Each year, Edible East Bay asks readers to vote for their Local Heroes in a number of categories. Laney College Bistro won by a landslide in two categories!
Chef/Restaurant & Nonprofit:
Laney College Bistro
Want to have a white-tablecloth lunch for the price of takeout? Laney College Bistro, our readers’ Local Hero choice for both Chef/Restaurant and Nonprofit categories, fits that bill, offering delicious, seasonally inspired and globally influenced food served in an airy, pleasant dining room by conscientious servers. The down-to-earth prices encourage repeat visits even by those on a student budget.
So how does it work?
What looks (and tastes) like a restaurant is really a classroom, providing hands-on experience for the students in the Culinary Arts program at Oakland’s Laney College (one of the Peralta Community Colleges). Students here are training for professional careers in food service, nutrition, and hospitality. It’s an invaluable way to learn by doing, giving students the chance to troubleshoot the day-to-day challenges of a working restaurant before they get jobs in the high-pressure world of the professional food industry.
Throughout the program, students rotate through every position in the restaurant, from the front of the house (hosts, reservationists, and servers) to the kitchen, doing everything from ordering and inventory to prep and line cooking. And, of course, they also learn how to make the all-important pastry! In the fourth-semester Plated Dessert class, students prepare five or six showstoppers daily; the alluring sweets are displayed on a podium at the front of the dining room as a reminder to save some room.
This being the Bay Area, the school’s curriculum naturally includes information and education about working with local farms and sourcing sustainable ingredients. But such teaching doesn’t end in the classroom. For the past two years, the horticulture and culinary programs have worked together to create and maintain an on-site kitchen garden growing special vegetables for use by the culinary students.
Says department chair Lorriann Raji, “We are successful with all greens, radishes, and other root vegetables and herbs. We are actively sourcing our produce from local farms. We recently held a competition for students to prepare appetizers using local, organic ingredients. The winner won scholarship money. The baking program produced vegan cakes and desserts from local organic fruits.”
According to Raji, Laney is dedicated to supporting both its students and the surrounding community. “We’ve offered Thanksgiving meals to the whole campus, and anyone who shows up needing a great hot meal. Our garden is unlocked and we are open to harvesting by anyone needing some vegetables. Based on our strict budget requirements, we do what we can based on individual needs,” including donations to hungry student athletes. There’s even a Frequent Diner card, available upon request, which offers a free fifth lunch after four paid meals. And through the larger green mandate of Sustainable Peralta (which supports environmental sustainability at the four Peralta Community Colleges), the school recently started a “Scraps to Soil” initiative to compost all food waste in both the student cafeteria and the Bistro.
Laney College Bistro, 900 Fallon St, Oakland. Lunch Tuesday–Friday, 11:45am–1pm (when school is in session). More info: laney.edu/wp/bistro, 510.464.3405
Farm/Farmer: Terra Bella Family Farm
A dog named Bella; a baby named Eli; a white picket fence tumbled with flowers; goats, chickens, organic tomatoes, and melons sweet as lollipops. That’s just a little of what got Pleasanton’s Terra Bella Family Farm resoundingly elected as this year’s Local Hero in the Farm and Farmer category.
Run by husband and wife Shawn and Beth Seufert since 2006, the now-certified-organic Terra Bella is the only family farm in Pleasanton, an area where abundant former farmland has been paved over by development. Its inland location gives Terra Bella a long, hot, sunshiny growing season, akin to that of the Central Valley and perfect for crops like melons, peppers, cucumbers, and tomatoes. Starting with a 1.25-acre plot in Pleasanton, the farm later expanded to an additional six acres at the Sunol AgPark, part of the Park’s Community Benefit Farming program leasing San Francisco Public Utilities Commission land to local farmers.
The Seuferts started out trying to market their produce to shops and restaurants in Berkeley and Oakland, but over time they found the most satisfaction in growing wholesome, farm-fresh food for their Tri-Valley neighbors. While Berkeley diners can still find Terra Bella produce on the menus at Caffè Venezia and Three Stone Hearth, they are more likely to find them at eateries to the east, such as Chow in Lafayette, Amber Bistro and Jules Thin Crust in Danville, the Restaurant at Wente Vineyards in Livermore, and Eddie Papa’s and Handles in Pleasanton. Their fruits and vegetables are sold at Alameda Natural Grocery, a couple of Whole Foods stores, and at several farmers’ markets, but the Seuferts’ real passion is their farm-collaborative CSA (community-supported agricultural) program, now year-round with the recent addition of an 18-week winter program. Over 200 members come to the farm to pick up hauls of organic produce augmented by products sourced from three other local organic farms. It’s a community moment every week, as members (and their always-curious children) look out over the fields their food comes from, pet a goat or a clucking chicken, and talk to their neighbors.
The egg CSA, offering fresh pastured eggs from a 70-hen mixed-breed flock that scratches and forages outside from dawn to dusk, is so popular that there’s a waiting list to join. In recent years, the farm has hosted tours, workshops, tastings, and dinners to educate community and CSA members while showcasing the farm’s products. The arrival of Eli put some of these farm events on hold during the past year, but the Seuferts hope to get them going again soon—perhaps as soon as Eli can sit up alone on a tractor.
Terra Bella Family Farm
7637 Foothill Road, Pleasanton
Berkeley Bowl Marketplace
It’s the food shop you love—and sometimes love to hate. It’s a lot like Berkeley, after all: a little maddening, a little too popular to please everyone, but full of so much great stuff, you almost can’t believe it’s right here in your own backyard, keeping the East Bay well-fed since 1977.
I can still remember my first visit to Berkeley Bowl 20 years ago, just after moving here from New Jersey. It was late summer, and in the produce section there were plums as far as the eye could see—cascading plums in every color from glowing yellow to dappled crimson and eggplant-black. Red-fleshed, golden-fleshed, dripping purple and tangy rose-pink plums, plums, and more plums, and that was just one aisle in a grand sweep of produce, some local, some tropical, organic, biodynamic, conventional, big bags of almost-overripe fruits and vegetables going cheap, boxes of jewel-like berries stacked high, everything from horseradish to pomegranates.
When it’s in season, you’ll find it here, in multicolored, multi-varietal splendor, brought in jaw-dropping, appetite-whetting abundance from dozens of farms. The quality is top-notch, the prices fair, and the range of products, from conventional to organic, makes Berkeley Bowl a place for everyone, especially with the opening, in 2009, of the splashy, spacious Berkeley Bowl West, with its lively café and guilty little secret of abundant (even underground) parking. (Another secret? Big families, group house-shares, and those with a penchant for preserving can save a lot by buying produce by the case or flat, wholesale-style. No pre-ordering necessary; just ask a produce manager for a price list of what’s available.)
What can’t you find at Berkeley Bowl? There must be something, but as an adventurous, globe-trotting, health-minded cook, I haven’t found it yet. Need bergamot? Seville oranges? Xanthan gum? Bonito flakes? Tofu skin? It’s all there, alongside well-sourced meat, fresh fish, cheese, wine, breads, prepared foods, olive varieties by the dozen, and much, much more. So what if Saturday morning at the Oregon Street location is a bumper-car ring of aggressive Priuses, or the after-work, before-dinner checkout lines snake back a dozen carts deep? The buzz, the crush, the dewy green peas and frilly lettuces: it’s shopping as theater, as only Berkeley does it.
Pears and more pears, apples and more apples at Berkeley Bowl
Berkeley Bowl, 2020 Oregon Street, Berkeley. 510.843.6929
Berkeley Bowl West, 920 Heinz Avenue, Berkeley. 510.898.9555
Stephanie Rosenbaum is a longtime Bay Area food writer and the author of The Astrology Cookbook: A Cosmic Guide to Feasts of Love (Manic D Press), Kids in the Kitchen: Fun Food (Williams-Sonoma), and Honey from Flower to Table (Chronicle Books). She blogs for Bay Area Bites on KQED.org as well as on her own site, Adventures of the Pie Queen, piequeen.blogspot.com.
Nicki Rosario is a freelance photographer working closely with the Bay Area communities to produce imagery that represents everyday life to the fullest. To see more of her work go to nickirosario.com.