Berkeley Bites: Christopher & Veronica Laramie, eVe

by Sarah Henry on July 16, 2010 · 24 comments

in berkeley bites,restaurant food

This culinary couple met cute at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris, no less.

He followed up his gastronomical studies with a stage at the prestigious Georges Blanc (three star Michelin) outside of Lyon, then the two headed to Miami, got married, and went to work at posh nosh spots in South Beach; Blue Door for him and Wish Restaurant for her.

They ditched the hurricanes and humidity of Florida for the cold, wet winters of Chicago. She landed a great gig doing pastry at Charlie Trotter’s, he held a top spot at Everest. But the Windy City’s weather exacerbated Veronica’s asthma and allergies. She was miserable. So they decided to go cook in Chris Laramie’s homestate of Colorado in the more health-friendly dry air.

In retrospect, Colorado was perhaps not the best fit for a pair with a passion for small plates expertly executed in a state that revered big steaks slapped on a platter. They dreamed of opening a restaurant featuring a tasting menu, just the two of them, he’d handle savory courses she’d dish up desserts, in a place they could call their own.

So when a restaurant buddy who’d relocated to Berkeley told the couple about a little gem of a space right next to his own gourmet store, the Laramies knew they needed to check it out on a visit to the Bay Area in March last year.

Welcome to the microhood. This single block, on a still somewhat sketchy stretch of University between Bonita and Milvia Streets, boasts quality eats, including exquisite confections at Chocolatier Blue (owned by the Laramies’ friend Christopher Blue, formerly of Charlie Trotter’s).  And, soon to come, a lunch counter called Slow, run by Kyle Anderson (ex-Charlie T’s too.)

The couple moved out here a few months later. On a modest budget, they did much of the work themselves to design their first joint venture. He dug out the dirt for the grease trap, she sourced the Chulucanas pottery from her native Peru. They didn’t pay full price for any of the fixtures and transformed the vacant space into a striking black-white-and-lime eatery.

Last December, the 28-seat eVe, an intimate restaurant featuring a fixed-price dinner menu, opened. A favorable review in the East Bay Express a few weeks later put the place on the gastronomical map.

This is not your typical Berkeley chowhouse. The night starts with an amuse-bouche (palate tickler), then you pick from three choices of appetizers, entrees, and desserts, all featuring pristine ingredients, exquisite plating, and enough elements to make a waiter work hard to remember everything that’s going on.

Two plump scallops sit atop an edamame puree with a sea urchin sauce. Or a mushroom risotto with huitlacoche (a fungus that grows on corn, considered a culinary delicacy in Mexican cuisine) and a blueberry leather. There’s some molecular gastronomy going on too (think foams, purees, and jellies).

The recent transplants — he’s 31, she’s 30 — call an apartment at 8th and Gilman home. We spoke this week at the restaurant, where the couple were taking care of business on their day off.

Is there anything significant about the name of your restaurant?

Chris: eVe is the start of something new, like New Year’s Eve is the start of a new year. This restaurant represents a beginning for us. We also like the Adam and Eve connotation especially because food was the original temptation.  And being the geek that I am, I like anagrams.

What do you enjoy about running your own restaurant in Berkeley?

Chris: The access to all kinds of produce is first class. The first time I saw 20 different kinds of citrus at the market I was just blown away.

Veronica: The community here is willing to try new things. People are adventurous, open-minded, and have a lot of fun with food.

How would you describe your cooking?

Chris: I think of it as neo-artisinal. It’s back-to-basics but reinvented. We’re basically a mom-and-pop shop, a couple running a little restaurant in the European tradition.

Veronica: We make everything from scratch, in small batches, and we take classic flavor combinations and turn them on their head.

Chris: Our cantaloupe gazpacho is really a new rendition of that old-time favorite melon and prosciutto. Our cooking is slightly deconstructed and we do have some molecular gastronomy going on but it’s not Frankenstein food, we do every thing we do for taste, not just for show.

What’s challenging about owning your own place?

Chris: We have to handle all the details — there’s always something to take care of, some fire that needs to be put out, when you’re a restaurant owner.

And I’ve never had to deal with the public before. But in our space, we’re right there, the kitchen is open, everyone can see us working, and our customers want to engage with us.

Veronica: Like Chris said, we do it all — we’re the chefs, managers, sommeliers, and front-of-house staff all in one.

What do you like about working together?

Veronica: We’re a great team. I dream in savory now too but that’s Chris’s domain. I do desserts and the prep. During service, I run the show and he does most of the cooking. I can be bossy but it works. I prioritize and he executes.

Is it ever tough working with your spouse?

Veronica: In a typical kitchen there’s a lot of cursing and insults. There’s a lot of pressure and no time for saying things with flowers — people speak bluntly to each other if something isn’t right.  It’s hard not to take that personally.  We’ve had to learn how to express what we need to say and not be mean to each other. It’s taken some time to figure that out.

Chris: Veronica has strong opinions and is strong willed for sure. But at the end of the day we both have very high standards and the same goals and we’re building something of quality together.

Do you cook at home?

Veronica: Almost never now. I don’t think I’ve made anything more than scrambled eggs at home since we opened.

So where do you like to eat on your days off?

Veronica: We go to Meal Ticket for corned beef and hash. And Zaki Kabob House for roasted spicy chicken, lamb hummus, and mint lemonade. And I get my Peruvian food fix by going to the city for ceviche and pisco sours at La Mar.

What’s next?

Chris: Family-style Sunday dinners on the back patio about once a month. We have this nice outdoor space that’s just been finished and we’ve noticed all these community gardens in the area. So we thought it would be great to have “dirt dinners” where we serve simple food — nothing like what we normally cook — in a casual setting at the weekend.

[Photos: Nick Vasilopoulos]

This post originally appeared on Berkeleyside.

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{ 20 comments… read them below or add one }

Frugal Kiwi July 16, 2010 at 11:18 am

Corn fungus? I’m in!
Frugal Kiwi´s last [type] ..Suckers-

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Sarah Henry July 16, 2010 at 11:36 am

Oh, I knew you’d be game for anything!

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Vera Marie Badertscher July 16, 2010 at 11:29 am

Wow! You’re REALLY making me want to go to Berkeley. Hmm, maybe I’ll talk to them about moving to Tucson, because we have a really nice Peruvian restaurant right here close to the cluster of best indy restaurants. Thanks for making me hungry!
Vera Marie Badertscher´s last [type] ..Cook Books Take You South and Southwest

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Sarah Henry July 16, 2010 at 11:37 am

Maybe you could pop up on your spin through California next week, Vera?

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Alexandra July 16, 2010 at 11:55 am

Make mine cantaloupe gazpacho. (I want to go to Berkeley, too!!!)
Alexandra´s last [type] ..One Thousand Posts!

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Sarah Henry July 16, 2010 at 12:14 pm

Sounds great for a hot summer’s night, doesn’t it?

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Almost Slowfood July 16, 2010 at 1:21 pm

Gosh, I want to come on over for an eating vacay. Sounds amazing.

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Sarah Henry July 16, 2010 at 2:39 pm

Please do, Almost Slowfood. It would be fun to meet — and eat.

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Melanie Haiken July 16, 2010 at 3:48 pm

I love that you asked them where THEY eat; that’s what I always want to hear from great chefs. Their choices can be so surprising, and lead to such great finds!
Thanks!

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Sarah Henry July 16, 2010 at 4:28 pm

You’re right, Melanie. Chefs don’t automatically nominate fancy pants places — they’re often after a really good authentic eatery with a specialty dish.

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Sheryl Kraft July 16, 2010 at 4:21 pm

What a great team. Loved reading about their inspiration for starting their restaurant and how they work side-by-side. Berkeley sounds like an absolutely amazing place for all things food.

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Sarah Henry July 16, 2010 at 4:29 pm

When you eat at eVe, which is a tiny slip of a place, this husband and wife duo definitely work side-by-side, and with such attention to detail, it’s not exactly culinary entertainment on the scale of Jamie O (or Gordon Ramsay) but it’s definitely cute.

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MyKidsEatSquid July 16, 2010 at 5:55 pm

Their meals sound so creative and interesting–blueberry leather, corn fungus (we had corn fungus tacos in Mexico, which is very traditional) so tasty, but to pair it with a mushroom risotto, sounds divine.

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Sarah Henry July 16, 2010 at 6:18 pm

It might sound like an unusual pairing, but in that case the flavors worked well.

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Ruth Pennebaker July 17, 2010 at 9:29 am

Excellent interview with this very interesting couple. I think most of us love the *idea* of owning a restaurant, but have no idea how much work it would be and how hard it is.
Ruth Pennebaker´s last [type] ..The Story of My Professional Life

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Sarah Henry July 17, 2010 at 11:43 am

You know, Ruth, one thing I’m learning as a profile more folks who work in the food biz is just what a demanding 24/7 gig it is — whether you’re producing artisinal pickles, cooking creative culinary fare, or growing luscious greens.

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Susan July 17, 2010 at 10:15 am

This sounds delicious! Reminds me a little of a restaurant here in Boston called Myers + Cheng, which is also owned by a husband and wife team. The concept is totally different, but the melding of two people’s culinary talents is similar.

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Sarah Henry July 17, 2010 at 11:44 am

I think that oftentimes being a culinary couple makes a lot of sense — you have the same long hours and the same odd hours off — and you get to share your combined passion for food, on the job and at home too.

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Stephanie - Wasabimon July 22, 2010 at 10:12 am

Cantaloupe gazpacho? Um, that sounds like the most wonderful thing ever.
Stephanie – Wasabimon´s last [type] ..Skimming the Surface- Making Decisions

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Sarah Henry July 23, 2010 at 6:00 pm

I know, Steph, doesn’t it? I didn’t get to taste it but saw it served up. Looked lovely.

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