Three years ago this month, I ventured into the crazy world of food start-ups in San Francisco. My goal? To claim world domination through delicious, jewel-colored jars filled with fresh fruit, sugar, lemon and a whole lotta love. With a hint towards my production methods and a not-so-subtle nod to my favorite music genre, Slow Jams was born. With the help of La Cocina, I garnered a fair amount of attention, grew my business, and even made it to national TV. Not bad for a Harlem-raised girl who didn’t taste a fresh apricot until her first visit to the Ferry Plaza Farmer’s Market.
And then my life completely changed.
Along with being quite the foodie, I’m also a really big nerd. It turns out that the US State Department recognized said fact and I was awarded a prestigious 1-year Fulbright fellowship to attend the University of Gastronomic Sciences in Pollenzo, Italy. Selected to earn my Master’s degree in Food Culture and Communications, I tried to ready myself for copious wine tasting, olive oil sniffing and the consumption of ungodly amounts of cured pork products.
Alas, I had to say goodbye to Slow Jams and the momentum I had gained. But last year was incredible, from learning about traditional cheese-making in a hut atop the Dolomite mountains, to getting schooled by nonnas in the art of making tortelli pasta, to having thoughtful conversations about food sustainability with professors from around the world. Not to mention making my way through daily life in our tiny town with my Tarzan Italian (“Me want the cappuccino there now please!”).
However, in my heart, canning and preserving never went away. As I immersed myself in Italian food culture and traditions, I began to see parallels with our food culture here in the Bay Area. Throughout my travels, I sought ‘kindred canners’ and bonded across language barriers. I discussed sugar content and troublesome label-makers with a small-jam producer in Emilia. I learned secrets of mostarda in Reggio and discovered a native pumpkin only used for its pectin. I also taught “the American way” of canning for bemused audience of old and young Italians.
Earlier this year, I returned to the Bay a certified gastronome trying to find her place again in the food world. I knew canning and preserving would be a part of my life, as would my deep commitment to food systems work. So I asked my favorite dreamer-entrepreneur-foodie Sam if there was a place for me at Bi-Rite. As a new member of the Bi-Rite family, I now wear a number of hats. I’m working as our Community Coordinator, continuing our support of so many San Francisco organizations that need our help, and forging new programs that aim to increase access to healthy food across our city’s neighborhoods. I’m hosting our Sunday cooking classes at 18 Reasons (tickets are available for my blackberry-palooza on August 5th!) And as our in-house canner, I now work with our farmers, grocery and produce teams to make small-batch, seasonal preserves out of our Bi-Rite kitchens right here on 18th Street.
It would only make sense that pairing my jam expertise with the best of directly-sourced fruit from our farmers would yield some delicious new additions to the Bi-Rite shelves. Combining my trademark New York obsession with top quality, my commitment to preserving our Bay Area produce bounty, and a new hint of Italian flair, I’ve come up with several tasty preserves that we’ll offer in our new Bi-Rite PUBLIC Label line. Leave no cream scone untopped by my Summer Berry Jam; it’s clean, bold and fruit forward, bursting with fresh blueberries, raspberries and strawberries. And be on the lookout for the Santa Rosa Plum Preserve I’ve made from the tart and sweet plums we harvested from our Sonoma Farm.
We’ll be sharing tastes of our new PUBLIC Label releases throughout the summer; swing by and say hi, I’m looking forward to seeing some new and old faces! I have lots more up my sleeve and am pumped to have my Bi-Rite fam on my side.