One consolation for recently watching another "ten" roll by on my age odometer is that good, sympathetic friends call with offers of interesting celebratory meals. To a foodie, such generosity more than offsets a mailbox full of Mortality Reminders from AARP.
And when the dinner offer comes from an urban hipster like my friend Carolyn Charlton, it usually means I’m in for some creative culinaria. In this case, a dinner prepared by a nomadic chef.
Popularized in the 2002 book "Stanley Park" by Timothy Taylor (which I can recommend), nomadic chefs run a kitchen without a license, a condition that encourages one to remain one step ahead of the inspectors. Often operating below the regulator’s radar, at least at first, they become self-policed by their own high standards and the word-of-mouth that is essential for their economic survival.
Their kitchen facilities can range from the cramped quarters of a friend’s domestic kitchen (where the unscheduled meals occur sporadically, the date and location being announced only by word of mouth to the lucky few on the "friends list"), to a licensed facility leased by the chef for an evening or two per week. Nomadic Chefs usually feature seasonal foods grown locally, using all the latest (i.e., old fashioned) sustainable farming practices. Locavores are among today’s more experimental diners, apparently.
Vegetarian dishes are common, meats are usually grass-fed, and seafood is wild caught using sustainable fishing methods. One suspects even the vegetables were treated to a particularly good life before being gently hand-plucked from the warm comfort of mother earth.
So what nomad chef did Carolyn find for us? Leslie and I joined her and John for a meal prepared by Eskender Aseged. Born in Ethiopia, his childhood home had one of the few radios in the village, and neighbors would come by to listen and to eat the food prepared in his mother’s kitchen. He began helping at an early age, his first restaurant experience. It was this memory that inspired his nomadic "restaurant" – Radio Africa & Kitchen – where guests sit at community tables, often sharing conversation, food recommendations, and wine.
By now, Eskender has been in the U.S. over 20 years, working in the only industry he has ever known – food service. His lengthy pedigree includes stints at Joyce Goldstein’s Square One Restaurant, Boulevard, Elizabeth Daniel and Campton Place. His nomadic chef business began with the occasional meal in the kitchens of friends. By 2005 it had grown to the point that he began leasing kitchen time at licensed facilities, like the one we see here…
Our Food & Wine Pairing – Photo Gallery
This is Carolyn and John at our table at Velo Rouge, a coffee shop and lunch facility leased by Eskender a couple of nights a week when he’s not at Sweet Adeline Bakeshop in Berkeley. A quick perusal of the short wine list sent me scurrying out to my car, where I’d wisely stowed three wines from our most current wine club selections. We were lucky enough to have brought wines that increased the overall deliciousness of our meal – exactly what a good wine should do!
We started with a very unique hummus made from Edamame instead of the usual chickpea – an interesting variation that we gave more points for creativity than for flavor. This was followed by a nice, simple salad of arugula with shaved Parmesan and drizzled with really good olive oil and a dusting of sea salt. Both dishes paired very nicely with the Uvaggio Rosato (available to non-members for $14), which easily handled the peppery arugula.
The chickpea soup was the most memorable dish of the evening. I apologize for the rather drab photo at right – the dish was far more appetizing in person. The soup featured a long list of unique ingredients that could have proved difficult to pair with wine (remind me again, what goes nicely with fermented cinnamon??!!) But our Calzada Ridge Viognier (a "Maya’s Selection" for August) beautifully tamed and complemented the soup’s spices. The only complaint I have about this otherwise beautiful wine is that it tends to disappear very quickly. I suspect it evaporates too easily.
Though I have no usable photo of our main courses, we selected both the vegetarian eggplant-and-squash and the wild caught salmon. These were paired with the remaining Rosato and Viognier as well as another of this month’s club wines, the Verdad Tempranillo. This grape, best known for its leading role in Spain’s Rioja wines, proved a nice compliment to the lentil side dish, the earthiness of the lentils providing a most pleasant foil for this red wine.
Personable as well as competent, Eskender came out into the dining room after the meal to be greeted by spontaneous applause. After the room quieted, he answered questions from his guests about his background, the meal, and his unique ingredients. He then acquiesced to photo requests, as you can see. And lest you be concerned about your Wine Merchant driving home after too convivial an evening, you’ll rest comfortably in knowing we left the remaining wine for the staff to enjoy.
The next time you’re thinking about places to eat in the Bay Area, I encourage you to visit Eskender, or else to find a nomadic chef in your own community – I hear the phenomenon is taking hold in even small towns across America.
Know a good one? Please leave details in the comments section, including the name, its city and the contact info or URL! And of course, if you need wine recommendations before you go, send me an email…
Dave Chambers, Wine Merchant
You don’t stop laughing because you grow old, You grow old because you stop laughing, an unavoidable fate whiteout regular visits to www.SidewaysWineClub.com
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