STANDARD FARE RAISES THE BAR FOR
TAKEOUT FOOD, MINUS THE TRASH
BY SARAH HENRY • PHOTOS BY STACY VENTURA
Kelsie Kerr has the Chez Panisse pedigree: A former downstairs chef at the Berkeley restaurant institution, she’s also co-authored Alice Waters’ cookbooks The Art of Simple Food and The Art of Simple Food II.
Not surprising, then, is her venture into independent restaurant-quality takeout food called Standard Fare. Kerr promises palate-pleasing meals featuring local, seasonal farmers’ market ingredients, elegantly presented in reusable, oven-ready, earthenware pots handcrafted by Berkeley ceramicist Jered Nelson of Jered’s Pottery. There are even special totes made to carry the containers. It’s a minimal waste undertaking, unlike typical takeout.
The pots lend themselves to long-cooked dishes, such as slow-roasted salmon, braised duck, pork stew, or lamb tagine—meats that marry up better with reheating. Kerr’s culinary career has always celebrated vegetables too: Her path to pristine produce was set when she attended a vocational agriculture high school. Her love affair with vegetables may have started with ag but an enthusiasm for cooking quickly followed. So Standard Fare customers can also find eggplant terrine, potato and celery root gratin, or a vegetable medley tian in the mix.
Kerr occupies a front corner 800-square-foot space at the bustling brick building dubbed the Berkeley Kitchens, the historic home to a host of edible enterprises including Mission: Heirloom, Morell’s Bread (previously featured in these pages), and Shrub & Co (featured on page 44 of this issue).
Kerr has a rich cooking career: She’s done stints at San Francisco’s acclaimed Zuni Café, opened Berkeley’s respected Café Rouge, and even spent time as the in-house chef for the digital startup Good Eggs. Standard Fare is a concept that has been 10 years in the making, says Kerr, who acknowledges what she calls her “bizarre” timing now. She’s referring to launching a small culinary carryout at the same time that a host of venture-capital-backed takeaway businesses have begun popping up all over (see feature on page 34 in this issue.) “I just have to put my head down and put my heart into it; this is niche food that appeals to people who want a fine dining experience at home,” says the Oakland resident. “I could never compete with these online tech outfits, and I’m not trying to. But they’re also not doing the same caliber of food that I’m doing. In terms of price point: I’m much more expensive than a SpoonRocket or Munchery. But I’m a lot less expensive than eating at Camino or Chez Panisse.”
The business name hails from fairytales; a standard is what a knight carries into battle. But it’s also a play on the idea of keeping standards high or setting or raising a standard. Kerr says she wants to set the gold standard of what takeout food should be, while also dishing up simple, comfort food packed with flavor that people want to eat every day.
The food is intentionally plated, designed to heat as is. Kerr cooked gratins in ceramics and cassoulets in cazuelas at Chez; she wanted to do the same kind of hearty foods in traditional pots in her own business. One, to cut waste and two, because those piles of to-go boxes, bags, and containers post takeout dinner are vaguely depressing, she says.
The pots can stay at home for free for 10 days; after that there’s a $45 charge. But Kerr says so far so good: Most folks remember to return them on time. They come with a lid secured with a silicon gasket that diners remove before putting the dish in the oven. Soups, sauces, and salad dressings all come in reusable and returnable glass jars. Only salads are sold in cello bags, the one disposable piece of packaging in the system.
Will diners be prepared to pay more for food they eat at home? Time will tell, but Kerr is taking a gamble that folks who appreciate fine dining will bite. Customers run the gamut from young mothers and university professors to working families and people with special dietary needs. There’s been a gratifying rate of return visits, says Kerr, whose clientele lives in Albany, Berkeley, El Cerrito, Emeryville, and Oakland.
Kerr sources from a long list of well-loved local farms, including Blue Heron, Dirty Girl, Full Belly, Kashiwase, Knoll, La Tercera, Riverdog, and Star Route. Meat comes via the Local Butcher Shop, seafood out of Monterey Fish, and rice from Massa Organics.
Standard Fare is strictly to-go for now; delivery and pot pickup is available. Kerr hopes to hold pop-ups and cooking classes in the future.
Standard Fare: 2701 Eighth Street (at Carleton), Berkeley 510.356.2261. Open 11am–6:30pm for to-go lunch, dinner, and catering. Call ahead or order online: standardfareberkeley.com. New pick-up locations: Flowerland in Albany and Ordinaire in Oakland.