Sharing our Strength Spirit

Taste of the Nation San Francisco

I’m sure you’ve worked various odd jobs throughout your life.

My roster is pretty short but includes bookseller, librarian, and flower shop assistant to name a few. From a young age, I discerned myself to be a worker bee, someone who likes to get things done, not watch other people do them.

One thing stayed true to form: all roads eventually led back to food.

My first foodservice job involved me tagging along with my best friend Ashley. We would be outfitted in white aprons and floppy white hats selling pastries and croissants at a French cafe and restaurant. I enjoyed the fast pace of the patisserie section of the restaurant and could make a mean caesar salad. It’s no surprise that years later we both are still up to our elbows working with food.

I started working at a young age and learned the pleasure of being able to provide for myself. Mama worked hard and so did my Dad- their examples cast long shadows on what a full day is comprised of.  When they split, I began experimenting in the kitchen as often I would be the first one home, the veritable latchkey kid. Some of my cooking experiments early on were too … ahem… experimental while others worked out just fine. What I loved about working in foodservice was that sense of family outside of the nuclear one, of being hostess, server, salad-maker and developing deep relationships with co-workers as well as regulars. In a restaurant, I had an opportunity to welcome a complete stranger into an experience that I hoped would be one that might uplift them. Hospitality had been passed down from Tita down through her daughters and was instilled in me from a young age. I liked the variation of scenarios in a restaurant setting and then later at events, where I sometimes played a guessing game of what someone might order before they opened their mouths.

I happened upon a fantastic melding of my worlds a few years back through national non-profit, Share our Strength. Their Taste of the Nation event happens in numerous cities around the country, giving chefs the opportunity to do what they do best: cook, for a cause near and dear to so many of them, and for attendees to nosh and sip and enjoy themselves while being benefactors to the cause of eradicating hunger among children in the U.S. Childhood hunger in America- it sounds unbelievable, doesn’t it? How does this wealthy country have children who go hungry? And yet 17 million kids were in hunger unstable homes last year. They are the unseen victims of the recession and rely upon the school breakfast and lunch programs more than ever before.

Several years ago, when I began working with Share our Strength (SOS), it gave me a chance to give back and do my small part to address this social problem. This year, I had an opportunity to work on the marketing side for Taste of the Nation San Francisco to help build awareness for the event and encourage people to attend by introducing them to some of the chefs that will be cooking and baking at Taste of the Nation. When a guest would sit in my section of the restaurant years ago, if I described the plat du jour with my own words, this would have a different effect than just reading them on the menu. And I took the same approach with getting the word out about Taste of the Nation.

If people interested in food, in this food-and-beverage-loving-city could hear from the chefs themselves what were the childhood food memories that stood out to them, they might want to buy a ticket so that kids in need could form their own childhood food memories. If they could hear what these well-reputed chefs had to say about Share our Strength, this might shed light on why this organization’s cause could be important to them too.

The event is this Thursday at the Bently Reserve at 7 p.m. and you can still buy a ticket here. Sure, there are other things to do on Thursday night. We live in San Francisco after all- there is always something else you could be doing. But being a part of “No Kid Hungry” is something that can’t wait. This is the next generation we’re talking about.

Hats off to all the brilliant chefs and mixologists volunteering their time, their talent to this important cause. But don’t take my word on why this cause is important- take theirs:

Chef Chris Cosentino of Incanto

Chef Bridget Batson of Gitane

Chef Sophiane Benouada & Chef Michael Koenig of Grand Cafe

Chef Elizabeth Falkner of Orson and Citizen Cake

Chef David Bazirgan of Fifth Floor

Chef Dominique Crenn of Atelier Crenn

Chef Mark Sullivan of Spruce

Chef Armando Justo of Chotto

Chef Josh Thomsen of the Meritage at Claremont Resort & Spa

Sharing our Strength Spirit

Bakesale for Japan

Do you remember where you were when 9/11 happened? How about the Indonesia earthquake and the ensuing tsunami? Haiti? Chile? Japan?

In my job I have the fortunate opportunity to listen to and talk with customers curious about our products.  What I’ve begun to hear is a rising fear and panic in some of their voices even if it’s just a slight shift in tone.

Are you worried about radiation in your water and food?
Are you worried about an earthquake?

While I think it’s natural to wonder about these things for a moment especially given living in California, hanging out there for long stretches of time is dangerous. And really, it’s kind of beside the point.

I happened to be in Anaheim for a gigantic natural foods trade show when the headline appeared on my computer about an earthquake in Japan. The findings were still preliminary and I remembered how surreal it had been to watch the headlines unfold during the massive quake and tsunami that struck Indonesia and Thailand, sometimes the headlines anticipating oncoming devastation with its matter-of-fact, in print facts and summations.

The next morning, I turned on the news in that hotel room and began seeing footage of the tsunami, seeing a wall of black water and debris devour whatever was in its path. We watch sometimes unseeing. It didn’t look real and yet at breakfast, all eyes were glued on the television, even as we prepared for our first day at this important trade show. I emailed my friend in Fukuoka to see if he and his family were alright and then went on to greet people and encourage them to try our products.

In the wake of natural disaster, it’s always surreal to somehow continue on your normal way. You can’t necessarily go to each afflicted country and help the people first-hand. You have to find a way to respond that fits, but responding is not a question either. The how is really the question.

This year I’ve been in a runner’s mark of readiness. Two opportunities arose that not only gave me a way to naturally give back to Japan and get involved but really take on solidarity with the ravaged country with a host of other people who felt a call to action.


Bakesale for Japan

I had the sincere pleasure and pride to watch people from the foodservice industry come together with home bakers, food bloggers and people wanting to contribute in this past weekend’s Bakesale for Japan. Pizzaiolo pastry chef Samin Nosrat organized this one day Bay Area event with all proceeds going to Peace Winds Japan that then grew to various cities around the country this past Saturday, April 2nd.

What touched me to the core and continues to are the restaurants wanting to share what they do best and help this cause. This was quite evident as SPQR shuttered service until 3 p.m. letting the Bakesale create a pop-up store inside the restaurant. We moved tables and received baked goods from Arizmendi, Sweet Jo’s, Citizen Cake, Out the Door, Telltale Preserve Co., SPQR, A16 and Blue Bottle to name a few foodservice operators that got involved. Starter Bakery sent along goodies for the bakesale to be sold and also sent over a box for the volunteers- a nice touch.

The staff at SPQR had baked up some chocolate buttercreme cupcakes with peanut butter centers and other treats the night before the bakesale. In their spare time from cooking, they were baking up goodies to contribute. This act really reverberated in me and reminded me how much I love working in the foodservice industry.

I volunteered Saturday morning and part of the afternoon to help out at SPQR and while there, reconnected with friend Laiko and Ariel and met new friends Monica, Marissa and Silvana. Together we can make a difference. We put on our marketing hats and issued short-timed promotions throughout our stint on-site. Two tables hosted origami lessons, making cranes.

I posted photos of goodies to buy up on my food photo album to entice and lure friends checking it out to head over to SPQR as well as hitting the street with Ariel and Nader to invite people to head over to the bakesale. We sold through most of the homemade treats and there were many!

Initially, I’d thought to make Raisin Bran Bread, but with shortbread still on the brain, I composed some shortbread that looked a bit like the Japanese flag that I called “Rooibos Rising Sun Shortbread.”

Check out some of the cupcakes, cookies and other treats below. Want more, go here to see the full spectrum of goodies available that day that I photographed.


Online Bakesale for Japan

I also participated in an Online Bakesale for Japan, where 90 food bloggers from different parts of the world offered to bake and ship some of their morsels to the highest bidder with all proceeds going to Second Harvest Japan. Irvin told me about this and I contacted organizer Sabrina to see how I could help out and get involved.

Late Sunday night, I took a taxi from the airport to style the tea and photograph it for her that I would be baking with and then a few nights later finished experimenting with the baked Tea Shortbread. Beck supported my baking and made dinner that night as we had a movie on in the background.

Sabrina pulled off this feat within a short amount of time and while she had set the goal of raising $2500 for Japan, we superceded that over threefold, as final sales brought in around $8000 for this one day event. I bid on some Sour Cream Chocolate Cake in a Jar and put my own Menagerie of Tea Shortbread up for sale (recipe coming soon).

Menagerie of Tea Shortbread

This past year has had me at its mercy, living through my own personal tragedy. I feel emotionally spent and physically beleaguered. As I’ve been volunteering, I think of my dad’s memory and can’t think of a more fitting tribute than doing my part to help others devastated in a small way. I tire myself on behalf of my Father, doing His work and being His hands.

What I think both of these day-long fundraisers have in common is a lot of heart and shared action. Through the inspiration of the organizers, Samin, a pastry chef and Sabrina, a food blogger, set up different ways to address the same issue at hand. One person can make a difference because that first voice has power to call others alongside. Together we can.