Top food stories from Berkeley in 2011

Contributing photographer Christina Diaz captured many of the best of Berkeleyside's edible images this year, including the fine food on offer at the Chez Panisse 40th anniversary

As the year draws to a close, it’s time to look back to see what food stories created a buzz around town and on Berkeleyside in 2011.

Granted, there’s an arbitrary nature to such end-of-year lists. But it’s an opportunity to take stock of the city’s culinary culture.

For the purposes of this post we’ve focused on food news stories, which doesn’t take into account the dozens of interviews with foragers, farmers, artisans, advocates, chefs, cooking teachers, preservers, pasta makers, cheese purveyors, pop-up restaurateurs, and farmers’ market vendors we’ve published during 2011.

This year also saw controversial coverage of corner stores, reporting on detractors of school food, an insider’s take on speed dating with a veg-friendly focus, and a widely criticized first-person piece on disappointing camp chow.

Readers may differ on what food stories caught their attention. Feel free to add your own highlights (or low points) in the comments section.

In alphabetical order:

1. Alice Waters and Chez Panisse celebrate: Alice Waters was here, there, and everywhere in August, which marked the 40th anniversary of her iconic restaurant Chez Panisse, which Berkeleyside (and other media) covered in myriad ways. The restaurateur and school food advocate also made breakfast for Michelle Obama (eggs and toast), lunch for the downtown crowd at her Levi’s T-shirt launch (rustic sandwiches with pristine, locally sourced ingredients, naturally) and dinner for Chinese cultural luminaries (herb-flecked flatbread, hand-pulled mozzarella). Waters sought to educate adults as well with a series of lectures sponsored by her foundation at UC Berkeley as part of Edible Education 101. Oh, and the U.S. Surgeon General popped by the Edible Schoolyard for good measure.

2. Andronico’s closes: The Berkeley-based grocery chain, open more than 80 years, shuttered both its University  and Telegraph Avenue stores this fall with some 55 employees losing jobs. New owners pledge to spiff up the remaining local outlet, on Shattuck Avenue in North Berkeley. Mayor Bates — and many Berkeleyside readers — want another food market to fill the vacant spaces.

The first Berkeley crop swap was a big success and spawned a second regular event. Photo: Christina Diaz

3. Crop swaps kick off: Berkeley’s bounty makes it a perfect place for this cash-free concept to take root, as Berkeleyside noted in announcing the launch of the crop swap this summer. Berkeley led the way on crop swaps in the Bay Area, with meet-ups at Ohlone Greenway and the Lorin District. This story caught the attention of other local media and proved so popular that the organizers, Transition Berkeley, expanded to include a Saturday swap of clothing and books. In a continuing economic downturn, look for more resource sharing in 2012.

Andre Green from the Berkeley Food & Housing Project cooks for the neediest in the community. Photo: Tracey Taylor

4. Food pantry struggles: Speaking of the lingering recession, food banks, including the Berkeley Food Pantry, faced an unprecedented need for their services and struggled to meet it because of federal government funding snafus. An interview with chef Andre Green of Berkeley Food & Housing Project  prior to Thanksgiving served as a timely reminder that everyone deserves to eat and that hunger doesn’t end after the holidays.

Meet the cute couple behind Berkeley's latest meat market: Local Butcher Shop owners Aaron and Monica Rocchino. Photo: Tracey Taylor

5. Artisanal butcher opens: The local butcher is making a comeback around the country and Berkeley is in on the act. Berkeleyside’s Tracey Taylor covered the city’s new whole-beast butcher from day one. Run by ex-Chez Panisse chef Aaron Rocchino and his wife Monica, The Local Butcher Shop in the Gourmet Ghetto has quickly developed a loyal following among home cooks and restaurant chefs. It’s also garnered a reputation for the most dapperly dressed meat men around town.

Crowds turn out to taste mobile food at the first Off the Grid. Photo: Tracey Taylor

6. Off the Grid launches: After wondering out loud in 2010 why the food truck phenomenon hadn’t taken hold in this gown town, mobile food took North Berkeley by storm with the addition of Off the Grid this year.  Tracey Taylor covered the announcement of the new event, the developments before opening night, as well as the inaugural evening in June; subsequent stories focused on specific mobile vendors such as Gail Lillian of Liba, the trio behind Ebbett’s Good to Go, and brick-and-mortar business Saul’s. A spin-off event also fed horse fanciers at OTG Golden Gate Fields. Could a South Berkeley OTG be in the cards for 2012? We’ll keep you posted.

7. Olive oil hoax spills over: The extra-virgin olive oil scam generated more than a drizzle of attention when Frances Dinkelspiel wrote about the pending appearance, at Amphora Nueva Berkeley Olive Oil Works earlier this month, of author Tom Mueller and his new book, Extra Virginity: The Sublime and Scandalous World of Olive Oil, which details the slippery business behind extra-virgin olive oil claims.

"Place a Bouquet of Flowers on the Table and Everything Will Taste Twice as Good." Illustration: Copyright (c) Maira Kalman 2011. Reprinted with permission from The Penguin Press from FOOD RULES by Michael Pollan.

8. Michael Pollan’s Food Rules returns: Author and UC Berkeley professor Michael Pollan published an illustrated edition of Food Rules with the goal of reaching a wider audience with his message: “Eat food. Mostly plants. Not too much.” Pollan gave Berkeleyside one of only a few print interviews following his guide’s re-release, which features the art of Maira Kalman.

9. Monterey Market melodrama ramps up: In May, Berkeleyside contributor Niclas Ericsson broke the news of small merchants in the Northbrae neighborhood taking on the big grocer and much-loved institution Monterey Market for aggressive marketing strategies (like price undercutting) which they deemed unfair. The ongoing saga turned nasty as the year went on, as recently reported by the East Bay Express.

Cheese Board Pizza straight from the oven. Photo: Christina Diaz

10. Readers’ picks: Best pizza and ice cream: Berkeleyside asked for your opinions on pizza and readers weren’t shy in responding — in record numbers — about their favorite pizza picks. Ditto on ice cream and gelato choices around town. Perhaps a poll on locals’ favorite java joints isn’t far behind.

Urban Adamah executive director Adam Berman. Photo: Christina Diaz

11. Urban Adamah: A farm with Jewish roots takes hold: The faith-based urban farm with portable plots in West Berkeley opened in June. The one-acre Urban Adamah offers a residential fellowship for young adults, summer camps for kids and teens, fresh produce for the hungry, and Jewish holiday celebrations with a food and farming focus. The program, which seeks to provide environmental, educational, social justice, and spiritual lessons, could serve as a model for communities across the country.

12. Whole Foods parking lot parody goes viral: In a bit of good-natured ribbing of the food-obsessed — including himself — former Berkeley boy David Wittman (DJ Dave) released the video Whole Foods Parking Lot, which became an instant viral hit, as Tracey Taylor reported in June. (3.3 million viewers and counting, lyrics and interview here.) The video spawned a series of responses, including one by local boy LaeCharles Lawrence, whom we also interviewed, which questioned the local cred of the L.A.-living Wittman. Just last week Berkeleyside covered the remix between the dualing rappers. Still the question remains: Is DJ Dave Berkeley enough?

And that, dear readers, was the year in food.

Do let us know what you’d like to see more (or less) of from the food beat in 2012.

Sarah Henry is the voice behind Lettuce Eat Kale. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

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  • MMP

    Wha…?! Veggie speed dating didn’t make the cut?

  • Sarah Henry

    It did, indeed, get a mention (see the 4th graph). But not exactly a news story. Glad you liked it, though.

  • http://radar.oreilly.com/2007/09/local-recycle-reuse-hits-a-bur.html The Sharkey

    Every time I walk or drive by Urban Adamah I am shocked at how lush and beautifully functional they’ve made the space.

    I’d love to pitch in and help out or attend one of their workshops, but they don’t seem to be updating their website any more.

    http://urbanadamah.org/programs/urban-ag-workshops-2/