Clay with Your Food – Jered’s Pottery Challenge 2016


Chef’s Mis en Place

On Sunday, June 5, I was fortunate to be the guest of a good friend and fellow food enthusiast, Donovan Unks, better known on Twitter as The Dapper Diner. He’d been invited to judge the annual cook off contest held at Jered’s Pottery, which includes a trio of challenges designed to produce a victor in the kitchen. The challenges themselves are unorthodox, and the results were entertaining. Dapper’s fellow judges included Sara Paloma, a local ceramic artist, and Owen Rogers, a designer and partner from, a non-profit design and innovation organization focused on designing products, services, and experiences to improve the lives of people in poor and vulnerable communities.

The Chef-testants featured Kelsey Kerr from Standard Fare in Berkeley, Mark Liberman from AQ in San Francisco, and Galen Vasquez from Sons & Daughters in San Francisco. All were great sports, rising fearlessly to the various challenges, as guests watched while enjoying the wine and cheese provided by our host during the event.


Whole Rabbit wrapped in guanciale, ready for the kiln

In the first of three events, the chefs were tasked with preparing a dish in the kiln, which was heated to an intimidating 800 degrees. Chef Kerr prepared a simple dish of anchovies, and I was selected to be the taste tester from the audience. I found the sardines cooked to perfection, despite the unorthodox preparation method, giving the dish a thumbs up. Chef Vasquez’ attempt to defeat the blast furnace temperatures was a whole boned rabbit, seasoned with fresh picked herbs, and wrapped in guanciale to keep it moist, but it was the offering from Chef Liberman, a black cod steeped in miso, resulting in a buttery soft flesh imbued with stellar aromatics, that took the first round of judging. Fortunately, I was allowed a taste of all three, and while I found the rabbit delectable, I can’t find fault with their selection. The cod was spectacular, made all the more impressive in that it was cooked at 800 degrees, in a kiln no less.


Pottery Challenge – Pictured: (L-R) Jered Nelson; Mark Liberman; Kelsey Kerr; Galen Vasquez 


The next challenge was for each cheftestant to create their own serving dish out of clay. After a brief lesson from master “Clayboy” Jered Nelson, each bravely took to the pottery wheel. Results produced varied degrees of success, but they gave it their all and did pretty well considering the amount of time they had to acquaint themselves with the process and their lack of experience. The event was a rousing success with the crowd as the cheering and hollering from all present would attest. It was delightfully orchestrated chaos.

As a final challenge, each chef was given one of Jered’s creations on which to plate the perfectly presented dish. The products of this effort were mind-bendingly beautiful. The sleek and surreal shapes of Jered’s imaginative creations, upon which were placed delicate morsels of food in artistic shapes and designs, were sublime.

The winner was declared at the conclusion of the plating portion, with Chef Mark Liberman taking the prize.  Guests and judges finished off the afternoon with a buffet of okonomiyaki (a Korean pancake), kimchi fried rice and refreshing soba salad, all furnished by Namu (the folks behind both the food truck and Namu Gaji), it was the perfect end to an enchanting day. If you haven’t yet eaten at the restaurants represented, you should. If you’ve never checked out Jered’s incredible creations, that’s a must as well. I know I’ll do both.


The winning plaing entry, by Chef Galen Vasquez

Jered’s Pottery
867 S 19th Street
Richmond, CA 94804

Namu Gaji
499 Dolores Street
San Francisco, CA 94110
Phone:(415) 431-6268

JUHU BEACH CLUB: Bollywood Bliss in Oakland’s Temescal District

Delectably spice Tomato Shorba

Delectably spice Tomato Shorba

When I was a kid, my babysitter, Carol Neill, would tell us that if we behaved all morning, we would get a special treat. We all knew what that meant, a trip to Lake Temescal. Once there, we knew we would spend that summer day in a delirium of fun as we swam and cavorted on it’s tiny beach, burning off that youthful energy that children seem to amass in droves, with hours and hours of waterplay. In my young mind, it was a far off destination, and these outings an incomparable adventure. We would wade in with her three children, our steadfast playmates, and challenge the beckoning waters that lapped at the edge of its beachfront. I haven’t been back there in years, and imagine it would seem very small now indeed to my grownup self. But when I was a child, this was our private retreat, an oasis nestled in the heart of Oakland. It was indeed a magical place. Beaches hold a beckoning sort of vastness at their edges, the shore is a promise of explorations to be, and as children the thrill of picturing the imaginary creatures who might populate the waters off the shore never grew old.

Naming an urban restaurant after a beach resort, then, is high promise indeed, conjuring up the images of abandon and pleasure that one might expect from a seaside escape. Fortunately for her patrons, Priti Mistri’s Juhu Beach Club delivers on that promise. On a recent visit to Juhu Beach Club, itself perched unassumingly in a tiny strip mall, rather than on an oceanfront pier, we embarked on a journey of exploration of our own. We arrived on a particularly chill and rainy day, so one of the first dishes that caught our eye was the Bombay Sandwich, a lovely medley of pressed cheese, cilantro chutney, and beets played against a spicy chaat masala. The optional cup of Tomato Shorba seemed a must in the gloomy weather, and the warm tomato-ey spices were just the ticket. We ended up using it as a “dip” for almost all the other goodies that we sampled.
We’d have ordered more, but it’s only available separately as a dinner menu item. Definitely an incentive to return for dinner.

There were many appealing choices, so we were forced to “man up” and attempted to do our best at sampling as many variations as we could

master in one sitting. The sandwich choices allow for mixing and matching in reasonably priced combos, so we got two sets of three sandwiches to be split among the four of us, in addition to the Bombay. They are a nice sized sandwich here, just a bit bigger than a slider, but with that lovely polished finish one expects from this modern “bite on a bun.” This presentation is almost a “hamburger tapas” and it makes me happy. Like mini cupcakes, they are small enough to allow the diner to really get in there and try a variety of flavors, yet large enough to fill one up if you only want one or two.

Trio of Indian Goodness on a bun!

Trio of Indian Goodness on a bun!

The promised heat of the Vaga Pav appealed, with its potato and ghost pepper blend. We found it enjoyable, but not particularly spicy, which was a surprise. It had a kick, but nothing jarring, as my non-spice-eating spouse was able to enjoy it with us. I’m not sure this is typical, as I didn’t get a chance to chat with the chef to ask about the intended heat levels. The Chowpatty Chicken with its blend of green chillies, chicken and tangy slaw was a refreshing bite. We also tried the Holy Cow, which features the lovely melted beef of a brisket-texture to its meat, the fat of the toothsome beef offset well by the nicely acidic cucumber raita. My favorite sandwich bite may have been the Pork Vindaloo, an Indian take on pulled pork, gently slathered in a vindaloo barbeque sauce and finished with a nice yoghurt sauce.

Each sandwich was sufficiently different that we were continually bouncing between the flavors. I’ve never had anything but the classic Indian fare found in hot buttery naam or a nice bowl of tikka masala, so I really loved experiencing a lighter hand and more subtle take on all the flavors of South Asian cuisine offered here. The dishes were solid, and even though sampling so many in one sitting was a whirlwind, it was a dining experience we thoroughly enjoyed. The was indeed an adventure, and one I intend to repeat, and soon.

If you’d like to try something out of the box, but with all the love and attention of simple street food, with a touch of culinary genius, then Juhu Beach Club would be a great option to try in your own very near future.

Go on. Check it out for yourself, and make some new memories of your own. You know you want to.

Bonus dish of popcorn munchies, Indian-style

Bonus dish of popcorn munchies, Indian-style

Juhu Beach Club
5179 Telegraph Ave
Oakland, CA 94609
b/t Claremont Ave & 52nd St in Rockridge, North Oakland
(510) 652-7350

EAT REAL 2012 – Oakland’s Jack London hosts Food-a-Palooza! Sept 21-23, 2012


I met a reader recently who told me she wished she had my life.  While reading my blog I suppose one could be led to believe that I lead this idyllic existence, blithely roaming from restaurant to restaurant, meal to meal, cocktail to cocktail. It certainly seemed to her that my world was one of constant fine dining and never-empty glasses of champagne.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  But since it isn’t the first time I’ve left folks with this impression, I have to assume its something about the way I recite my adventures that convinces others that my life is an effortless one of food and fun times.  That’s not to say I don’t eat out more than most, though my eldest daughter’s recent nuptials have me brown bagging it more often than not.  Not that I’m complaining.  I find a meal of home-cooked succotash or soup as enjoyable (well okay almost) as a meal prepared by an artiste like David Kinch, whose Michelin-starred Manresa provided the backdrop for a recent triple birthday celebration.  (That details of that particular adventure, however, will have to wait for another blog).

I think it’s because I believe in thoughtful eating.  If a meal is experienced and savored, even a meal prepared at home from fresh but simple ingredients has as much opportunity to spread the love as a more formal repast.  Eating well is less about spending money or dining out, than it is about eating attentively.  Be present in the experience.  Take a breath.  Sit down.  Savor each and every bite.  Lastly, share your meals with someone whose company you truly enjoy.  That’s my recipe for great dining.  If I can pass on anything worthwhile, it is that our lives are too short to pine away for whatever it is you think yours may be missing.  Enjoy what you do have with those who love you, be it over a flute of French champagne and a plate of foie gras — or a glass of Two Buck Chuck and a burger.


The perception that dining at a Michelin-starred restaurant is the only way to enjoy a brilliant bite of food is something of a fallacy.  Though I hope I am fortunate enough to continue to dine with the best Chefs this country has to offer, I am no food snob.  One of my readers who owns a food truck once remarked “You eat so well, I’m jealous” I had to laugh a little at this.  I replied to her “But I am eating well because I am eating this” and pointed to the sandwich she had just handed me.  I was actually jealous of her, up in her truck window, handing out the tasty magic.  To me that is a charmed life indeed.  But that’s my point.

Senor Sisig’s magic is well worth
the wait.  In the long, long,
long long line…

The fact is, I like to eat much too much to confine my culinary entertainment to something I can only enjoy three or four times a year.  Fortunately for me, there are many levels of fine food, and not all come at Michelin prices.

ENTER, EAT REAL FESTIVAL, OAKLAND.  September 21, 22, 23, 2012

The staff at Tamarindo will
serve up nothing less than perfection

Held at Jack London Square in Oakland every September Eat Real is a celebration of so much of what it is I enjoy about the Oakland dining scene these days.  All that is vibrant and vital and good about my little home town.  Oakland may be San Francisco’s under-appreciated baby sibling, but these days she’s got as much to offer as her Big Sister City, especially when it comes to less expensive establishments, and that includes the proliferation of food trucks (although she still needs a giant clue when it comes to allowing the trucks a bit more leeway to serve up their wares).

A Chef doesn’t have to have a Michelin-star to rock my world, or even my tastebuds.  All he or she needs is good ingredients, imagination, and most importantly — skills.  Like any other art form, cooking with enough inventiveness to create a point-of-view is a skill that can’t completely be taught, so not every culinary school graduate can make the magic happen.

Eat Real has vetted its participants the best way possible, happy customers.  This food festival is jam-packed with the best-of-the-best of all the aforementioned food trucks, local brewers, as well as representatives from some heavy-hitters in Oakland’s bustling restaurant scene.  Every participant brings their A-game in eats, many offer classes in all manner of food-related curiosities.  Cheese-making, bread-baking, you name it.  This array of talented culinary artisans coupled with California’s gorgeous Indian Summer weather all comes together to create that which is at the heart Eat Real—  a three day journey to a heavenly food-centric Mecca.

I suggest you make time to experience it.  Chop Bar of Oakland will be serving up some (whole roasted) pig; there will be crepes from Brittany Crepes and Galettes, roasted corn and yams by Ear-Good Corn Roast, Indian street food from Curry Up Now! and, if memory serves me right, Little Green Cyclo and Senor Sisig will be serving up the longest lines (and some of the most amazing grub) ever to be experienced.

Admission is free.  Food is inexpensive (though it does add up) and cash is best.

For a full schedule of participants visit

Check it out.  Make a memory, and learn to make a loaf of bread.  Or make a memory about making a loaf of bread with a loved one!