Every Friday, as some of you may know, I write a food post for a hyper-local (there’s a weird new compound word) site called Berkeleyside.
The site is run by a trio of smart folk. Both Tracey Taylor and Frances Dinkelspiel, who invited me on board, write regularly for The New York Times. And fellow founder Lance Knobel, also a writer, seems to know a thing or two about the techno end of things. I admire what they’re doing, and in less than a year they’ve built a large, loyal, and growing following. The site’s readership rate climbs more than 50 percent each month, they tell me.
All good. So I contribute the occasional post, usually on edible issues, and I’ve carved out a niche on Fridays doing a Q&A with a local food figure in a column called Berkeley Bites.
To date I’ve profiled a dozen people.
Best-selling cookbook author Mollie Katzen kindly agreed to kick start the column. I’ve chatted with Ari Derfel and Eric Fenster, who recently opened the hottest restaurant in town called Gather, interviewed The Jungle Effect author Daphne Miller, who’s new to the East Bay, and included pithy snippets from urban farmer-author and bio-diesel worker-owner Novella Carpenter. These people may be familiar names to you.
I’m also interested in giving a voice to folks who aren’t usually in the media spotlight. I’ve introduced readers to Anchalee Natasiri, who owns a neighborhood Thai restaurant that serves authentic eats. Anand Chokkalingam, a UC Berkeley cancer epidemiologist who turns out wickedly good artisanal chocolates, has also been in the mix.
This week’s subject, Berkeley Unified School District cooking instructor Tanya Henderson, is another such example. It occurred to me that even though these interviews are with people talking about local food, many of their interests, concerns, and comments resonate with readers far beyond the boundaries of this gown town.
Take Tanya. She teaches school kids about healthy eating and she just happens to work in a district considered a national model in the school food movement. So I figured my school food peeps might want to hear what she has to say.
Here’s what I love about writing the column:
- I learn something new at each interview. Just this week, Amy Murray, the executive chef of two Berkeley restaurants, the decade-old Venus, a beloved haunt for many locals, and the recently launched Revival Bar + Kitchen, told me about a great little under the radar cafe in walking distance from my house. Stay tuned for details.
- There’s a small town feel to the column, even as it deals with big picture ideas. And there’s often six degrees of separation between readers and the local identities I profile. Turns out chocolatier Chokkalingam’s kids went to the same preschool as a friend’s kids. And, of course, since Berkeley is home to the Gourmet Ghetto, anyone involved with food is tied to Alice Waters, if you trace their connections back far enough.
- People here are passionate about growing, preparing, cooking, selling, and eating food. What’s not to love about that? So are many readers, of course, so I feel I have a captive audience, eager to eat up what folks in the food world have to say about all things edible.
Don’t just take my word for it, stop by Berkeleyside on Fridays and take a look for yourself. Pending posts include an interview with the gal who coined the term locavore, a chat with the executive chef of a new restaurant poised to revitalize the city’s downtown, and a conversation with the chap who runs the city’s beloved farmers’ markets.
And feel free to suggest Berkeleysiders you’d like to see in the line up.
“Won’t you run out of people to profile?” someone recently asked. To which I wanted to answer: “Are you insane? I could write one of these a day until I die and still just skim the surface of all the peeps with something illuminating to say about food here.”
All of us have a connection to food and every one of us has opinions about all things edible.
Wouldn’t you agree?
[Berkeleyside sunset banner: Dana Graves, Photo Tanya Henderson: Pia Novales-Cook]
Many of my Berkeley Bites posts, including this week’s interview with Tanya Henderson, are republished on Civil Eats.
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