Berkeley-Connected Food Celebrities


Exhibit Intro and Contents

Bruce Aidells earned a Ph.D. in biology at UC Santa Cruz in 1974, but decided cooking was what he loved best. He moved to Berkeley, co-founded Poulet at Shattuck and Virginia in 1978, and began developing recipes for chicken-based sausages. He launched Aidells Sausage Company in 1983. He writes cookbooks and articles for food magazines, teaches cooking classes, and makes frequent appearances on TV and radio.

Paul Bertolli considered careers in music and early medieval history but kept being drawn back to cooking. He opened the Fourth Street Grill with Mark Miller in 1979, spent most of 1981 working in a series of restaurants in Tuscany, and then was a chef at Chez Panisse for ten years. After another break, he became a partner at Oliveto restaurant in Rockridge. Since 2006 he has been the proprietor of Fra’ Mani Handcrafted Salumi. He has also authored a few cookbooks.

Wendy Brucker, chef and co-owner until recently of Berkeley restaurants Rivoli and Corso, trained at the California Culinary Academy and cooked at Ernie’s, Square One and Stars in San Francisco, City Restaurant in Los Angeles, and the Shattuck Hotel’s the Dining Room. She and Roscoe Skipper opened Rivoli in 1994 and recently sold it. They opened Corso in 2008 and closed it in 2020, first temporarily and then for good.

Narsai David came to UC Berkeley in 1953 and has lived in Berkeley ever since. He was hired as manager of the Pot Luck Restaurant in 1959 and eventually became a partner. He started a catering business in 1970 and catered many events for rock impresario Bill Graham, the Napa Valley Wine Auction, SF Symphony and others. He ran Narsai’s Restaurant on Colusa in Kensington from 1972 to 1986, with a market next door selling baked goods and gourmet products from 1978 to 1985. He has written a column for the SF Chronicle, served as food and wine editor for KCBS radio, hosted nationally syndicated TV shows, and made celebrity chef appearances worldwide.

Adelle Davis (1904–1974) was a famous, influential nutritionist who had majored in “dietetics” at UC Berkeley in the 1920s. She went on to get advanced degrees and write best-selling books including Let’s Get Well and Let’s Eat Right to Keep Fit, in which she railed against highly processed and sugary foods and encouraged the use of vitamin and mineral supplements and brewer’s yeast. She was the picture of health and high energy at age 69 but, tragically, died the following year of bone cancer.

Ken Hom was an art history student at UC Berkeley in the 1970s. To help support himself, he offered cooking lessons in his home, first Italian and then Chinese. After teaching at the California Culinary Academy in San Francisco for a few years, he became the star of several BBC TV shows about Chinese cooking. He has authored at least 20 cookbooks. He received an honorary doctorate from Oxford Brookes University in 2007, became an Officer of the Order of the British Empire in 2008, and has won many other honors.

Mollie Katzen is one of the best-selling cookbook authors of all time. She first wrote and illustrated the vegetarian Moosewood Cookbook as a member of the Moosewood Collective in Ithaca, New York, which had a restaurant in a mall. Published there in 1974, it was soon picked up by the young Ten Speed Press in Berkeley, which has been publishing successive editions ever since. The author has been living in Berkeley for many years and has written numerous additional cookbooks, including three for children.

Jack LaLanne (1914–2011), fitness and nutrition guru, was born in San Francisco but was living with his parents in Berkeley as a scrawny teen with a sugar addiction and behavior problems. Inspired at age 15 by a public lecture by health food pioneer Paul Bragg, he decided to turn his life around by working out and eating healthful foods. He established the first modern health and fitness club, invented exercise machines, starred in a TV series on fitness and nutrition from 1951 to 1985, and put his name on a chain of gyms, a juicer, and a powdered breakfast substitute.

Called the “Queen of Chocolate,” “First Lady of Chocolate,” and the like, Alice Medrich is credited with introducing the American public to chocolate truffles. She started selling them at Pig by the Tail in 1973, opened the first Cocolat store at 1469 Shattuck in 1976, and by 1989 had seven stores. She contributed to the food revolution by insisting on the highest quality ingredients. She has written eight cookbooks, three of which are Cookbook of the Year–award winners. Still living in Berkeley, she teaches in cooking schools around the country and consults to established and new companies developing chocolate products.

Marion Nestle, one of this country’s leading scholars of nutrition and food studies, earned her BA, MPH and PhD from UC Berkeley.Several of her books have been published by UC Press. Her research and writing examines scientific and socioeconomic influences on food choice, obesity and food safety, emphasizing the role of food marketing. She wrote the “Food Matters” column for the SF Chronicle from 2003 to 2010. She has received numerous awards and honors. (Her last name is pronounced like the verb, not the food conglomerate.)

Samin Nosrat, thrilled with a dinner she ate at Chez Panisse, asked for and got a job there as a busser while an undergraduate English major at UC Berkeley. She worked her way up in the Chez Panisse kitchen and went on to cook at several other restaurants. Her first book, Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat: Mastering the Elements of Good Cooking, won a James Beard Award and was a New York Times bestseller. That led to her documentary series of the same name on Netflix, and she is also now a food columnist for the New York Times Magazine.

Michael Pollan, journalism professor at UC Berkeley,is the award-winning author of five New York Times bestsellers: Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation (2013), Food Rules: An Eater’s Manual (2010); In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto (2008); The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals (2006) and The Botany of Desire: A Plant’s-Eye View of the World (2001). Several of his books have been adapted for television.

Ruth Reichl was born in New York City and has been back living there since 1993, but she got her start as a foodie in Berkeley, where she cooked from 1973 to 1977 at the collectively owned Swallow Restaurant in the old (new at the time) University Art Museum. She became food writer and editor of New West magazine, restaurant editor of the Los Angeles Times, restaurant critic for the New York Times, and editor of Gourmet magazine. She has authored cookbooks and several delicious memoirs and received numerous awards and honors.

Aminah Robinson, aka Chef Mimi, is a third-generation Berkeley native. She enrolled in the California Culinary Academy so she could be more than just a “soul food cook.” In addition to catering, teaching and writing about food and social justice, she has launched a Black cooking competition TV show called “Bringing It to the Table” and a series of Black Food and Wine Experiences in Oakland. She has partnered with major corporations such as Lyft, Facebook, Impossible Foods, and Whole Foods.

Hank Rubin bought the Pot Luck restaurant in 1959, moved it to San Pablo at Channing, and hired Narsai David as chef. The restaurant soon developed a reputation as Berkeley’s best. Rubin was committed to social justice (he had dropped out of college to volunteer in the Abraham Lincoln Brigade) and made a point of integrating the staffs of both the Pot Luck and his more casual downtown eatery, Cruchon’s.  He became the longtime wine editor for Bon Appétit magazine, a wine columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle in the 1970s and ’80s, and host of a KQED radio show.

Jeremiah Tower had a privileged upbringing that exposed him to fine dining and world travel. He enjoyed cooking for friends while studying at Harvard. He was a chef at Chez Panisse from 1972 to 1978 and is credited, along with Alice Waters, with creating the Chez Panisse style of California cuisine. He was head chef at the Santa Fe Bar & Grill in Berkeley in the 1980s. One of the first celebrity chefs outside of the TV world, he went on to create Stars restaurant in San Francisco and numerous other ventures.

Alice Waters, as you no doubt already know, is Berkeley’s food superstar. After living in France as an undergraduate, she came back to Berkeley and pursued her love of cooking for friends with very fresh, locally grown ingredients. In 1971 she opened Chez Panisse; in 1996 she created the Edible Schoolyard and the Chez Panisse Foundation. She is the author of many cookbooks and has received innumerable awards as an author, chef and activist.

By Ann Harlow

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