Sunday, December 2, 2012

MamakSF: The Ultimate Street Peddler

Ian Deleporte is bringing Malaysia to San Francisco in the form of a pedal powered food cart. This custom made bike cart, complete with a stove for his wok, prep and storage space, should be up and running by spring. The project is titled MamakSF; the word mamak is a term for the street food vendors that are so popular in Malaysia. Ian plans to be San Francisco's first pedal-powered mamak, and be will putting a modern, personal twist on his traditional recipes.

I was fortunate enough to be invited to his promo event, and interviewed him while I scarfed down his decadent creations. I lounged around his apartment, which was packed with gun-ho eaters, drinking beer and enjoying his unadulterated view of Twin Peaks as he churned out dish after dish. My personal favorites were the kuih kodok [toad cakes - toadies] deep fried banana fritters laced with coriander, cumin, and cayenne pepper, and the rojak, a crisp salad with coriander and pineapple that is tossed in a spicy, molasses like shrimp paste dressing. The salad is also available vegetarian. He is hesitant to tell me exactly what he will be cooking when the cart opens because his menu will change daily based on the best ingredients he can find at the local market and farmers market.

I love Ian's idea because it has so much potential, but is relatively inexpensive to get started. He is taking the concept of a food truck and stripping it down to his bear minimum – no carbon footprint, no smelly fumes to sully your taste buds – just good old fashioned pedal power! With the rise of property costs in San Francisco there is something so lovely about having the mobility to bring a service to anyone. In many ways, Ian is revolutionizing the workings of modern street food by bringing it back to its origins.

Granted, he is not the first to make this happen in the bay; A couple food cart bikes seem to have been birthed around the same time. Rose Johnson has created Hot Bike!, which churns out taco-based creations.  But most notably, Alfonzo Dominguez has created El TacoBike. He serves up classic Mexican street food such as tacos and tortas. He stands out from the other biking entrepreneurs because he has already established a name for himself as co-owner of the popular Oakland hotspot, Tamarindo. I find his new venture especially interesting because much of the lure of a food bike is that it is an affordable way to experiment with a business idea for those who do not yet have access to large kitchens.

Part of the reason why there are not more street food bikes out there, (we all know there are enough healthy people in the bay to step up the the physical challenge,) is that there are just so many regulations as to how one can legally sell food outside. The bike must have proper ventilation fans for the stove tops- yes even though it is outside- a trash can, a sink with potable water, and one is only aloud to reheat food on the bike, not prepare it. The food must then be prepared in a licensed kitchen, which can be rented out from commissaries rather cheaply. This labyrinth of laws can be rather daunting to the foodie newbie.

MamakSF is so special not only because of the bike and  cuisine, but because Ian is just such a character. Months ago I helped him create his kickstarter video and was so impressed by his expanse of knowledge on both bikes and food, and his compelling ability to make you really believe in his idea.  You can view the video Here.

 Ian plans to bring his business to special events, art galleries, office parks... you name it. If you are with a large group of people and in desperate need of some spicy satisfaction, tweet at him and he will come your way! And yes, I asked: even if it is at the top of a hill.

You can follow Ian on twitter @Mamaksf or on his website at

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Sweet Potato Gnocchi with Fennel, Grape Tomatoes, and Capricious Cheese

What would you cook to impress one of the most prestigious chef's in the world?

 I was confronted with this daunting question last week. As part of my BasqueStage application, I was asked to cook a recipe, photograph it, and blog about it. So I started brainstorming; I thought about searing exotic sea-creatures and topping them with heavenly and masterful sauces; or recreating a traditional basque feast. I scoured the internet for inspiration, developed tens of recipes only to veto each one of them. Then, in the eleventh hour, I came across an essay by Tom Colicchio for the LA Times. His opening line is "My general rule of thumb when it comes to cooking is that the fewer ingredients a dish contains, the harder it is to do right." Brilliant. If only he had never written it so I could make that my opening line.

He goes on to talk about the art of gnocchi, the infamous little Italian potato dumplings. They are basically just potato, flour, cheese, egg yolk or ricotta with a little flavoring thrown in. However, like any masterpiece, they are near impossible to perfect. When I think of gnocchi, I am unfortunately reminded of the dense, chewy packaged stuff I used to pick up at grocery stores. The dumplings are really just bundles of starch, so when done wrong their heaviness can be quite nauseating, but when done right, they are so right. They are soft, comforting, doughy, and lap up any sauce you toss them in. 

The trick is to maintain their starchy goodness while keeping them soft enough to melt in your mouth.
I decided to make a sweet potato gnocchi for added lightness and flavor. I found an excellent sheep's milk cheese- Capricious by Achadinha Cheese Company- at my local farmers market. It has a similar consistency to Parmesan, but has the added pungency of sheep milk. The spices in the gnocchi, overwhelming when uncooked, settle into the starch while boiling and add depth to the final dish. The freshness of the sauteed vegetables complement the dumplings and the grape tomatoes are a surprising burst of acidity.
Although this recipe is a lot of work -- it may take you upwards of 2 1/2 hours to create-- it is certainly worth the effort. Its dinner party material. As proof of its deliciousness, I cooked enough gnocchi for ten people and five of my house mates polished it off in one sitting. It is simple yet surprising and hopefully will impress the judges at BasqueStage.


Sweet Potato Gnocchi with Fennel, Grape Tomatoes,
and Capricious Cheese

Gnocchi (Adapted from Bon Appetit recipe):
2 lbs red-skinned small sweet potatoes, pierced with fork
14 oz fresh ricotta cheese, strained in cheesecloth
2 oz Capricious cheese and 1 oz Parmesan (finely grated)
2 Tablespoons brown sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
2 3/4 cups (about) all purpose flour, sifted
2 egg yolks
Extra flour for molding

1 bulb fennel with stalk (bulk thinly sliced and leaves coarsely chopped)
2 cups grape tomatoes (cut in half)
3 oz unsalted butter
1/2 teaspoon lemon pepper
1 cup of starchy water from gnocchi
Salt and fresh cracked pepper
1 oz Capricious cheese, grated (plus some for on top)

1.  Wrap the ricotta in cheesecloth and secure at the top with a rubber band. Squeeze out the excess liquid, then secure the bundle to a long spoon or rod and suspend it above a pot to drain. Leave this for at least 45 minutes. The dryer you manage to get the cheese, the fluffier your gnocchi will be. 
Draining the ricotta
2. Bake potatoes at 400 degrees F until they are cooked through. My potatoes were small and took about 30 minutes, but this will vary. If you want to cheat a little bit, pop them in the microwave for 15 minutes instead of baking. You can do this ahead of time. When cooked, slice the potatoes in half and leave them to cool. Scoop out the cooled potato flesh and mash it in a bowl. Although time consuming, I recommend pushing the mashed potato through a strainer. This creates a lovely silky texture that will add lightness.
3. Combine the sugar, nutmeg, and salt in a bowl to evenly distribute the flavors. Thoroughly combine the potato, ricotta, and spices. Add one of the egg yolks and combine. Add the sieved flour 1/2 cup at a time, mixing after each addition, until a soft dough is formed. If the dough feels too dry or gummy, add the second egg yolk. The dough should be solid enough to maintain an indentation, but soft enough to mold without any force. They dough will taste quite pungently of nutmeg and sheep's cheese. Do not fret, the flavors mellow out as they cook. 

4. Line a sheet tray with parchment paper. Turn the dough out onto a clean and floured work surface. Divide it into ten even pieces. With floured hands, roll each piece into an evenly shaped log that is about a 1/2 inch in diameter. Cut the log into 3/4 inch long pieces. Finally, take each gnocchi and roll it against the concave side of a fork. The gnocchi may slightly lose its shape, so use your hands to remold it. Your gnocchi will probably not turn out perfectly. Practice on few before committing to a set technique. Just keep in mind that these will all be cooking at the same time, so the most important thing is to keep them a uniform shape and size. Place the gnocchi on the sheet tray, making sure they do not touch each other. 

6. Bring a large pot of water to a rolling boil. Boil the gnocchi for about 10 minutes. The dumplings will float to the surface when they are almost ready. Cook another two minutes and then scoop them out, saving the water. Always taste test for doneness. 
7. While the pasta is cooking, melt the butter on medium high in a sauce pan. Add the fennel bulb slices and cook until translucent but still crunchy. Add the salt, pepper, fennel sprigs, and tomatoes. Cook for another 4 minutes. Add the gnocchi straight into the pan with the 1 cup starchy water and cheese. Turn off the heat and gently toss the gnocchi for a minute to absorb flavor. 

8. Taste to check the seasoning and serve. Top with shaved Capricious cheese and cracked pepper.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

My BasqueStage Candidate Post

I have been lucky enough to make it on to the final round of the BasqueStage application! For those of you who don't know, BasqueStage is a 6 month internship with 3 Michelin star restaurant Martin Berasategui.  The food industry is riddled with heavenly restaurants, but Martin Berasategui is one of only a handful to receive three stars- the highest acclaim a restaurant can get. Few people have the opportunity to work and learn under such a renowned and talented chef. The internship is sponsored by Sammic, a gourmet kitchen appliance company, who I will be representing if I win. They will make sure that I am thoroughly immersed in Basque culture by visiting local towns and their tavernas, bakeries, and markets. There is also an opportunity to take on extra internships with local artisans; I've always wanted to learn how to craft cheese. Just getting this far feels slightly surreal, and being chosen as one of the two stages would be absolutely life changing!
When I found out the deadline for my application video was only a week away, I have to admit I panicked.I realized that I would be in Kauai for the entire production time and have no time at home to shoot (most of the videos have been shot in a controlled, professional environment). After my initial flurry of emotion, I realized that being somewhere so unique was an opportunity to set myself apart from the rest. The local produce in Kauai is just phenomenal; how could it not be with all that rain and sunshine? So we set to making a travel style film. My dad has been kind enough to help film and edit the footage- no small task! The video is shortened to conform with application time limits, but you can view the extended cut here.
So without further adieu, here is my application video. Enjoy!

Monday, March 12, 2012

Here is a video I made of tricks you can use in the kitchen at home that I learned in school. Many special thanks to Esteban Gabriel for filming and to Katherine Gorringe for editing. Please ignore the blue lips.... we had filter issues!

Friday, March 9, 2012

A Night In with the Urban Eating League and Tea with One of the Founders

In February, I was lucky enough to participate in the Urban Eating League (UEL), a dinner crawl through out my neighborhood. 30 eaters weave between four homes in teams, where they are served a small meal in each home and essentially get to partake in multiple mini dinner parties. As the eaters stumble from home to home, engaging in food, wine, and merriment – usually while in some form of costume – the hosts prepare for the next meal. Each eater pays $30, which is distributed to the houses for food. At the end of the night, there is a desert potluck at which awards are given out to both hosts and eaters. Yes, the event is technically a competition between hosts, but this is very loosely enforced and it is mostly taken as an opportunity to unite the community and show off some mad culinary skills.
The latest event was centered around the theme of love, as it took place the weekend before Valentine’s Day, and each team was given an aphrodisiac they had to work with. We were designated honey, an ingredient that I was not at all exited to work with. It is such an overt flavor yet is never the center of a dish; the tricky part is integrating the ingredient into the meal. Since honey is such a strong flavor, it needs something earthy to balance it out, but nothing too vibrant to overpower it. We decided to stick with a savory dish and use the honey as an accent. In the end, this is what we came up with:

Roasted beet soup topped with home made honey-herb crème fraiche
and pan-seared balsamic strawberries

Freshly baked whole wheat and buttermilk honey loaves
with salty honey butter

Fresh Moroccan mint tea sweetened with honey

I had four servings myself, and I must admit it was bloody delicious. My housemate Alisha and I collaborated on the meal while Katherine, another housemate, acted as hostess and general instigator of fun. By the time the first guests arrived, we had been cooking for hours, and our hands were stained bright purple from the beets. The beet juice was not only splattered over us and every appliance in the kitchen. We were exhausted, frazzled, and purple. The guests, however, renewed our energy – their night had just started and they were rearing to go.
Through out the night, the guests blew in and out like a whirlwind of joviality, leaving behind a slew of dress-up items, name cards, thank you notes, and booze-filled water bottles. We were even blessed enough to be serenaded with a customized version of Whitney Houston’s “I Wanna Dance with Somebody,” appropriately retitled “I Wanna Eat with Somebody.” I think the guests were very happy with our meal as, although they had another three meals to eat at other houses, most asked for seconds.

Our diners enjoying their meal.

It became apparent that both hosts and eaters were equally responsible for the very whimsical atmosphere at this event. Their energy kept us going just as our food kept them going. This event is so uniquely charming because brings together so many people and lets them be creative in their own homes. It being such a small community event, everyone was totally enthusiastic and supportive of the cooks. They really were the perfect guests. This was also good practice for me as by cooking for thirty people in four stages, I got practice in producing food the way one might in a restaurant.

Alisha taking her bread out of the oven.
I was so enamored by the Urban Eating League that I asked Kaity Scherbel, a founder of the league, to interview with me. We shared tea at Matching Half Cafe and chatted about the league. She was insightful, forthcoming, and a joy to speak with. I will definitely be participating in the next event in April and I recommend you do to!

Jess: The Urban Eating League is so many things. How would you sum it up in a sentence?
Kaity: Its an interactive, progressive dinner that involves eater and hostess participation.

J: Well done! So part of it is the eaters. Do you encourage them to dress up or is that their own deal?
K: A lot of that’s is their deal.  We send out an email that encourages them to incorporate community building exercises (in the dinner). You get your team assigned and before you eat you can create a theme or not create a theme. People really like that; I think people in San Francisco really like to dress up.

Diners' costumes (or lack there of). Photo courtesy of
J: They do! They love it. Every weekend you get to be a new person.  So what have been other themes you’ve had? This time it was...
K: This time it was “love”. We did a holiday theme. We did  a back to school theme. And the “back to school” theme is when things really started shifting. After “back to school,” we decided to do it every 2 months because we figured that was a good spacing for the community  and for us – because its a f***load of work. So that was when we started to see our pace steady out. We had a lot of fun at that Urban Eating League, which was a brunch, and we saw that there was a possibility to do more. For our “Love” dinner, we had a station to make Valentine's cards for the elderly.  For the “back to school” one we found a school in the area, made encouraging postcards, and donated back to school supplies to the classrooms. With the cost of each ticket, a certain percentage went to the school for art supplies. People also donated their own. 

J: The “love” dinner was specifically singles this time around, right?
K: Ya it was this time. It came off as a whim, and we thought we would throw it out there to see what kind of response we got.

J: Any where there any, um, Cupid’s arrows thrown?
K: There was a “bromance”! A huge “bromance”!  People had a lot of fun. But one thing we learned about that is the random team sign up (people are assigned to teams with strangers) was really worth while. One thing I thought went really well was having all these random people come together.  Its interesting since sometimes the crowd doesn’t mix because one team is really shy, but then you have teams that totally hit it off. They form this weird bond over what happens at the dinner. 

J: So I hear you’re planning on expanding to the mission.
K: Well the one in the mission will be put on by USF students. Morgan (co-founder) is teaching a class up there now and he’s having his students do it. We are also having another dinner in April. We haven't pinned down  a theme yet but we are thinking it will be something about spring; We like to cater to the season. 

J:So it will be a brunch or something?
K: Yeah it could it a brunch... I want all the food to have flowers in it. I’m thinking rose petal ice cream and lavender-infused salad. There are so many ways to incorporate flowers and I think it fits really well into this community. There’s a really good tight knit group of people here (North of Panhandle). 

J: Oh definitely. I've lived in the area for a month now and it seems there are an extraordinary amount of co-op houses.
K: There are! That really helps us in getting spaces, which is a challenge. You, as an eater, will go into such a wide variety of homes. One time, we literally were eating in someone's bedroom. But the food was phenomenal; everyone was talking about it. Pork belly and oysters. The hosts were professional chefs so it was so well prepared, so delicious. And then the house I went into after that was this beautiful old Victorian- all of these rooms and a fire pit in the back yard!

J: Are you talking about my house?
K: Ha no, but that was a contrast too. 

J: What meals have gone into the UEL hall of fame?
K: The pork belly. So good... and at “back to school” someone made sweet potato tater tots.  We always stress fresh local seasonal organic produce and when we were planning the theme we were just hoping someone would make them. They were delicious.  Another time these girls paired their meal with home made beer.  So all of a sudden you get to see everyone’s hidden talents. We’ve had home made ginger beer and someone wanted to make mead. One girl even foraged mushrooms. One of the girls that cooked for the holiday event was from Monterey and that’s where they sourced all their squid. I’ve had multiple grandmothers recipes. Food tells us a story about our families, which ties us together.

J: Especially in such a diverse city, there are so many recipes out there and cuisines. There is something about being at the dinner table and sharing food that just feels like a dinner party, but also dinner with mum and dad. People who have never met get to share a meal. 
K: Dinner is a lost art. Breaking bread with people is setting aside your differences. We’re all here to sit, eat, and hear each other's stories. To me the most important thing about UEL is getting people together around a table – creating that sense of community and love. 

J: I love going out to restaurants but in the same respect, people aren’t cooking at home as much. People are always out, so showcasing the home-cook is a really great way to inspire others to cook at home. Where do you see this going? I guess this idea has infinite potential.
K:Well our goal is to make this solid and build a foundation. I began to type up literature to give people directions (on how to create their own UEL’s). I'm working on creating a database of users. Its pretty basic but when you have a bunch of people with ideas, you have to find some system of organization. The thing that makes it so special is that UEL is food centric but there are endless possibilities. Its not just about the dinner, which is true of some other underground dinners. Forage SF is absolutely genius, but is more about the gourmet. That is so important, but we are putting a different spin on it. We are focusing on community and community building through inviting people into our homes. This is about the aftermath that follows the dinner.

If you are interested in participating in the next Urban Eating League or would like to create your own, you can visit the website at, or email Kaity directly at

Friday, March 2, 2012

Please let me introduce myself...

Hello all you fantastic foodies,

Thanks for visiting my blog. This is something I've been meaning to do for a while. Check back in for weekly posts. In the meantime...

A little about me:

I am an urban food forager. To clarify: To me there is no such thing as food set on the table. Every meal has a story, be it how it finds its way to your belly, or how your belly finds its way to the meal. This is where I'll be telling those stories.

Today I'll  be telling the story of how I found my way to food. I am a Southern California girl, (although I am English and half South African on paper). I grew up with a vegan dad and a mom who was raised on a dairy farm. Suffice to say, meal times were never boring. Although my parents had their gastronomic differences, they both had a deep respect for good food. As they experimented with their own cooking styles, I was always blessed with the job of guinea pig.

Although my parents planted this the seed in me, my love of food sprouted by default. I originally went to art school, which taught me I had absolutely no desire to be an artist. While there, I had your cliche college room mates: instant-ramen and take-out was the norm. A grilled cheese was a gourmet treat. I took it upon myself to feed them and (after some absolutely disastrous meals), me and cooking became a groovy pair. After college, we boogied our way across Asia, taking cooking classes in each country visited. I became a sponge and soaked up all the food and knowledge Asia had to offer me.

Here I am a year later; I have been living in San Francisco for the last 7 months attending culinary school. I never thought I could feel so exited about a career. This industry and this city are nurturing me in new ways every day. San Francisco is full of creativity, community, and fantastic food. It has inspired me to grab my education by the balls, and steer it in the direction that's right for me. I am foraging for my education in unlikely places. I learn through school, but also through internships, eating out, attending workshops, getting involved with community events and having no shame about walking up to someone and saying, "teach me."
This blog is about my education. It is about the events that go on in this city: from underground dinner crawls to thousand person chocolate conventions. I'll be attending book signings and workshops, touring food activism organizations and community gardens, eating at taco trucks and fine-dining restaurant, and of course taking you with me as I cook food for my eight room mates.

I will post every week with a new story. I am very exited about this project.

Keep checking in,

Jess : )