The “Vanilla Queen” Working to Save Vanilla from Extinction

vanilla farmer MexicoWhile consumers likely aren’t paying much attention to the source of their vanilla fix, Patricia Rain of Santa Cruz has long headed a one-woman army attempting to raise demand for real vanilla — the world’s most labor-intensive agricultural product and in danger of following the carrier pigeon to extinction, she says. Sadly, almost 99% of “vanilla” products are made from fake flavorings while real vanilla has a rich, complex aroma that’s far superior. Read all about it on KQED’s food blog here.

Naschmarkt Drumming Up Interest in an Overlooked Cuisine

Naschmarkt-meatsThis delicious Austrian version of a “mixed grill” plate includes a pork chop, white sausage, braised bacon, sauerkraut and a fantastic homemade pretzel.

(Published by South Bay Accent magazine in October, 2015.)

German-type food isn’t one of the first things that comes to mind when most South Bay diners are deciding where they want to eat. Or more accurately, they don’t think of it at all. Italian, Chinese, Mexican — these cuisines are well represented and beloved in our region but all the heavy meats and gravies that typify the vittles of the old Austro-Hungarian empire rarely get a nod. However, Austrian-born chef Matthias Froeschl has made believers out of virtually everyone who’s dined at Naschmarkt, his four-year-old restaurant in downtown Campbell. Continue reading

Mark Bittman Investigating Food in California

mark-bittmanRenowned New York Times food writer Mark Bittman has temporarily transplanted himself to Berkeley.

Published by the San Jose Mercury News and its affiliates on August 10, 2015.

That familiar face with the New York accent in a resonant baritone seen popping into Berkeley’s esteemed markets in recent months — and frequently dining at his “neighborhood spot,” Chez Panisse — is food writer, author, t.v. personality and columnist Mark Bittman, newly transplanted from the Big Apple.

He’s the man who taught us “how to cook everything” in eight thusly titled books and has published quite a few more. After moving to Berkeley early in 2015 — initially for a year-long gig that will be extended through next spring — Bittman wrote in one of his New York Times pieces that “I’d arrived in cooks’ heaven” — but his agenda is about much more than reveling in superb California produce. Continue reading

Is French Food Coming Back to the Region?

French article 1Published by South Bay Accent in August, 2015.

High-end dining typically has a French accent. Peruse the stars bestowed by the Michelin folks and it’s clear that the majority of top chefs cook with the rigor and refinement found in French cuisine, even if their menus don’t have “French” written anywhere. The mouth-watering reality of a lovely piece of protein enhanced by a luscious sauce — the essence of this cuisine — has appeal whether in a formal, white-tablecloth dining room or a casual neighborhood bistro. It’s easy to understand why eaters enjoy such cooking — “French food is very, very delicious,” explains chef Scott Cooper of Le Papillon in San Jose. Continue reading

Gluten-free Breads Without the Yuck Factor

Mina MakramElectrical engineer Mina Makram developed innovative gluten-free bread recipes as part of a home-grown regime that helped him lose 200 pounds. His creations turned out so delicious — a huge departure from many of the crumbly, taste-compromised gluten-free products on the market — that he ended up launching Ducks & Dragons, a micro-bakery in San Mateo that has earned a rabid following. Read all about it on KQED’s food blog here.

OCK Brings Yummy Small Plates to Pruneyard

OCK-rusticA very casual, noisy environment is paired with sublime, creative small plates in chef Jeffrey Stout’s new eatery.

(Published by South Bay Accent in June, 2015.)

Second acts can sometimes outshine their predecessor. Steve Jobs, Jimmy Carter, Michael Milken — these are just a few people who had remarkable comebacks after failures (or felonies). Deeply talented local chef Jeffrey Stout has also had a worthy rebound, with the result pleasing the tummies of South Bay food lovers.

The founding chef of Alexander’s Steakhouse, Stout helmed the pricey, white-tablecloth restaurant through growth (a sister location in San Francisco) for eight years until being dismissed in 2012. He was vindicated when the restaurant then lost its Michelin star, with further sweet revenge coming in the form of Stout’s new place, Orchard City Kitchen — nicknamed OCK — in Campbell’s Pruneyard, which has been an unqualified hit since it opened in late 2014. Continue reading

“The Mulberry Guy” is Palo Alto’s most local farmer

at marketThe most hyper-local grower at a Bay Area farmers market must surely be Kevin Lynch, “the mulberry guy,” who travels all of two miles from his suburban micro-farm (otherwise known as his backyard) to the downtown Palo Alto farmers market. Now local chefs are using his delectable fruit and he has expanded into mint-and-mulberry-leaf tea, jam and lip balm, among other creations utilizing this ancient plant. The only problem with his candy-like fruit is that he doesn’t have enough of it to satisfy his many rabid fans. Read all about it on KQED’s food blog here.