Berkeley Bites

by Sarah Henry on May 29, 2010 · 27 comments

in berkeley bites,civil eats,school food

Humor me, dear readers, today I’m going to do a little cross-pollination.

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.

Ethical epicurean Michael Pollan, for one, likes the site. “In a remarkably short amount of time, Berkeleyside has become indispensable,” says the Food Rules man.

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.

You might also like:

Berkeley Bites: Mollie Katzen
Berkeley Bites: Ari Derfel and Eric Fenster
Berkeley Bites: Keba Konte
Berkeley Bites: Anchalee Natasiri
Berkeley Bites: Tanya Henderson

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{ 26 comments… read them below or add one }

Jennifer Margulis May 30, 2010 at 7:30 am

Reading this makes me wish I lived in Berkeley! (My aunt and uncle are there). I love Michael Pollan — I just ordered his book from the library and watched him in “Food, Inc.” — so any site that he endorses must be well worth reading. I will check it out!

And yes, I think you’re right that we ALL have opinions about all things edible and that we all have connections to food.

My association with food in Berkeley is ETHIOPIAN CUISINE. The best. Maybe you could profile an Ethiopian or Eritrean restauranteur?!


Happy Memorial Day


Sarah Henry May 31, 2010 at 8:44 am

An Ethiopian-Eritrean restauranteur is on the to-do list, Jennifer. Thanks for the suggestion. I love it when an out-of-towner weighs in on what Berkeley food means to them.


Sheryl May 30, 2010 at 1:42 pm

You certainly have something good going on with your Friday features. It’s especially nice since you clearly love what you do. And yes, food does reach far, further than merely eating it. I’d say that just as there are millions of food varieties, so goes the article ideas and subjects. How fortunate you are to live where you do, and how jealous I am :)


Sarah Henry May 31, 2010 at 8:45 am

Thanks Sheryl. And while we’re at it: You have a couple of admirable online gigs going yourself.


The Writer's [Inner] Journey May 30, 2010 at 5:50 pm

I love those profiles you do! I think it’s a great feature. ~Meredith


Sarah Henry May 31, 2010 at 8:45 am

Thks, M.


MarthaAndMe May 31, 2010 at 12:49 pm

It sounds like a great column. I like reading about the food scene in different areas of the country – it gives me hope for my area!


Sarah Henry May 31, 2010 at 2:09 pm

Good for you M&Me. Keep hope alive in your neighborhood.


Ruth Pennebaker May 31, 2010 at 1:04 pm

How fascinating to write about such an active food world — and you make it look like so much fun, Sarah. Love these profiles.


Sarah Henry May 31, 2010 at 2:10 pm

Why thank you, Ruth.


Alisa Bowman May 31, 2010 at 4:32 pm

The more I know about Berkeley, the more I want to live there.


Sarah Henry June 1, 2010 at 9:22 am

Hey Alisa, The town welcomes all comers and all types.


Margaret June 2, 2010 at 8:48 am

The Berkeley Bites feature is the best part of Berkeleyside!


Sarah Henry June 2, 2010 at 10:17 am

Ah, thank you, #1 fan and unbiased friend;)


Susan June 2, 2010 at 10:09 am

Sarah, this sounds like the perfect column for you. Congrats! I look forward to reading more about these people who make up Berkeley’s local food scene.


Sarah Henry June 2, 2010 at 10:18 am

Thanks, Susan. Yes, it is a good fit for me.


Jesaka Long June 2, 2010 at 10:45 am

What a great column! I especially love that it has a “small town” feeling–it shows that you can bring people together through food even if it’s online. Congrats!


Sarah Henry June 2, 2010 at 1:02 pm

Berkeley has a big town (versus small city) feel to me and food is a key way people connect and find community here — and, I suspect, in most parts of the world as well, whether urban, rural, or suburban.


Melanie Haiken June 2, 2010 at 8:49 pm

What I love so much about these posts is the chance to learn about someone who’s putting their heart and soul (and savings) into starting and running a business that offers something unique to the community. It’s a great incentive to learn more about all the great places around us that we’d do well to support!


Sarah Henry June 3, 2010 at 10:01 am

Thanks for raising a different perspective on these posts and an equally valid one, Melanie.

My hope is that food-focused entrepreneurs in town will read the “What’s missing on the Berkeley food scene?” question and consider business opportunities based on an overlooked niche in the edible market. Producing tempeh, running a Malaysian restaurant, or building a sustainable culinary academy, anyone?


Anna, The Lemon Lady June 3, 2010 at 12:15 am

Kid-friendly dining, grass-fed beef burgers…any suggestions for our 3 1/2 year old and a sunny day out and about in Berkeley? We love the town and travel from far away, the boondocks of Clayton because we know they know food better on that side of the tunnel.

Congrats on your new endeavor, Berkleyside. I look forward to following you over there too.


Sarah Henry June 3, 2010 at 9:55 am

Thanks, Anna. And congrats to you on the spread about your foraging endeavors to feed hungry people in your community in the latest issue of Urban Farm.

As for sustainable burgers in town: I’m not the best person to ask, since I don’t eat cows, but Amanda’s and T-Rex come immediately to mind. Perhaps Berkeley beef eaters will chime in with their local favorites.


MyKidsEatSquid June 3, 2010 at 1:22 pm

I’m enjoying reading all of your posts. You’ve definitely piqued my interested with the mention of the “under the radar” cafe. Even though I live far from Berkeley, the news that you’re sharing relates to other school districts too. I hope that the slow food movement keeps working its way into our restaurants, kitchens–and school cafeterias.


Sarah Henry June 3, 2010 at 3:34 pm

Good point, MKES, and I do think there is just the kind of trickle out (versus down) effect that you suggest.


heidi pie aronson June 5, 2010 at 9:29 pm

Try catching up with Robert Lauriston, a local food and technical writer who got so convinced he could do Italian as well as the East Bay favorites that he’s opening his own restaurant next month, called Locanda de Eva, in the old Mazzini/Zax/Maritime East location on Telegraph Avenue…


Sarah Henry June 5, 2010 at 9:39 pm

Hi Heidi,

Thanks for the tip. I’ll check out Robert Lauriston — and his new eatery — which is just a hop, skip, and a jump from my house.


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