Posted in Food, For Kids/Parent, Lunch, Peninsula, South Bay, Tips, Travel

Food Adventures Along Highway 1

I have no idea how we got here, but we’re already at the tail end of summer break. I had wanted to go peach, cherry, or strawberry picking with the kids back in June, but we’ve had way too much going on this summer. Time has just gotten away from me.

So after a few days of finally getting the chance to sit around and veg out, we hit the road and drove down about an hour along the coast to pick some strawberries. I was surprised they were still available for picking this late in the season, but I was determined to make ANY kind of fruit picking happen. I think it’s important, especially for kids, to know where your food comes from and to get a sense of the work it takes for it to get to you.

We’ve been to Coastways/Swanton Berry U-Pick Farms several times through the years with the kids, but I feel like this was the first time the 7 year old was old enough to understand and enjoy the experience. Although it’s usually windy (and it was) with the property being by the coast, we were lucky enough to have very minimal fog. The strawberries were tinier than they must’ve been earlier in the season, but they were fresh, juicy, and warm from the sun.

Four pounds of strawberries later, we were ready to eat and headed to nearby town of Pescadero to Arcangeli Grocery for deli sandwiches and some of their fresh garlic herb bread and olalieberry pie to take home. Yum yum!

One the way home we stopped at one of our favorite produce stands and picked up some fresh zucchini, cluster tomatoes, and my favorite local raw honey. And just next store at Repetto’s the sunflowers on display were just too beautiful for me to pass up. It’s like having a little bit of summer in the house.

It might be late summer, but it was good to get out in the sunshine and get away from city life for a while. We got some time by the coast, on a farm, and interacting with folks who work hard to bring us our food. You get a sense of gratitude, and it was good for the soul.

Posted in Events

Feeding Phil Rosenthal

Dinner & Dessert with Phil Rosenthal, the Steunenbergs, & the Mayberrys

If you love food and travel and you have Netflix, “Somebody Feed Phil” (and its predecessor “I’ll Have What Phil’s Having”) is required television. What makes it different from the vast array of food shows now on Netflix is one thing: Phil.

As the show’s host, Phil Rosenthal travels the world in search of great food and great people to share it with. Tough job. 😉 It’s his sense of humor and desire to make new friends that makes the show special. He’s so relatable, so down to earth, you’d swear he was just one of your neighbors from down the street.

Except he’s not.

He’s a multiple Emmy Award winner for his work on one of the most successful sitcoms in television history, “Everybody Loves Raymond,” which he created, wrote, and executive produced. And now he’s nominated for yet another Emmy Award, this time for “Somebody Feed Phil.” No big thing.

If you haven’t already guessed, my family and I are big fans of the show. So when Phil started a contest asking fans to make a one minute video telling him why he should visit the winner(s) to share a meal, my oldest daughter nagged me to enter. A few days later, I got an idea for the story I wanted to tell in the video and the script just came to me. It took me less than 15 minutes to write, which never happens. Maybe it was meant to be.

Our video told the story of our family (the Mayberrys) and our former neighbors (the Steunenbergs), who have since become so close to us that we practically consider them family. Our mutual love of food and sharing a meal has helped foster that relationship. Once I uploaded it to Instagram, it didn’t take long for Phil to comment on the video. We were thrilled we even got his attention! But that wasn’t the end of it…

On May 1st, he announced that there were six winners, and one of them was us. We couldn’t believe it!

Phil, the kids, and a lot of culinary damage.

Three months later, we finally got the chance to nosh with Phil and his friend Jeff Strauss (@jeffs___table). Everything Phil was on TV was everything he was in person, only better. He was personable, curious, genuine, and he loved it when the kids got up the nerve to sing the show’s theme song to him. Regardless of his status as a public figure, both he and Jeff seemed to truly enjoy our company and the conversation, and the feeling was mutual. By the end of the night, we’d realized that our time together was no longer a contest prize, it was a dinner among friends.

Only time will tell if we will ever have the pleasure of breaking bread with Phil or Jeff again. But regardless, it made us realize how rare it is to meet truly good people, and what a gift it is when you do.

“Thank you for being the world’s best family.
Love, Phil Rosenthal”
Posted in Dinner, Food, Lunch, Review, San Francisco, Street Food, Tips, Travel

Food Adventures in Chinatown

Roasted meats in the window of Kam Po Kitchen in SF Chinatown.

Back when dinosaurs roamed the earth, popular Asian supermarkets like 99 Ranch, Marina, or HMart didn’t exist. But Chinese food did, and as a home cook, you needed to go somewhere to find all the “foreign” produce and supplies you needed to make a decent Chinese meal at home. So my family and I traveled to San Francisco’s Chinatown every Saturday afternoon from the suburbs to do just that. That tradition of sorts continued every weekend into my early teens, and I haven’t really been back regularly since. You see, all the popular, modern, and frankly better Chinese restaurants planted themselves either outside of Chinatown or even outside of S.F. altogether, following younger, newer immigrants into the suburbs who wanted bigger houses and better schools. And with items like bok choi and ramen easily accessible at almost any neighborhood grocery store, Chinatown got a bit left behind. That’s why you’ll see either tourists (Grant Ave.) or older Chinese folks (Stockton St.) in the area these days. And to be honest, if you’re looking for exceptional Chinese food, you won’t find it here.

However, I was recently inspired to scope out some notable exceptions. So I dragged my family and friends to Chinatown for a short food crawl. After visiting a few bakeries, dim sum shops, and the like, we had two clear cut winners. (And Golden Gate Bakery was not open, so no classic Egg Tarts this time around. 😦 )

We LOVED Kam Po Kitchen (801 Broadway & Powell in San Francisco). Why? Just look at the pics! Beef Chow Fun, Wonton Noodle Soup, Hong Kong Style (crispy) Tomato Beef Chow Mein, Gai Lan (greens) with Oyster Sauce, and some exceptional Roast Duck made for a terrific traditional Cantonese lunch. I equate places like this, where they have roasted meats hanging in the window, to a Chinese deli. The food is casual, unfussy, affordable, comforting, and delicious. Ironically, places that do this type of food well are not as easy to find around the Bay Area anymore. We also spotted locals lining up out the door to grab some roasted meats to go. If you’re in the area, skip the kitschy tourist traps on Grant Ave. and head up here. It’s worth it.

Various goodies from Dim Sum Bistro

If you’re wanting some grab and go dim sum, Dim Sum Bistro (675 Broadway St, S.F.) was our favorite of the places we tried. They had fresh, tasty items like Steamed Chive and Shrimp Dumplings, Shrimp & Pork Siu Mai, Sesame Balls filled with sweet red bean paste, and my childhood favorite, White Sugar Cake (which is really hard to find these days). Seating is very limited, and frankly, you’d be better off just getting it to go instead. It’s crowded and there’s nothing in the way of ambiance here.

The Chinatown of my childhood really hasn’t changed much. And in the case of these delicious delicacies, that can be a very good thing.

Posted in Uncategorized

Life After Gourmet is Good: A Chat With Ruth Reichl

Ruth Reichl. Photo: Fiona Aboud
Photo: Fiona Aboud

*Originally published on Mar 31, 2011 at KQED Food/Bay Area Bites.

Ruth Reichl is one of the most influential names in food. Her storied career includes stints at the Los Angeles Times as a restaurant critic and food editor, as well as the restaurant critic for the New York Times. She is also the author of five bestselling books, the recipient of six James Beard Awards, and spent 10 years as the Editor-in-chief of the now defunct Gourmet magazine.

But as any resilient woman will tell you, when one door closes, a few other doors open. She’s now an editor-at-large for the mega-publisher, Random House, is currently writing three new books, and on April 6th, will make her debut as one of the new judges on Top Chef Masters.

She was kind enough to carve out some time to chat with me while on a recent trip to Palo Alto for a speaking engagement. I asked her about how life has changed since the closing of Gourmet magazine, how she feels about food bloggers, and what she really thinks about Ruth Bourdain.

ELAINE: What was life like after Gourmet magazine shut its doors?

RUTH: At first I thought, “Oh my God, I’ll never have another job!” and I immediately made a deal to write three books, which I’m working on, and that’s great. I’m finishing my first fiction novel, and I promised to write a cookbook and then a memoir about my time at Gourmet and its closing.

But then about eight months after the magazine closed, I was literally getting a job offer a day. The most interesting is one I can’t talk about. Let’s just say it’ll be the food magazine of my dreams. I’m very lucky. (NOTE: We know now that Ms. Reichl will be running the Gilt Groupe’s “Gilt Taste” website.)

ELAINE: And you’re going to be on Top Chef Masters! What made you want to take that offer?

RUTH: I just thought it would be fun! I was kind of curious about how reality shows worked and it seemed like a learning experience. But I had already agreed to be a fellow at Dartmouth, so I’m not in every single episode.

ELAINE: What was the experience like?

RUTH: Top Chef Masters was such a surprise. They could not have been more passionate and respectful of the chefs, judges, guests and I loved every minute of it. And they take it all very seriously. I thought the judges would surely have to lean on the producers to make the decisions about who gets cut, and the producer probably would’ve liked a different outcome in some cases, but I never heard it from them.

And Curtis Stone (the new host) is so good looking, you’d think he had to be an idiot. But he’s so smart and has a heart of gold. He’s honestly one of the sweetest people I’ve ever met. He insisted on cooking for the entire crew a multi-course meal after the show wrapped. He’s totally for real. I was so sorry when it was all over. It felt like family. You really get to know everyone. It’s very intimate.

ELAINE: What are your thoughts on the new Gourmet Live app for the iPad?

RUTH: …I’m not going to say. It is what it is.

ELAINE: What do you think about the new generation of food bloggers? Are they changing the landscape of food writing in general?

RUTH: A lot of them are really, really good. I think it’s changed for restaurant critiquing in particular. You can read 30 reviews and make up your mind yourself. A professional restaurant critic’s word shouldn’t matter that much. People should bring their own intelligence to it. What real criticism should do is give you a better way to appreciate food and give you the tools you need to enhance your experience, good or bad. And food bloggers have put the burden back on the professionals to be good educators and good writers, and maybe even be a little bit more humble about their own opinions.

ELAINE: You’re fairly active on Twitter. Why do you use it?

RUTH: I just don’t have time to keep up with so many blogs. But if someone I follow on Twitter tells me to read something on a blog, I will! I love the social and political aspects. There are people I don’t see much but I keep up with them on Twitter. And as a writer, I feel like there’s a voice that I didn’t know I had using Twitter. There’s a real discipline to putting something into 140 characters. I’m trying to actually make a word picture in 140 characters and it’s been really fun for me. It turns out to be a very natural voice for me.

ELAINE: What do you think of Ruth Bourdain getting nominated for a James Beard Award this year for Humor?

RUTH: I think it’s great! I agree with Tony Bourdain! If we can’t have fun with food, what are we gonna have fun with? I hope he/she wins so they’ll have to get up and accept the award!

But I actually think it’s a “he,” and I don’t think it’s any of the people that have been talked about. I think all the theories about who this person is are all wrong.

ELAINE: As a former Bay Area resident, what do you miss about the area?

RUTH: At the moment, if you go to the farmers market in New York there’s not much. In the Bay Area you’re spoiled with fresh produce year round. I really miss that. And there’s an incredible energy with farmers and food producers here. There’s a great artisan food community here that you don’t get anywhere else.

Posted in Uncategorized

Jacques Pépin’s new book explores the connection between food and family

Jacques Pépin's new book explores the

*Originally published on October 26, 2015 at SheKnows.com.

I’ll admit, my motivation for wanting to interview Chef Jacques Pépin was completely selfish. I remember as a teen watching his cooking shows with my mom and brother on the couch every weekend. As an adult, I’ve continued to watch him prepare classic French dishes on television with a level of ease and comfort that make even a complicated meal seem attainable. His style is effortless and personable, as if you were right there in the kitchen with him.

Now, with his 25th cookbook, Jacques Pépin: Heart & Soul in the Kitchen, and accompanying PBS television series, I finally got the chance to talk to this award-winning master chef. His latest project is a true labor of love that provides a narrative of his life through food, family, friends and his own artwork.

Jacques Pépin: Well, I may not stop entirely. I mentioned that I wouldn’t be doing another big cookbook like Heart and Soul and an accompanying television show with 26 episodes again. The book took about three years. Hopefully, I’ll do a smaller project, like something with my granddaughter where I give her lessons on cooking or something. But hopefully, I’ll slow down a bit.

SK: Heart and Soul seems like it’s just as much the story of your life as it is a cookbook. Was that intentional?

JP: It was an intentional decision. I did a book called The Apprentice [his autobiography], and this is a bit of an extension of this. I’ve done so many books and television series focused on food, like entertaining or making fast food. With Heart and Soul, I just wanted to reminisce. That’s why we have stories about my friends, what I cook with my daughter and granddaughter, what I cook at home or for my wife. There’s all kinds of things in this cookbook, so it’s a bit all over the place: from Puerto Rican inspired dishes (his wife Gloria is of Puerto Rican and Cuban decent) to Mexican, or Chinese or Japanese. Basically, I had no limits here with this cookbook. This is what I like to cook at home. I like all the books that I’ve done, but here there was a lot more family involved: my best friend Jean Claude Szurdak, my daughter Claudine, my granddaughter Shorey and my wife Gloria. So in that sense, it was closer to me.

SK: Heart and Soul definitely comes off that way. It seems much more special and comforting to read.

JP: Thank you! That’s the reason I put a lot of my artwork and illustrated menus in it because it shows different parts of my life.

SK: Speaking of that, there is a lot of your artwork in this cookbook. Tell me a little bit about what sort of place art has in your life.

JP: When you open the book, there are two menus. After 50 years of marriage, we have seven or eight big books of hand written and illustrated menus. We got into the habit after we got married, when people came to our house, we wrote the menu out and we’d have our guests sign the opposite page. Sometimes, I’d illustrate them, sometimes I didn’t. It’s a journey through our life. It’s very personal, so we wanted to put some of that into the book.

SK: What has it been like to have both your daughter, Claudine, and your granddaughter, Shorey, on your new show? You’ve got three generations of your family on the show!

JP: I just watched the third show in the series, and I’m cooking with Claudine. Shorey was in an episode before that for this series. It’s fun certainly. Again, it makes it more personal. They wanted to come on the show. The only one who doesn’t want to cook on TV with me is my wife, Gloria. She’s extremely private. She hates being on television.

SK: What are your plans now that you’re retiring from television?

JP: I still teach at Boston University, where I’ve been for 33 years. I’m still teaching at the French Culinary Institute. I’m the culinary director for Oceana Cruises. And I’ll still do a lot of food and wine events. I’ll still be really busy.

SK: You’ve mentioned before that some “celebrity chefs” can spend too much time on the “celebrity,” and not enough on the cooking. Who are some of your favorite well known chefs that you’re a fan of right now?

JP: Oh my gosh, there’s so many! Thomas Keller is probably the best chef in America. There’s Jean-Georges Vongerichten and Daniel Boulud. And there’s a group of us PBS chefs who are still teaching people like Lidia Bastianich, Ming Tsai and Rick Bayless. They’re great cooks and great teachers.

SK: Do you think part of being a good “celebrity chef” is about teaching and mentoring, as well?

JP: Well, it depends on your own style and character. I’m not an actor. I can’t be different than I am. Some people find my shows boring, and that’s fine with me. You can’t please everybody. Some chefs get crazy or overly fancy with their array of food, which I’m not particularly interested in. And confrontation in the kitchen isn’t my thing. I feel there’s a great deal of yourself and who you are when you’re cooking. So, the yelling is not condusive to my cooking. I know it’s television and people want that kind of entertainment. But it’s not really my style.

SK: When you’re relaxing at home with no obligations, what is your ideal meal? Would you cook or would someone else be doing the cooking?

JP: Usually I cook at home, or my wife. If she’s cooking in the kitchen and I come in, she usually tells me not to touch anything! But otherwise, what we cook is determined by the season, by the garden, by the market and by our mood. Sometimes, you’re in the mood for a soup or a stew because it’s cold. Sometimes, you want a fresh tomato out of the garden just with a bit of olive oil on top. Sometimes, you have a hangover and you want something else. But usually, it’ll be food I can recognize that is relatively simply cooked without too much embellishment on the plate.

SK: Is there anything you’d like to tell your fans who have followed your career?

JP: Well, my goal is to bring a smile to the face of someone. I hope they’re happy with what I’ve done, or follow one of my recipes and make it their own. That is gratifying for me.

Jacques Pépin’s latest cookbook, Jacques Pépin: Heart & Soul in the Kitchen, is available in bookstores now. The accompanying television series of the same name airs on PBS. Check your local listings.