CHEF MONICA POPE
Travel Blog, Part 2 – San Francisco/Bay Area – August 2010
More Tweets from my summer travels that I never Tweeted.
(…continued from Part 1)
*Ah, Chez Panisse….what can I say….lots of history here. Very unassuming, copper, warm wood, an actual fire, everyone from kitchen to floor focused on welcoming you.
*We order most of the menu: start with bellwether ricotta salad with perfectly cooked romano beans and a carpaccio of both halibut and wild salmon with lots of lemon zest; wolfe quail with heirloom beans; sf bay squid, grilled, with purslane and padrones, green olive gremolata of sorts tucked in there; side of anchovies with olive oil.
*I make a note to ask Hans to grow both purslane and padrones for me. Stacey had a good run on padrones last year. I’ve been thinking a lot about what these 2 growers can grow for me (when I get back to H-town, Stacey tells me the story of the stolen padrones this summer…yet another devastation for Stacey – you remember the chicken incident?)
*for dessert: the fruit tart (nectarine) and the chocolate sundae (Lili just wanted the ice cream, but we want the caramel and toffee).
*Lili is still processing the experience at Chez Panisse. She had the pizza and ate it all. I keep reminding her that this is Alice Waters’ restaurant and she is the Mother of American cooking. She asks if Alice was “the girl” who made her pizza
*The other day, I told Lili she was a perfect kid and she stomped off saying people aren’t perfect; I said she was a perfect kid meaning she wasn’t perfect but perfect the way a kid should be.
*At Chez Panisse, she tugs my arm down to get my ear and whispers that, when we get back, I should tell people in my class that “people aren’t perfect but food can be perfect.” I think Alice will like this comment.
*We have plans to hear Alice speak at Toby’s Feed Barn on Saturday night; we’re all excited, but Lili is wary. “Is this the girl who made my pizza?” she asks again.
*After Chez Panisse we drive to Oakland to check out Camino. It was my favorite eating experience last time (created by two Alice Waters’ alums, but who isn’t out here?). All the food on the menu comes out of a wood-fired brick oven or the fireplace. It’s really simple food and also has the only sustainable bar in the country.
*The next day for dinner (back at the bay house), I sauté the mixed mushrooms from the Ferry Plaza and toss them with some tagliatelli, McEvoy olive oil, parsley and garlic.
*Tonight is our Alice Water’s experience in the barn. The series is called Food For Thought and has had such speakers as Michael Pollan. Big people thinking about food, then writing about food and now talking about both in a barn.
*Lili is fussing about going to a lecture and doesn’t care anymore that Alice is the girl who made her pizza…after all, that was days ago! Then she sees the hay bales and says she wants to go up to the top. (This is hilarious because on all the hikes she couldn’t stand the smell of freshly mown hay and now she wants to be in & on them.)
*So we head to the top bales. Lisa and I have our Green Kitchen books ready to sign.
*My friend Davia shows up first. She is one half of the Kitchen Sisters (they have a show that airs on NPR). The last time I saw her was in Austin when she was on her cookbook tour.
*The stage is set with two Japanese-California style outdoor chairs, a chest, beautiful flowers. There are probably 200 people in the barn. Toby’s Feed Barn hosts one of the top 10 farmer’s markets in the country on Saturday mornings (it also has yoga classes, a café and lots of hardware and feed).
*Alice arrives and sits next to Davia; she crosses her legs Indian-style.
*Claire Ptak makes the introduction; she is a young woman who grew up in the area and worked for Alice for 3 years and now resides in England with her husband. She is working on two books, one about candy and chocolates and the other about whoopie pies. Whoopie! She’s come all this way to introduce Alice.
*Davia wants Alice to tell us about the book she is working on now, since she had just been to her house with the manuscript all over the floor and tables. Alice says she has five people who came from all over the world to work intensely on this book with her. It is about the last 40 years of her life: it starts with her hearing Mario Salvo on the Berkeley campus and little ol’ Alice in the crowd too afraid to get arrested.
*Alice and her group are thinking of calling the book “The Gathering” or “The Power of Gathering” and we are struck ourselves by this gathering to talk about that gathering (or, at least I was). Alice seems to be glowing, like she’s sitting next to a campfire.
*Davia then directs Alice to open her chest — an actual wooden foot locker. In it, Alice has brought her most essential things for her green kitchen, wherever she goes. I have heard this story before but, as she pulls out each item, I am struck by her slight, sweet gestures: holding up her mortar (for which she forgot the pestle; cool, I think, I’ve broken all my pestles, or at least Lili has), olive oil, salt, pepper, her own vinegar in an unlabelled bottle, a bundle of herbs to burn in a blessing for the kitchen, a cutting board and a few simple knives wrapped in an old, mustard-colored napkin.
*Alice says that if she was going to do a TV show, she would dig a hole, put a grate over it and start a fire. She would gather extremely talented people and have them cook; she said sometimes it would be the right person with the wrong dish and then sometimes it would be the wrong person but the right dish and sometimes it would all just work. That doesn’t sound very Martha Stewart at all. I wonder if Alice would have women chefs on her show because Martha rarely does.
*Every once in a while, Alice just slips into another reality. Only Davia seems to be able to fish her out again.
*Davia is driving much of the program in that she is recalling all the events of the last few years: Alice in Vienna for Mozart’s birthday or Alice in Italy at Terra Madre or Alice at the White House dinners or Alice cooking in different people’s homes all over the city. Alice remembers one time when she was cooking in a house and was barking orders at some guy named Bob to go get this and go get that – turns out it was Bob Woodward. At the time, she had no idea who he was; she giggles now, embarrassed.
*That’s Alice in a nutshell – she says she hasn’t seen a movie made after 1950 that isn’t French.
*She has three people come to the stage to read the letter she wrote to Al Gore and Bill Clinton, which they ignored.
*Alice talks about the statement that Michelle Obama made by planting the garden at the White House. Alice implies that it was Michelle’s idea. Alice isn’t going to take credit for that, although she has written a lot of letters about it to the White House.
*She talks about kids and their connection to food, bringing up her daughter Fanny and the little things she used to do for and with her. She says “you want them to fall in love” – she means with food – and my heart actually hopped a little. In this big but cozy barn the moment seemed so intimate somehow and somewhat subversive. I felt like Alice could get arrested any minute. It reminded me about being in D.C. with Michelle Obama and 1,000 chefs on the White House lawn and someone saying we chefs are all “terroir-ists.” It’s a bit taboo I guess – this desire and need to re-learn how to feel again, engage our senses, fall in love with our world.
*With the low light and all this talk, it die feel that something RADICAL was happening. It must take Alice back to those Mario Salvo days and NOT wanting to get arrested for speaking your mind. I feel ready!
*And how bad could it be to be in jail with these people, and we’d have Alice’s cooking chest! And some local produce!
*The night is over. Alice dutifully signs The Green Kitchen cookbook. Lisa stands in line for me so I can say goodbye to Davia. When I go up to Alice, I remind her that she invited me to Italy for Terra Madre; this barely registers with her. It seems to me that unless she has someone in her ear to coax her, she seems un-tethered and hard to pull in, like a kite in very rough weather.
*The next day is Sunday and we’re heading to Marin for the largest farmer’s market in the country! It’s on the Convention Center grounds in San Rafael. There must be 100 tents or more. It’s funny but I realize that I’m not enjoying myself all that much; it feels like the Costco of farmer’s markets. Dizzy from all the ripe produce. Not so much fun in just smelling and looking and not buying and cooking and eating and enjoying – we leave tomorrow so no sense in shopping today.
*We head to Fish in Sausalito before driving back — we order fish tacos, grilled cheese with French fries and a crab roll. Lili can’t believe she’s drinking her root beer out of a mason jar.
*the next morning we say good-bye to Tomales Bay and head back to SFO, urban but still beautiful.
*We head to The Warming Hut in the shadow of the Golden Gate bridge (Alice Waters designed the menu).
*We try to go to the restaurant Greens but it’s Monday and they’re closed.
*We head to the Mission to visit Tartine and try to find the three hairless catsthat sit in the window of a bookstore near there.
*There’s a line out the door at Tartine, so we just peek in. We can’t find the hairless cats. Everyone we ask is very confused and of no help. I keep saying skinless cats (instead of hairless) – I guess it is kind of a weird thing to be looking for.
*So we head to the Bi Rite Creamery and get ice cream for breakfast: salted caramel and malted milk with toffee nibs.
*Next is Nopalitos in NOPA, that is north of the panhandle area – this is a sustainable Mexican café. We order hibiscus-orange juice, lemonade and horchata.
*Our waitress is VERY nice – I think she might be from Texas, but she’s from Colorado (close). She tells us to order her favorite – which becomes our favorite – the Etique: huge kernels of corn, charred, with lime, cilantro and cotija cheese. It has great texture and flavor to go with the house ground masa tortillas. Everything is really simple but beautifully presented. Our chips come dipped in chili sauce with onions, cheese, cilantro on top. It’s all about the nuances for me — the oysters in Marshall were like that, subtly perfect and nuanced in flavor. Sounds hoity-toity but it is a good word.
* We don’t want the food to be taken away but we don’t want to take it with us – this is our last supper as it were. Have to face reality at some point.
*We spend our last hours dozing in Dolores Park. Lili makes friends quickly with the neighborhood kids, one whose name is Monica. I can hear Lili tell her life’s story easily; all the kids seem to be riveted. There’s a guy drumming and another guy spontaneously joins him. Someone is blowing HUGE bubbles into the air. There’s a very well-behaved blue pit bull puppy being trained. Then it’s time to come home. The car ride to the airport is very quiet.