtained

What is your favorite fish right now? I’m reluctant to give it away but, the Scottish Salmon “Loch Duart” is just phenomenal

Lee’s top tips for selecting excellent fish

#1 Trust your fishmonger. Finding a quality purveyor and building a relationship is crucial.

#2 Flexibility. Many people show up clutching recipe cards looking for a specific fish. Remember, fresh is always best. Seasons change and with it quality.

#3 Be Adventurous. Lee cannot stress enough the importance of coming to your local shop with and open-mind. Be willing to try new things, you won’t be disappointed.

Local cutie serves it up at the market

Sam’s Barbeque, Austin, TX

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I suffered tremendously recently at the annual South by Southwest Music Conference in my former stomping grounds of Austin, Tx. Four days of drinking top-shelf margaritas in the sunshine, riding a sweet cruiser, wining and dining gratis and catching up with old friends under 70 degree sunny skies left me hungry for some ‘real food’ as my pa would say. I’m telling you it was rough… However, it the midst of this shameless hedonism, I vowed to share with my readers at least one culinary facet of this amazing town (other than the fact that Norcal Mexican food loses to Tex Mex hands-down!)

Anyway back to the topic at hand….I don’t think many Austin residents will argue that Sam’s is the best there is to be had. Salt Lick, Country Line, Artz Rib House, John Muellers, and Iron Works usually win that order. But, no one will argue that Sam’s no-frills ‘flava’ is unparallelled. I think Sam’s biggest claim to fame is it’s celebrity clientelle. The predominately black and quickly gentrifying East Austin neighborhood is more than a lil seedy. Of course, if you share my penchant for edginess you couldn’t be more pleased. Stevie Ray Vaughn was known to make appearances several times a week late night during his heyday. They are open late-night which further adds to the ‘dirty south’ charm (2am weeknights 3am weekends). After the clubs close, the place gets packed with hungry, hammered live music lovers. When I called to line up an interview, Wanda answered the phone and was warm, kind and more than enthusiastic to answer some questions. And they have free wifi, who’d a guessed?

As we rolled into the debris-littered parking lot, our mouths began to water at the succulent and distinctive smell of BBQ sauce and roasted beast. Making our way up the dilapadated front steps of the porch we push forth a rickety barely patched together screen door. Once inside we placed our order at the counter and settled into a creaky red painted booth. Between catching up and trying to distract one another from our hunger, my guest and I marveled at the huge number of celeb photos. My goodness, it seemed EVERYONE had been there. Beyonce, Bobby Brown, autographed photographs thumb tacked to the wall which miraculously survived a fire in 1992 (which the community raised money to rebuild) leaving them just a little smoky, like the bbq itself….

The selections range from pit-roasted pork ribs, house-made hot links, fully-marbled beef brisket, mutton, chicken, sandwiches or combo platters offering up meat by the pound with a gloriously thick southern style, smokey-sweet BBQ sauce, crinkle cut dills and fresh onions and the usual side selections of tater salad, beans and slaw. Viva la carne!

Barbara Llewellyn

I recently had the pleasure of interviewing premier Bay Area caterer and events specialist, Barbara Llewellyn. Llewellyn stays at the forefront of her field by remaining dynamic and taking a fearless approach to business. Her company is known for consistency, fabulous food, impeccable service and some of the most innovative displays around, thank you art degree.

A stranger to no job in the industry she has worked as a pastry chef, bartender, host, waitress and a resort hotel manager. For a spell, she worked as the room service manager for a large hotel chain, a job she assures me as the ‘worst job in the hospitality industry’. A job offer brought her to San Francisco and after taking a few years off to raise her children, a friends request to cater a dinner party led to more and more work. Eventually ending up in an uninvited visit from the health inspector which she casually recounts as a blessing in disguise. “I knew it was time to get serious.”

In addition to running her company Barbara does consulting work, speaking engagements and career counseling. In her current incarnation, she is known and respected for precision engineered events. However, make no mistake that Barbara has been through the trenches of catering. When plied for juicy horror stories, she recounts wedding-cake eating dogs, last-minute time and date changes, nightmare clients and all manners of past disasters that would bring her to her current echelon.

Can you tell us a little bit about your background in hospitality? My exposure began early when my mother started a roadside stand selling products from my father’s duck farm in Cape Cod. This endevour quickly grew into a full-service catering company as the area surged in popularity during the Kennedy era.

What are some of the more recent trends you have witnessed? Organic and sustainable foods are huge in this area, people want to support local farmers and be healthy while still having treats. When we serve beef tenderloin, it’s hugely popular. Miniatures and small bites are huge with desserts, burgers etc.

Can you tell us about the unique characteristics of working in the Bay Area? We are blessed with a bounty of exceptional ingredients and varied cultural influences. Business is competitive and it’s a challenge to keep up with trends. People love to see new exciting things on the menu but tend to choose the same items again and again. There is comfort in standards.

What are some of the most overdone trends of late? The chocolate fountain appears to be today’s champagne fountain. I have looked on horrified as children literally chug down glasses of liquid chocolate.

How about trends that you still find enjoyable? People really love the coffee and espresso bars. With the popularity of coffee culture these day, it can lend a really nice touch.

What would you like to see more often at parties and special events? An amuse bouche is wonderful in a world where people are charged for absolutely everything.  It is a delight to be offered one didn’t order

What are some frustrations you encounter with your line of work? Some clients have difficulty letting go and giving us creative license. Sometimes this is due to social concern, lack of adventure or fear of costs.

Any particular celebrity chefs or culinary figures that you enjoy? I adore Julia Childs. I really respect her for building a business based on passion. Martha Stewart is also huge in hospitality and entertaining.

What are some indispensable items in your home? I agree with Julia in that I believe salt, cream and butter are essential to fabulous food. Fresh herbs,light olive oil, red wine and balsamic vinegar and flavored sea salts such as lavender and rosemary can also provide an unexpected gourmand touch.

What are some of your favorite comfort foods: All comfort foods…chicken soup, chicken pot pie, beef stew and brisket, leg of lamb, scalloped potatoes, strawberry shortcake and grilled cheese of course.

Barbara’s Words of Wisdom: People in the same industry often work hard not to cross paths, which is unfortunate because when people come together they can often create something bigger. The learning and relationship equals any benefit. We are the no greater than the sum of our parts.

Last but not least, do you have any guilty pleasures we should know about? Though normally very disciplined, Barbara (like the rest of us) has the occasional slip up. There is the issue of quality-control, for one. After the rare but inevitable half pound chocolate binge she rationalizes by saying “it’s got to be the best, we’re not talking m&m’s here” That’s right, Barbara, your Nestle days are behind you.

Tips for the home host/ess

Rule #1 Have fun and relax!

Rule #2 Have an interesting guest list-variety is the spice of life baby! If you have everyone from the book club, then it’s a book club meeting. Put interesting groups together think …Sergio the rocket scientist, Greta the organic farmer, Mel the drag-queen butcher and Jules the artist.

Rule #3 Be engaging. When invited to a party thank your host by being part of the entertainment. Be mindful to be engaging, interested/interesting. Interaction, learning about others and life enjoyment.

Rule #4 Outsource. It’s not just for evil corporations anymore. Do what you’re good at and enjoy. Enlist friends or pay for a service for things you’d rather not deal with. It’s your special event and it’s meant to be fun.

For more info, visit Barbara online at http://www.barbarallewellyn.com

Russell Jackson Subculture Dining

“I’m turning into Homer Simpson…”

LA native Russell Jackson has stealthily been doing his thing with San Francisco’s Sub Culture Dining for two years now. This came about as a response to the overwhelming demand that resulted following a feature  story done on him in the LA Times. For years, the media has known Jackson was on to great things and soon his vision will come to fruition with plans for a bricks and mortar establishment. Plans are currently in the works for a hot new Soma location to showcase his own brand of California cuisine, which is spontaneous and ingredient driven. His celebrated career highlights international education, working with the likes of Wolfgang Puck and other celebrity chefs, and working as a private chef for A-list Hollywood. His L.A. based restaurant Russell’s was the subject of much critical acclaim won a spot on L.A’s top 100. He eventually found his way to San Francisco after being headhunted and then, after growing weary of working for other’s, came up with the concept for Subculture Dining.

His present (underground) set-up has been gone down on the sly about twice a month fro the past year. The single seating event of around 40-50 kicks off with a 30 min cocktail hour and 9-15 courses w a wine pairing option. Why aren’t you there? I don’t know. I recently sat down with this character who has not only been caught eating sandwiches in the shower by loved ones but is also a shameless and self-professed peanut butter slut…..

If you could only have three foods for the rest of your life, what would they be? Original Hollywood Spago Pizza 4 cheese w pepperoni, sandwiches and peanut butter or nutella.

Geez, you are really into the peanut butter nutella thing, what’s up with that? At home if they see the spoon next to the Nutella, they know it’s been a rough night. I don’t sleep, 4 hours is my average so I have to do a lot of grazing through the day to keep my energy up. I eat nonstop.

What is your guilty pleasure? I must confess I eat grapes all day long in or out of season. I simply have to have them even if that means commercially grown or imported. There’s something about the texture….I used to go through bags and bags of salted peanuts.

Junk food of choice? I love In N Out, I can plow through 2 double double animal cheeseburgers and 2 animal protein styles in one sitting at 4 am. Oh and grilled onions, it’s gotta have grilled onions

What do you eat that would shock your mama? As an adult, I enjoy liver and onions. Who would’ve guessed?

What are some indispensable kitchen items in Russel Jacksons kitchen? Hmmm…what could I not live without? My Shun Santoku knife, my thermal circulator, My 1000 watt Cuisinart mixer and……my ice cream machine. I am an ice cream freak.

What are some of todays most over-rated and annoying food trends? The whole gastro-chemical movement is seriously overated. I don’t want to eat my food out of a test tube or suspended in glycerin. In the 80’s it was all about height, these towers of food. When I sit down to eat, I want simplicity and straightforwardness. I want to taste the essence of the food.

Is there something you find grossly underutilized in todays cooking? Poaching

Who’s the hottest celeb chef right now? Gordon Ramsey

Any recomendations for our readers? If you eat meat, once in your life, you should go in with friends and buy a cow. Amazing, simply amazing. I did it last year with a few friends, it was about $3200 after the butcher, my portion was $800. As a bonus, I got the entrails. They didn’t want them, maybe that’s how I got to like the liver and onions….

Bakesale Betty ie Alison Barakat

bb5.jpgAny foodie in the Bay area worth her salt is well aware of the fabulously fun and spot-on delicious bakery known as Bakesale Betty’s. Helmed by delightful Aussie Alison Barakat and her theater prop designer husband Michael Camp (who is responsible for the kitschy-fun theme replete with ironing board tables). These days the couple have a new addition to their foodie clan in bundle of Joy Hazel Mary who is every bit as charming and social as her parents. Bakesale Betty’s is best known for moving upwards of 600 of Alison’s famed fried chicken sandwiches a day! One of only two savory offerings on the menu (along with the equally memorable chicken pot pie). Anyone who has driven by Betty’s on a Saturday can attest that this is in no way an exageration as the devoted circle the block munching BB’s famed complimentary ginger cookies. After leaving Sidney in 2000 where she attended culinary school at the age of 17, Barakat secured a position at Berkeley’s famed Chez Panisse quickly advancing to the position of line cook. Though she loved the job for the excitement and creativity involved, in 2002 she began a side project hawking baked goods at local farmers markets. As demand soared, and she began going to three plus markets per week she and her hubby realized the time had come to set up shop. Thus was born Bakesale Betty’s. In June the couple will celebrate their third anniversary at their current location, a 100 year old building at 51st and Temescal in Oakland.

What did you have for breakfast this morning? I’ve been craving the sticky buns like mad. A sticky bun w a bit of fried chicken….

Very nice, breakfast of champions. Any guily pleasures you care to confess? Oh, so many….I do eat top ramen.. and Skittles. I can’t get enough of them!

What’s your favorite comfort food? Hmmm…I’d have to say Vegemite. Typical Australian, right? It is getting hard to find though, the FDA banned it. There is a forum on Chowhound about it.

What’s in you pantry right now? Baroni extra-virgin olive oil, Diamond Kosher salt, Annie’s Mac N Cheese, Trader Joe’s chicken potstickers, risotto, pasta, canned tomatoes. Right now my husband is addicted to the Scharfenberger mocha bars, so we have to have those on hand.

What do you eat that would shame your mama? I think my mother would be horrified at my chocolate consumption. Chocolate for breakfast!

What are some indispensable staples in your kitchen? butter, salt, and olive oil.

Anything you see as being underutilized in the culinary world? Leeks. Leeks and bay leafs. Both have such lovely and subtle flavors.

If you could have only three foods for the rest of your life…? Fried chicken, lobster and chocolate!

Any personal food aversions? I HATE mayonnaise! We don’t use it in our egg salad and coleslaw. Instead we use oil and red wine vinegar with a touch of dijon.

What’s the most over-rated food trend right now? Oh, low carbs, definitely low carbs!

Fortunately for those Bay area residents not watching carbs,such as myself, the couple has set their sights on a second bakery location in downtown Oakland. And, when the lines there too reach around the block there are always those heavenly cookies to stave off your hunger.

Hello world!