Berkeley Bites: Christopher and Veronica Laramie, eVe Restaurant

 

This culinary couple met cute at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris, no less. He followed up his gastronomical studies with a stage at the prestigious Georges Blanc (three star Michelin) outside of Lyon, then the two headed to Miami, got married, and went to work at posh nosh spots in South Beach; Blue Door for him and Wish Restaurant for her.

They ditched the hurricanes and humidity of Florida for the cold, wet winters of Chicago. She landed a great gig doing pastry at Charlie Trotter’s, he held a top spot at Everest. But the Windy City’s weather exacerbated Veronica’s asthma and allergies. She was miserable. So they decided to go cook in Chris Laramie’s homestate of Colorado in the more health-friendly dry air.

In retrospect, Colorado was perhaps not the best fit for a pair with a passion for small plates expertly executed in a state that revered big steaks slapped on a platter. They dreamed of opening a restaurant featuring a tasting menu, just the two of them, he’d handle savory courses she’d dish up desserts, in a place they could call their own.

So when a restaurant buddy who’d relocated to Berkeley told the couple about a little gem of a space right next to his own gourmet store, the Laramies knew they needed to check it out on a visit to the Bay Area in March last year.


Welcome to the microhood. This single block, on a still somewhat sketchy stretch of University between Bonita and Milvia Streets, boasts quality eats, including exquisite confections at Chocolatier Blue (owned by the Laramies’ friend Christopher Blue, formerly of Charlie Trotter’s).  And, soon to come, a lunch counter called Slow, run by Kyle Anderson (ex-Charlie T’s too.)

The couple moved out here a few months later. On a modest budget, they did much of the work themselves to design their first joint venture. He dug out the dirt for the grease trap, she sourced the Chulucanas pottery from her native Peru. They didn’t pay full price for any of the fixtures and transformed the vacant space into a striking black-white-and-lime eatery.

Last December, the 28-seat eVe, an intimate restaurant featuring a fixed-price dinner menu, opened. A favorable review in the East Bay Express a few weeks later put the place on the gastronomical map.

Christopher at work.

This is not your typical Berkeley chowhouse. The night starts with an amuse-bouche (palate tickler), then you pick from three choices of appetizers, entrees, and desserts, all featuring pristine ingredients, exquisite plating, and enough elements to make a waiter work hard to remember everything that’s going on.

Two plump scallops sit atop an edamame puree with a sea urchin sauce. Or a mushroom risotto with huitlacoche (a fungus that grows on corn, considered a culinary delicacy in Mexican cuisine) and a blueberry leather. There’s some molecular gastronomy going on too (think foams, purees, and jellies).


The recent transplants — he’s 31, she’s 30 — call an apartment at 8th and Gilman home. We spoke this week at the restaurant, where the couple were taking care of business on their day off.

Is there anything significant about the name of your restaurant?

Chris: eVe is the start of something new, like New Year’s Eve is the start of a new year. This restaurant represents a beginning for us. We also like the Adam and Eve connotation especially because food was the original temptation.  And being the geek that I am, I like anagrams.

What do you enjoy about running your own restaurant in Berkeley?

Chris: The access to all kinds of produce is first class. The first time I saw 20 different kinds of citrus at the market I was just blown away.


Veronica: The community here is willing to try new things. People are adventurous, open-minded, and have a lot of fun with food.

How would you describe your cooking?

Chris: I think of it as neo-artisanal. It’s back-to-basics but reinvented. We’re basically a mom-and-pop shop, a couple running a little restaurant in the European tradition.

Veronica: We make everything from scratch, in small batches, and we take classic flavor combinations and turn them on their head.

Chris: Our cantaloupe gazpacho is really a new rendition of that old-time favorite melon and prosciutto. Our cooking is slightly deconstructed and we do have some molecular gastronomy going on but it’s not Frankenstein food, we do every thing we do for taste, not just for show.

What’s challenging about owning your own place?

Chris: We have to handle all the details — there’s always something to take care of, some fire that needs to be put out, when you’re a restaurant owner.

And I’ve never had to deal with the public before. But in our space, we’re right there, the kitchen is open, everyone can see us working, and our customers want to engage with us.

Veronica: Like Chris said, we do it all — we’re the chefs, managers, sommeliers, and front-of-house staff all in one.

Veronica at work.

Veronica: We’re a great team. I dream in savory now too but that’s Chris’s domain. I do desserts and the prep. During service, I run the show and he does most of the cooking. I can be bossy but it works. I prioritize and he executes.

Is it ever tough working with your spouse?

Veronica: In a typical kitchen there’s a lot of cursing and insults. There’s a lot of pressure and no time for saying things with flowers — people speak bluntly to each other if something isn’t right.  It’s hard not to take that personally.  We’ve had to learn how to express what we need to say and not be mean to each other. It’s taken some time to figure that out.

Chris: Veronica has strong opinions and is strong willed for sure. But at the end of the day we both have very high standards and the same goals and we’re building something of quality together.

Do you cook at home?

Veronica: Almost never now. I don’t think I’ve made anything more than scrambled eggs at home since we opened.

So where do you like to eat on your days off?

Veronica: We go to Meal Ticket for corned beef and hash. And Zaki Kabob House for roasted spicy chicken, lamb hummus, and mint lemonade. And I get my Peruvian food fix by going to the city for ceviche and pisco sours at La Mar.

What’s next?

Chris: Family-style Sunday dinners on the back patio about once a month. We have this nice outdoor space that’s just been finished and we’ve noticed all these community gardens in the area. So we thought it would be great to have “dirt dinners” where we serve simple food — nothing like what we normally cook — in a casual setting at the weekend.

[Photos: Nick Vasilopoulos]

Each Friday in this space food writer Sarah Henry asks a well-known, up-and-coming, or under-the-radar food aficionado about their favorite tastes in town, preferred food purveyors and other local culinary gems worth sharing.

Henry muses about food matters on her blog Lettuce Eat Kale. Follow her on Twitter and become a fan of Lettuce Eat Kale on Facebook.

If you have an idea for a Berkeley Bites interview, send your suggestion to sarahhenry0509@gmail.com or leave a comment here. To read previous Berkeley Bites profiles click here.