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Berkeley People Shaking Up the Food Scene

Chefs, a baker, a cannabis confectioner, and more

December 1, 2022
by Madeline Taub
drawings of our spotlighted chefs (Patrick Welsh)

Erika Chan ’13 learned the fundamentals of baking at Mayfield Bakery in Palo Alto, where
she interned on summer breaks while pursuing a degree in nutritional sciences and dietetics
at Cal. After graduating magna cum laude and becoming a registered dietitian, Chan
returned to the world of pastries, working in a variety of restaurants around the country
before landing at her current spot, pastry chef at the Michelin-starred Rustic Canyon in
Santa Monica. Michelin Guide says Chan’s confections, like sourdough biscuit with whipped cream, macerated strawberries, and basil powder, “wow with simplicity.”

Erin Wade, J.D. ’08, was eating her dad’s homemade mac and cheese after a particularly
rough day as an attorney when she decided to ditch the law and open a restaurant. The
result was Homeroom, her gourmet mac and cheese shop in Oakland’s Temescal district.
Asked whether her legal training helped in business, Wade says no. “The law teaches you
how to not take risks and how to see everything as a potential lawsuit. And that’s a really
damaging mindset.” It may have helped in another way. A proud feminist, Wade instituted a
harassment prevention system at Homeroom that has been highlighted as an innovative strategy by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Ho Foods in Manhattan’s East Village is a restaurant dedicated to the perfection of a single
dish: Taiwanese beef noodle soup. To make it, Chef Richard Ho ’06 blends broths made
with cow hooves and beef bones and another made of beef shank in rice wine and soy
sauce, all of it infused with the trinity of Chinese aromatics—ginger, garlic, and scallion—and
spiced with two kinds of doubanjiang, the fermented bean paste. Ho, who studied economics
and law at Cal, said his mom wasn’t happy with his choice of vocation. He told the New York
Times she asked him, “Instead of working at restaurants, why don’t you become a lawyer and eat at restaurants?”

Oscar Michel ’02 graduated from Cal with a degree in city planning before joining a band
and pursuing music for ten years while also working at Urban Ore, the Berkeley salvage
yard. After the band fell through, Michel decided to become his own boss. Today, he owns
Tacos Oscar with partner Jake Weiss. The quirky, unpretentious taqueria inhabits a North
Oakland alleyway, and the kitchen is a converted shipping container. Oscar and Co. serve up hand-pressed tortillas filled with ingredients that are both traditional and surprising: fried huevo tacos, por ejemplo, and mushroom mole.

Even before she graduated from Cal, Vanessa Lavorato ’10 was cooking with grass. The
former cohost of Vice TV’s Bong Appétit and owner of L.A. cannabis confiserie Marigold
Sweets credits late professor Charles Muscatine and the wider Berkeley community for
giving her the courage to make edibles her business. As she told California in 2018, “If
you’re studying, working, and living in Berkeley, you’re encouraged to take a different path,
to do what inspires you.” Lavorato is currently working on a cookbook that will feature,
among other recipes, her favorite “sticky-icky potstickers” with apple, pork, and—you guessed it—weed.

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