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.
Kyle Cornforth packed up her family last summer and headed to the outskirts of Chiang Mai to spend a year as the director of The Prem Organic Cooking Academy and Farm, which teaches traditional Thai cooking and farming techniques to kids from international schools around the globe, as well as adult travelers.
She wanted to share what she learned about local, sustainable, organic cooking working as the program coordinator for the Edible Schoolyard at Martin Luther King, Jr. Middle School. (Kyle, 30, will return to that position this summer. She met her husband Jay Cohen, a teacher at the school, in the Edible garden. Cue a chorus of awws now.)
She has spent the past year documenting her cross-cultural experiences in often amusing entries that can be found on her blog Cornhens in Thailand. The family, including daughter Zorah, will return to their South Berkeley home in a few months. (Full disclosure: I met Kyle at Edible while lending a hand as a kitchen volunteer.)
1. Can you name some favorite family-friendly eateries in town?
For breakfast we regularly go to The Homemade Cafe. We have been taking Zorah there on the weekends since she was an infant. It isn’t so much that the space is set up for kids, but the staff there has always made us feel welcome and been especially warm to Zorah.
Right around the corner there is a wonderful place for dinner, Digs Bistro, that has a parents night out the first Monday of every month. They have supervised activities for kids two and over — art, dinner, ice cream and a movie — and you can sit in the next room and have a delicious meal in a romantic environment.
2. Do you have a local food hero?
Amy Murray of Venus Restaurant is doing good work with quiet passion. I worked for Amy at Venus for five years. A lot of what I know about food and cooking I learned from her. She has been deeply committed to local food for a long time. I also run into her at the farmers’ market all the time, and I think it is important to see chefs out selecting the produce and ingredients themselves.
I often crave her food; anyone who comes up with the veggie nest is a hero in my book! It’s on the breakfast/brunch menu: Two poached eggs atop a salad of arugula, frisee, wild mushrooms, goat cheese, tomato, and bacon. It’s served with tapenade toast but I always substitute the biscuit. It’s the perfect way to start a weekend day.
3. Any cookbook authors in the area you particularly admire — and why?
I cut my teeth on Mollie Katzen‘s Moosewood Cookbook. It was the first and only cookbook I used in college. I still have my tattered and taped up copy. The recipes were simple and accessible to me as I was starting out as a cook. I created my most memorable dinner party meal from her calzones recipe by accidentally using pancake mix instead of wheat flour for the dough. After hours in the kitchen I sat down with ten friends to eat pizza wrapped in pancakes. It was gross and hilarious!
4. What’s lacking in Berkeley food-wise that you’d like to see in the mix?
There aren’t many good restaurants in the mid-price range. If you want a nice, locally procured meal the environment is more towards white tablecloths and an expensive bill at the end of the night.
But Berkeley needs some places that can do this in a way that makes it affordable for anyone who cares about their food, but can’t break the bank to go out. Somewhere that includes outdoor seating too. Berkeley needs to find a way to appeal to a younger, more urban and radical crowd. Our radicals have grown up, and Berkeley with them, but now we need to grow young again.
Maybe a place like Gather now fits that bill; it’s run by friends and I’m excited to go there when we get back.
5. What have you missed most about food from home this past year?
What do I not miss would make a shorter list! I miss Strauss milk in the glass bottle, Full Belly Farm eggs, and walking to Peet’s with the family for a cup of coffee. I miss Mexican food like crazy, Cafe Fanny granola, and good bread. When I’m home I probably hit The Cheeseboard for bread, cheese, butter, pizza, double chocolate cookies and wolverines at least three or four times a week.
I miss freshly made pasta and beautiful produce that you can rely on. I also miss not sounding like a crazy person when I ask where something came from or talk about why it is important to think about that.
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.
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[Photo: Courtesy Kyle Cornforth]