Philip Gelb: Popping up vegan in West Berkeley

Philip Gelb
Philip Gelb: the chef and musician hosts regular collaborative dinner popups at Tomate Café in West Berkeley. Photo: courtesy Philip Gelb

For the past decade, vegan chef and shakuhachi master Philip Gelb has combined his passion for music and food with a movable monthly series that pairs a four-course meal with a recital featuring singular musicians such as alto sax great Oliver Lake and Irish harp expert Diana Rowan. Looking to expand into new territory, he’s joining forces with Tomate Café’s Jack Wakileh, introducing a new pop-up series in West Berkeley (sans music for the time being).

Gelb kicks off the first of three scheduled events on Saturday Jan. 10 with a celebration of the culinary traditions of Southern African-Americans and the Caribbean inspired by Oakland cookbook writer/culinary historian Bryant Terry. Terry, who will be on hand speaking between courses, recently published Afro-Vegan: Farm-Fresh African, Caribbean, and Southern Flavors Remixed.

“Bryant’s a guy I have great respect for,” said Gelb, who is one of the first musicians to perform new music on shakuhachi, the ancient, end-blown Japanese bamboo flute. “I first came across him on KPFA years ago being interviewed about food politics in the African-American community. We’ve met up over the years, traded food and ideas and talked about collaborating.”

Phil Gelb. bagels out of oven
Phil Gelb takes fresh-baked bagels out of oven. Photo: courtesy Philip Gelb

The tentative menu includes Jamaican patty stuffed with spicy cabbage and tamarind sauce
, dandelion salad with pecan dressing, pecan-crusted tempeh
, and cumin-cayenne mashed potatoes with caramelized onions. Gelb is tapping his friend Daniel Schoenfeld at Wild Hog Vineyard for the beer and wine menu.


“I’m using some of the recipes from Bryant’s cookbooks,” said Gelb, noting that Terry draws connections between African-diaspora cuisine and African-diaspora music. “It’s a huge culinary tradition and we’re throwing a few ideas out. The whole idea is based on his research, and he’ll be discussing dishes and food in general. He’s a great speaker, a really friendly guy who’s thought a lot about connections between food and music. In his book Vegan Soul Kitchen he suggests what to listen to with every dish.”

Read more about East Bay vegan food options on Nosh.

Gelb returns to Tomate Café on Feb. 7 with Miyoko Schinner, a Japanese-born, French-trained chef who recently launched Miyoko’s Kitchen in Fairfax. And on Valentine’s Day he presents a lusty vegan menu with Los Angeles chef Aylande Howell.

Gelb returns to his West Oakland digs on Feb. 15 for a dinner/concert event featuring legendary French bassist Joëlle Léandre, who’s in town to participate in Yerba Buena Center for the Arts’ New Frequencies Fest.

A vegan cheese made by Miyoko’s Kitchen
A cheese made by Miyoko’s Kitchen. Photo: Miyoko’s Kitchen

“Miyoko is a very close friend and brilliant chef,” Gelb said. “She has a new company in Marin that’s doing amazing things with nut-based cheeses, which is a game changer in the food world. We’ll be doing a multi-course meal together.”


Gelb first connected with Tomate Café’s Wakileh at Berkeley Bowl West during the morning window when the market is open only to chefs. Hailing from an East Bay family of restaurateurs, Wakileh opened Tomate just as the economy crashed in 2008, and spent his first two years putting sweat equity into the business and not taking any money out. By the fall of 2010 he was enjoying brisk business as West Berkeley’s light-industrial workforce grew with the expansion of companies like Sungevity (which moved to Jack London Square at the end of 2010).

“We’re going through another change now,” Wakileh said. “Business has dropped a bit. Grocery Outlet’s corporate office just moved, and we did a lot of catering for them. I like Philip, and, since we only do breakfast and lunch, I thought it could work for him to use our space for his dinners. I don’t know what direction this is going. I’ve got a space I don’t use and he’s got great ideas for pop-up events.”

Visit Philip Gelb’s blog for more details of the events mentioned here.

Andrew Gilbert writes, principally about music, for Berkeleyside, the San Jose Mercury News, San Francisco Chronicle, and KQED’s California Report. 

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