Although Carolyn Jung has never called the East Bay home, being a James Beard Award-winning food writer who’s written for various publications and her own food blog, gives her clout throughout the Bay Area food scene. Her first cookbook focused on San Francisco, but her latest release, East Bay Cooks: Signature Recipes from the Best Restaurants, Bars and Bakeries, covers 41 chefs, restaurants and food businesses in Berkeley, Oakland and six other cities in the region.
East Bay Cooks is part of a series put out by Figure 1, a publisher in Vancouver. Photographs were taken by Marin-based photographer Eva Kolenko, all shot at Berkeley’s Rule & Level Studio. The book is one of four from Figure 1 focused on a region in the United States (Houston, Portland and Seattle are the other three); the rest of the books in the series are focused in Canada. If you find it curious that a Canadian publisher would put out an East Bay cookbook before one about San Francisco, Jung has an explanation. “One of the publishing house’s founders lived for many years in the East Bay, so this particular region and cookbook is sentimental and close to their heart,” she said.
These days, Jung is a freelance food writer based in Santa Clara, but for 11 years, she was the former senior food writer for the San Jose Mercury News. Before writing the book, she started by contacting chefs she had interviewed before — and other food colleagues — asking them what was new and hot and worthy of inclusion.
“I wanted a real mix of restaurants and cuisines and chefs, because that’s one of the greatest parts about the East Bay, it’s just this smorgasbord of ethnicities and cultures and mom-and-pop places bringing their expertise and flavors and showcasing them,” she said.
The book’s format includes a short summary about each restaurant owner or chef written by Jung, with a black-and-white portrait taken by Kolenko. Color photos of dishes accompany the recipes.
“I cannot say enough about her,” said Jung about working with Kolenko. “Watching her was such an education for me. This book came out more beautiful than I ever had imagined, and a lot of that has to do with her photography.”
Of course, whenever the word “best” is used to describe restaurants, it leaves room for many critics to weigh in on who was or was not included. With 41 entries, it would be hard enough to pick those most deserving just in Berkeley and Oakland. The fact that there are chefs from Emeryville, Danville, Alameda, Lafayette, Walnut Creek and Pleasanton gives the book a much larger geographical scope, but also made it more difficult to choose. Added to that, the book highlights a few noteworthy specialty stores, like Oaktown Spice Shop and The Local Butcher Shop in Berkeley, too. Jung said it helped narrow down the list to only include restaurants and businesses that agreed to sell copies of the book at their businesses.
Jung said the biggest surprise in writing the book was finding one of her favorite restaurants to be in Alameda — an upscale pizza place called The East End.
“I loved this place, I wished it was in my neighborhood because it was the type of place I’d go to all the time,” she said. “It was a pizza joint but it was so much more than that, they took such care in everything they do. They get a lot of regulars, families with young kids and their grandparents.”
A bonus of a cookbook like East Bay Cooks is that it offers such a wide range of recipes and cuisines. Just a small sampling of featured dishes includes Spanish slaw from Duende; moong dal from Vik’s Chaat & Market; Hue dumplings from Tay Ho; soba noodle salad with pickled shiitakes, chèvre, toasted cashews and Asian pears from Noodle Theory; German hunter-style pork schnitzel from Gaumenkitzel; shrimp alambre tacos from Nido; and smoked duck breast, curried quinoa, and peach mostarda from The Restaurant at Wente Vineyards.
Some, like the aforementioned slaw from Duende and the lamb larb (recipe below) from Belcampo, are rather simple for a restaurant cookbook. But others in the book are on the complex side.
In addition to being a cookbook, East Bay Cooks serves as a guide for places to check out, including two restaurants that aren’t yet open, but that you’ll want to visit in the future.
Such is the case for Bijan from chef Nora Haron, who was approached to participate when she was still at her West Oakland café, Drip Line. When Drip Line closed, she had hoped Bijan would be open in time for the cookbook release. Rather, she has gone to cook in San Francisco, and it’s not known when Bijan will open. The other yet-to-be-opened restaurant is Alcalá, from Sergio Monleón and Emily Sarlatte, the chefs behind the popular Berkeley tapas spot La Marcha. Alcalá will eventually open in Montclair, but an opening date has yet to be determined.
Jung tested about half of the recipes herself; she had a large group of friends testing the rest. For most home cooks, she recommends Belcampo’s lamb larb from chef Brett Halfpap. Though a trip to an Asian market might be necessary, Jung said it is simple to make and incredibly delicious.
Belcampo Lamb Larb
Serves 4 to 6 as a starter
While this traditional Laotian dish is typically made with ground chicken, beef or pork, Belcampo swaps that for lamb, which has a more assertive presence. The spicy meat mixture is mounded on lettuce cups for a perfect finger-food appetizer. Or add steamed sticky rice and a marinated cucumber salad to make this the centerpiece of a family-style meal.
2 tablespoons glutinous (sticky) rice
1 tablespoon rice bran oil or grapeseed oil
1 pound ground lamb
3 small shallots, finely chopped
3 red Thai chiles, sliced diagonally (divided)
1 tablespoons togarashi (Japanese chili powder)
6 tablespoons yuzu juice
3 tablespoons fish sauce
1/2 teaspoon grated palm sugar or dark brown sugar
1 small bunch mint, leaves only, sliced
1/2 cup coarsely chopped cilantro
1 scallion, sliced diagonally (divided)
Butter lettuce leaves, to serve
In a small frying pan set over medium heat, toast rice for 3 to 5 minutes, stirring frequently, until browned. Transfer to a small bowl and set aside to cool. Using a pestle and mortar, grind to a fine powder. Set aside.
Heat oil in a cast-iron frying pan over high heat, until it barely begins to smoke. Add lamb and sear for 3 to 4 minutes, until the bottom is crisp. Using a spatula, break up the meat, add shallots and half of the Thai chiles, and sauté for 2 to 3 minutes. Turn heat down to low.
Stir in togarashi and the ground glutinous rice and cook for 30 seconds. Add yuzu juice, fish sauce, and sugar and stir until the sugar dissolves. Add mint, cilantro, and half the scallions.
Arrange lettuce leaves on one side of a serving plate and spoon lamb larb mixture onto the other side. Arrange remaining chiles and scallions off to the side of the plate. Spoon lamb larb onto a lettuce leaf, garnish to taste with chiles and scallions, fold up, and enjoy.
Recipe and photos reprinted with permission from East Bay Cooks: Signature Recipes from the Best Restaurants, Bars and Bakeries by Carolyn Jung, Figure 1 Publishing