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.
UC Berkeley graduate Cristina Lau, 23, heads up the non-profit Berkeley’s Kitchen, which runs cooking classes and hosts food events with an emphasis on affordable, ethnic eats.
Check out the group’s website for upcoming activities.
A former member of the Cal Cooking Club, Cristina comes from a food family. Her parents ran Chinese restaurants in Tijuana and San Diego; she grew up peeling shrimp and washing dishes. Food has played a central role in her life.
She shares an apartment in North Berkeley with a roommate.
1. What’s your favorite place to eat in town?
At home with my friends. I cook Chinese-Mexican fusion food. It’s what I grew up eating. I mix chillies with bok choy. I make shrimp har gow (a kind of dumpling), and I saute crab and serve it with lots of Chinese condiments like soy sauce, hoisin sauce, and oyster sauce.
2. What food store do you frequent in the community?
Berkeley Bowl. The “old” one (Berkeley Bowl East), because it’s close to where I live. The produce there is low-cost, fresh, and there’s so much to choose from.
3. Do you have a local food hero?
David Skolnick, a former lecturer at UC Berkeley. David is active with The Cooperative Grocery, or CoG, a non-profit food co-op that serves Emeryville, Berkeley, and Oakland. I took an English class of his in my freshman year. He related a lot of what we were learning to food. That’s where I heard the term food justice for the first time.
4. Are there any restauranteurs in the area you admire?
The owners of Taste of the Himalayas and Cafe Tibet. They both serve good food but they do more than feed people. Taste of the Himalayas helps fund a school in Nepal. The Tibet Cafe runs cooking classes benefiting single moms in India.
5. What’s the best thing about eating in Berkeley?
The incredible ethnic diversity of the restaurants. You can eat food from almost every region of the world. When I do eat out I like to restaurant hop. We’ll have appetizers at one place, entrees at another, dessert at a third. We might have spring rolls at one of the Thai restaurants on University Avenue, coconut curry shrimp at Spenger’s, and then finish up with blueberry pie at Au Coquelet, one of the few cafes in town that’s open late at night.
Sarah Henry is a freelance writer whose stories have appeared in the Los Angeles Times Magazine, The Washington Post and San Francisco Magazine. A contributor to the food policy blog Civil Eats, she muses about food, family and growing greens on her blog lettuce eat kale.