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San Diego Transcript

 “Food For Thought: San Diego” Transcript

Kerry Diamond: Hi Bombesquad, welcome to food for thought, a Radio Cherry Bombe mini series. I'm Kerry Diamond, editor in chief of Cherry Bombe Magazine.

Kerry Diamond: We wanted to know what's on your mind, so we hit the road and went on tour, to eat, drink, and talk with lots of you all across the country. Today's stop is San Diego, California, where we heard from six women changing the local food scene. Thank you to Kerrygold for supporting our food for thought tour. Kerrygold is the Irish brand known for it's award-winning butter and cheese made with milk from grass-fed cows from family farms all over Ireland. We'll be hearing more about their amazing product later, so stay tuned. First up, let's listen to a short talk from Laura Johnson of You & Yours Distilling Company.

Laura Johnson: Thank you so much. I'm going to kind of dive into how I became a distiller and how I came to run a distillery at 23, 24, so... Originally I am from the Dallas area, born and raised, grew up with pretty relaxed parents. There's not a lot to do in that part of of Texas other than go to sporting events and get in trouble, and I did plenty of both. So I was kind of always encouraged... Alcohol was never like a taboo in our family. I was always encouraged to like try a sip of my parents' wine or just try a taste of their cocktail, so I feel like I grew up with quite a healthy, respectful relationship to alcoholic beverages from an early age. And then my love for a distilling kind of first clicked the summer after I graduated from high school.

Laura Johnson: So I went on this kind of fun... What I understand now was like a nice father-daughter bonding trip before I went off to college. So we ended up going on this fun trip together before I moved out here to San Diego to go to USD. And on that trip we just happened to pop into a distillery tour. And I just remember being fascinated, like completely enthralled. I couldn't believe how similar the process was to cooking. I just remember... My dad is a super ADD and we were like 20 minutes into the tour and he was like, "Okay, come on Laura, you're ready to go? Next thing." And I was like, "Absolutely not, we're staying put." And like I said, I just couldn't believe how similar it was to cooking or creating flavors. There's all these different opportunities along the distillation and the fermentation process where you can really put your mark on the spirit and make it your own.

Laura Johnson: All growing up I remember being in middle school and pretending to be sick so I could stay home from school and watch the Food Network. Those were my idols, I just worshiped like Emeril and Ina and Giada. And so the fact that there was this whole other process... I used to stay up late just so I could watch the original Iron Chef, but I couldn't believe that there was this whole process behind these spirits that I knew nothing about. And so yeah, I kind of had that as a bug in my mind. Moved out here to do my undergrad, continued to hone my love of drinking throughout my college years as one does. And I studied international business and economics and I come from quite entrepreneurial blood I suppose. And so I always knew that I wanted to have my own company of some sort at some point in my life, but really didn't know what that was going to be.

Laura Johnson: But I knew that again, I had this interest in wine and spirits and so as soon as I turned 21, I signed up for the WSET. So kind of thought maybe going down like a wine track or sommelier track would be like a first step. I didn't really know where to start. I started a blog, Distillerista, and started sharing cocktail recipes. But again, I had no idea where this was going to take me, but I knew that I had the interest and the passion. I may be past high school chemistry, I'm not sure, but just the ability to kind of impart flavors on a spirit was what really hooked me. So fast forward again, I graduate from University of San Diego, again what do I do now, right? As I think happens to a lot of us, but I found a distilling course online. So it was kind of this one on one intensive master distillers course at a distillery up in Washington State.

Laura Johnson: And so I literally walked across the stage, got my diploma, the next day I was on a plane to go do this distilling course. I just remember being at this course, and it was two older gentlemen who had... This was kind of like their second career. They'd opened a distillery and quickly found that they could charge a lot of money to teach other people how to open a distillery. And I was like fresh out of college. I do not think that they thought that this was what they were going to get that week. And I basically got like a pat on the head like, "Oh cute, you want to be a distiller? Great."

Laura Johnson: And so it was a little bit of a disheartening experience. It was an interesting week to say the least, but ultimately I left after the course just thinking to myself like, "If these knuckleheads," and I used a different word, more colorful word but, "If these guys can do this," and they had a substantial amount of regional market share and still do to this day, "And if they can be marginally successful, I can absolutely crush this. This is what we're doing, this is where we're going." And so I was a dog on a bone after that. I basically spent the next nine, 10 months after graduation just traveling all over the States doing any distilling workshop, masterclass, apprenticeship, anything I could find online and get my hands on, just kind of like made my way around. There are a few programs nowadays, but back then... This was only about, I would say maybe five or six years ago, but there wasn't any type of formal distilling education.

Laura Johnson: So I just kind of like did what I could. Came back to San Diego, really wanted a distilling position. I wanted more time on a still. I felt like I had a lot of industry knowledge, a lot of passion, but not necessarily a lot of hands-on practical experience. So I reached out to every distillery in Southern California or... excuse me... California that I could find at the time, which weren't very many and maybe two people got back to me. And so it was very hard to find at the time a distillery that was like A, well enough established to have an open position of that kind, but B, be willing to kind of take a chance on me for that position, because I definitely don't think like this is what you think of when you think of a distiller, right?

Laura Johnson: So again, kind of another interesting stepping stone in my journey yet again, I was kind of like, "Okay, well (beep), what do I do now?" And so I took a step back and I was like, "What do I know how to do?" I studied international business, I'd already started writing the business plan for what would eventually become You & Yours, I felt like I had created enough contacts and relationships throughout my travels in education that I could go to for capital and I just said, "Hell with it, I'm going to do this myself." And so I did.

Laura Johnson: So after I circulated the business plan, I had my desired raise verbally committed in about a month. Keyword, verbally committed. It was definitely an interesting process getting my project fully funded. But that is kind of the somewhat abridged version of how You & Yours came to be. So it took about two and a half years from finishing the business plan to actually opening the doors at You & Yours, but we did March, 2017 as I mentioned, and it's been a total whirlwind. It feels like two months and like 20 years all at the same time. But I wouldn't rather be doing anything else. This is what I've worked so hard for and I feel like the whole time I was just met, as we often are when starting something new that isn't really done very often, like a random chick opening a distillery, like, "What are you trying to do?"

Laura Johnson: The whole time I was just so convicted. I knew I had something to bring to the table. I knew that... Oh like during my travels and visiting all these distilleries and learning from these other people, I saw this huge gap in the market for a distilling concept that put an equal amount of thought and effort, not only into the quality of the product and the ingredients that they're using, but also the quality of the experience as a whole. And I think obviously my love of food and hospitality helped me in creating delicious spirits, I hope. But also in just understanding how to create an incredible experience as well.

Laura Johnson: And so if you've ever been to You & Yours, if you've been to the tasting room, hopefully that comes through. You walk in and we just want you to feel immediately at ease. I don't care what you know or what you don't know about gin or distilling or the origin story of the old-fashioned cocktail or what have you. I just want you to come in and have a good time and hopefully you learn a little something. But I think at the end of the day, I think we're all just in the business of making people happy and sharing what makes us happy. So hopefully I'm doing an okay job of it.

Kerry Diamond: Thank you Laura. We loved hearing about your journey. Next we'll hear from Diane Rocha about one of the bomb squad's favorite subjects, Julia Child.

Diane Rocha: Yes, I taught English and history in Vista, California for 22 years. Damn near killed me, but this young woman right here, Emily Myers, who came down here with me was my student 15 years ago. And I was a big grammar teacher because I went to Catholic school, right? So we were doing this grammar exercise and it said, "Julia child comma, the French chef comma," and whatever else the sentence said. And so I said to those students... This is what, 2004-ish? And I said, "So Julia Child, you all know who Julia Child is?" It was seventh grade, I got these blank looks then I said, "Let me tell you about Julia child." Told them the whole story about who she was and the french chef and how she was 50 years old when she first started, and I was 40 when I became a teacher and so this, that and the other.

Diane Rocha: And then I told them the story about how in 1989 I was a stay-at-home mom. I had my two kids, Kate and Matthew, who were six and four, no, six and two and Julia child came to town to La Jolla to Warwick's books for her book signing of The Way to Cook, her last book that she wrote on her own. And I said, "I have to go see her. I have to meet her. I just have to do this." In the meantime as this stay-at-home mom, I was getting bored, so I started making English muffins. And I don't know if you're local, but you know the Pannikin?

Audience: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Diane Rocha: Okay, so I sold English muffins to the Pannikin because the guy who used to own the Pannikin rode motorcycles with my then husband. And one day he came over for what they called the Norton Prince of Darkness Motorcycle Ride and Chili Cook-off. You can tell how much part I was in that and I said, "Hey Bob, you want to try some English muffins? And he say, "Hey, had one with my homemade strawberry jam on it." And he said, "These are great." And I said, "Good, do you want to buy some because I need to do something out of the home and make some money." And he said, "Yeah." So to gross a week from my little kitchen when I was living over by San Diego State, it was hilarious. So this is when I was still doing that. So I got the babysitter for the baby Matthew because he was two, he would never have known the difference. And I took Kate with me. Now Kate was six and so she'd been watching what... they were videotapes at that point. Julia did something, it might have been called the way to cook.

Diane Rocha: She did a series of videotapes and Kate and I would watch them and Kate's birthday cake every year was the classical genoise with the whipped cream and the strawberries on it. And so I took Kate with me. We drove to La Jolla, we walked in. "No Julia, no Julia..." By the way, I made her a dozen English muffins, packed them up in a box, wrote her a letter, "Dear Julia, you are the one who taught me how to cook. My mother thought she did, but she didn't. You're the one who really did with your show. Julia Child & Company and Julia Child & More Company. Oh, I've learned everything I've known from you." I saw there she has, she walks in and Kate's going, "Mom, mom." And I said, "I know, I know, she's here." So we get in the line and we're waiting in the line. And they let you know, they always have the helpers with them when they're big like that. I don't mean in stature. I mean you know...

Diane Rocha: And I said, "Here's this box. It's got English muffins in it. I made them, I have this little business. It's my turn, she hands the box to Julia. I swear to God she really did this. I was looking in her eyes and she was sitting down because she really was 6'2. She's banging on the box, "Oh goody, goody gumdrops, home-made English muffins." She's really did say that. It was so funny. And I said, "Yes," and I told her that I was making them, well I guess professionally, I was getting paid for it, so I guess that makes it a profession, right?

Diane Rocha: And she said, "I'm so..." She got very serious. "I'm so glad you're doing this. We need more cottage industry like this."I'm like, "Oh my God." She said, "English muffins," she said to me, "How do you get them to cook so that they're cooked all the way through and not burn on the outside?" And I'm going, "Julia child is asking me how to do this." And then I remembered her recipe didn't work. This was not her recipe. This was from a jam book called Jam Shane Madeline or something like that. And I said, "Well that is the secret, isn't it?" And I told her how I did it and it was all about rolling it around in a bowl of corn meal. And I said, "like, you had taught me in one of your shows about cornmeal being like a ball bearing." And she said, "I never really thought about that."And she was unbelievable. I couldn't believe it.

Diane Rocha: So we're in the store and she signs the book and she didn't sign much of anything... Good luck or whatever. And then Kate and I are lurking around the store watching her some more and you should've seen Kate, I have to tell you. And you know how moms are, right? So this kid of mine is six years old and she's just standing there looking at her. And Julia said some things to her, I can't remember what it was, but it was really cute. So, okay, fast forward. It's 2010 I'm on what I called my odyssey because I decided being a teacher, I needed to take some time off during the summer. Actually do something and not stand at the Xerox machine getting ready for the next school year, reading all of the grammar packets. You remember those? And so I took off, I went on this odyssey, I went up to Portland just to go to Pals books because I needed more cookbooks, right? To add to that 4,000 collection.

Diane Rocha: And so I'm coming back, and it was 2010 so I'm in my little Volkswagen Cabrio with the top down. Bonnie Raitt blasting, having a great time and the car dies on the side of the road. I barely got... I got two tires off the road. That was it. And I'm talking about on... This is very near... Oh, I was four miles North of Point Arena, which is 250 miles North of San Francisco on the one... Not the 101, the one that goes like this and you can only drive 25 miles an hour thankfully. So I've got my two tires off on the side of the road and some guy comes, turns around, takes his truck and pushes me the rest of the way off the road. I was a little nervous about that. Called whoever, the tow truck comes, I'm taking pictures of the tow truck taking my car away.

Diane Rocha: They take me down to Point Arena. I was on my way to that lighthouse because I also like lighthouses and now I'm stuck there for a week because, I don't know if I can say this, but what is the industry in Humboldt County?

Audience Member: Marijuana. Weed.

Diane Rocha: Growing pot, exactly. So the town of Point Arena is about five blocks long. The entire town is stoned. It looks like you can see smoke through the whole thing. So he kept my car for a week, never fixed it, charged me $1,000, never fixed it. He had it towed to Healdsburg where his brother fixed it for another $1000, that's another story. Anyway, so I put it up on Facebook, the picture of my car being towed. And one of my friends called and he said, "I love Point Arena. You have to go meet The Jam Lady." I said, " Oh, okay, I'll meet The Jam Lady."

Diane Rocha: So I walk a mile down the road because I don't have a car, and I turn right and there's a sign, The Jam Lady. Her real name is Lisa Joa Camedes. She calls herself The Jam Lady. She makes jam in Point Arena, sends it all over the place. I went in, she has a full... a kitchen like that one, all stainless steel, really professional and all that. We start talking blah, blah, blah. She says, "Yeah, I used to work for Barbara Trop at Chinaman Cafe," and I said, "Oh my God, I love her." We figured out she'd cooked my dinner sometime before. I was like, "Oh my God, this is amazing." And I told her the Julia child's story. Oh, I forgot to tell you part of it. She wrote me a letter. She answered my little note that I had scrawled on a little tiny legal piece of paper.

Diane Rocha: She wrote me a letter. Julia Child wrote me a letter. I have evidence. And so I wrote back to her, she wrote me again. I still owe her a letter. I don't know why I never finished that. So I'm telling this story to Lisa, The Jam Lady, she says, "Wait right here." I'm thinking, "Okay, what's going on here? I'm in this really weird place." She disappeared upstairs, comes down with a box, opens the box. She has a dozen flutes, champagne flutes from Julia's 90th birthday party. She says, "You need these." She gave me two of them. Isn't that amazing? I just went, "I'm a total stranger and you..." she said, "We're not strangers." She said, "You have to have these, they have to be yours." And so I said, "Okay, thank you. Thank you, thank God." We wrapped them very carefully. They got home even through the bumpy Healdsburg thing.

Diane Rocha: And so then on her 100th birthday, and I'm not sure what... I don't remember what year it was. On her 100th birthday, I was home from school that day, I think it was in August, so I was home legally. And I cooked everything, just all Julia child stuff and I called one of my friends. I said, "Come on over." We used the Julia Child flutes. We had a little split of champagne. We toasted her. I put it all up on Facebook. It was amazing. And now, oh it's so funny, I have those glasses. They're in my glass cabinet, but they're hidden in the back and my son in law was here in February and he went to reach for that for his champagne. I said, "Oh no, no. Look what that says on it." He says, "Julia Child's 90th birthday." I said, "You don't use those. You don't appreciate that. This is Julia Child. I mean, come on."

Diane Rocha: So that is my Julia Child's story. I love her. Love her. The day that she died, my daughter was about 20 I think, she called me. She's living on her own. She called me, she says, "Mom, I have really bad news." "I don't know. Oh, what is this? Were you in an accident?" She says, "Julia died today." And it was as if her grandmother, my mother had died. We were so sad, we cried on the phone. And who's better than Julia Child, right? Well now we have Ina but Julia Child in my heart.

Kerry Diamond: Thank you Diane for sharing your story and for bringing me some of those English muffins. English muffin pizzas were one of my favorite things to eat as a kid, so I made a lot of them over the past few months, thanks to you. Our final talk comes from Monica Maccioni. Monica shares the story behind her very unique career pivot.

Monica Maccioni: Thank you. First of all, thank you very much for inviting me and for giving me the opportunity to share my personal path through food and especially through... I am a gelato chef, so a world full of passion and flavor I am very happy to be part of. Since 2014 when we decided to open this gelato place, and my life changed completely.

Monica Maccioni: So I was born in Sardinia. Sardinia is an Island in the center of the Mediterranean seas. As an Italian girl, I used to cook with my mom, my grandmother. And my grandfather was a farmer, so we had a lot of a fresh and local produce to cook. And so this is my background in cooking, but when I decided what to do with my life, I decided to study electronic engineering. So I have been an electronic engineer for a couple of years and a consultant. Then I decided to have a master in lighting design.

Monica Maccioni: And this completely changed my approach to my job because lighting is a kind of art creativity. When you make a lighting project, you create something that is completely different from what you expect because otherwise it's dark at night. So you create a different scenarios and with your creativity, you can make different choices. And that is my approach now with food and with gelato.

Monica Maccioni: So I worked as a lighting designer for 20 years, almost 20 years, and cooking was a passion for me. I love to cook, I loved it. Especially to do marmalade and jams, that is similar to gelato because you mix a lot of ingredients. You can mix fruit, nuts spices and the flavor is always different. And I like also to study. So I had some courses with a friend of mine that is a one-star Michelin chef, but it was a hobby, a passion I liked to give as a gift this marmalade to friends. I worked in a big company and my husband too, but our dream was to make something different, something by ourself to make something that give happiness.

Monica Maccioni: One day he came home, it was like 2013 no, 2012 and then he told me, "Why we don't quit our job and we open a gelato place." I said, "What?" And he said, "Now or never, we are not too young." And I said, "Yeah, okay." So we decided to quit our job and we had a lot of courses with the gelato maestro Gianpaolo Valli. He's like guru in the gelato world and we learned all the old techniques to make gelato. And then we decided to open in the States. We moved first to New York and then we ended up here and we found that the perfect spot in La Jolla. The landlord was arranging, the day we arrived at the spot we rented. So it was something, a good karma for us. And in 2014 we opened our first location.

Monica Maccioni: Our idea of gelato, the way we make gelato is really connected with the Italy, but we found that so many things here in California, our new home, is full of produce you can use, nuts. So it's a very inspiring place to a gelato shop. And my idea of gelato is a simple food because my roots are in Sardinia. Sardinia is an Island that has been conquered by everybody in the Mediterranean sea. So we have influences from North Africa, Eastern Europe. But we were a poor place, so our food is very simple but you can taste everything you eat.

Monica Maccioni: So our gelato is a simple food but made in a traditional way with a slow process combined with ingenuity, because I like to combine different flavors. And here you can find the everything. When you go around, everything you eat, you drink, you smell can be an inspiration for a gelato. So here for me is the correct place to mix my roots with a new world. And this is my new life. Coming back to my dream, my dream was to open this place that give happiness. In Italy we say, "poco, poco, non mangia sempre un dolce, prendi sempre un gelati" which means have a little scoop, not a big one, but don't give up with the gelato. So what I say is that gelato make you happy. Very good gelato make you even happier. So thank you for inviting me. This is my story.

Kerry Diamond: Thank you, Monica. We stopped Bobboi for some gelato during our visit and I had a scoop of stracciatella and a scoop of pistachio in a cone of course. Don't forget, I'm a big proponent of cone only, so you don't have to throw a cup and spoon in the garbage. Before we get to our panel, let's hear a word about Kerrygold.

Kerry Diamond: Hi everybody, it's Kerry Diamond here to talk to you about Kerrygold cheese and butter. I traveled to Ireland this summer to learn more about Kerrygold, The family-run dairy farms they work with and the beautiful cheese and butter made from their grass-fed dairy. I hung out with cows for the first time in my life. I visited a picturesque cliffside farm in the Southeast of Ireland overlooking the ocean. I walked on a lot of grass. I ate a lot of scones slathered with Kerrygold butter, which is truly the color of sunshine.

Kerry Diamond: I learned how Kerrygold tests and grades its famous cheeses from its award-winning reserve cheddar cheese to it's nutty and robust Dubliner cheese. I also stopped by Beechmount Farm to learn how they make my favorite Kerrygold Cashel Blue Irish farmhouse cheese. You should definitely plan a visit to Ireland to get a taste of this beautiful country or you can just visit your favorite grocery store. For more on Kerrygold, visit

Kerry Diamond: Let's welcome chef Claudette Zepeda, farmer Mai Nguyen and Crystal White of Wayfarer Bread. To kick things off, I asked the panel to describe themselves in one word. First up is Claudette.

Claudette Zepeda: Mother. That's it. The epitome of the word, all the good and bad connotations that come along with mothering. It's part of my job. It's part of my identity. As a chef, It's been the easiest tool that I can find, I mean, who wants to disappoint their moms? No one, not one person who wants to hear their mom says, "Oh man, I'm disappointed." If your mom gets angry and you know she's going to get over it, when she's disappointed, that carries way more weight.

Claudette Zepeda: And I learned as a chef and as a mother, I shifted being angry at things with like, "Dang it. I thought I would have taught them better," as my cooks too because that's something that I do with my children. And my daughter and my son have very different personalities. I parent them completely different and that's how I feel I am in the kitchen. Every cook has a different personality, a different set of rules and guidelines and what drives them. So I am a mother at home and I'm a mother in the kitchen.

Crystal White: Crystal, I'm a Baker. I've always wanted to be one. I've always been one, even when I'm dealing with everything besides baking. The only reason I opened a bakery is because I love to bake and it's the only thing that keeps me grounded.

Kerry Diamond: Even when you were little-

Crystal White: Oh yeah.

Kerry Diamond: ... you knew you wanted to be a Baker?

Crystal White: Yeah. I've been telling people I wanted to open a bakery by the beach since I was 10 years old. My parents think it's hilarious that I actually went through with it.

Kerry Diamond: That's amazing. Mai, what's your one word?

Mai Nguyen: I'd say my one word is catalyst. I start a lot of things and I like sparking ideas and projects and working with people to really get things going.

Kerry Diamond: That's great, catalyst. I love that. What food related topic is on your mind these days since this is the Food for Thought Tour?

Claudette Zepeda: The irony that vegetarians and vegans don't want to pay for a vegetarian or vegan meal made with organic vegetables at a restaurant. That's my biggest complaint, where a vegan will complain about a $24 entree. I'm like, "We literally are walking outside and pulling it out of the dirt for you, but you'll pay $3 at Whole Foods for that same exact vegetable. One, I just find it ironic a little bit so that's a lot on my mind right now of like how do you get people to value it? How do you do it eloquently without going, "You should pay fr..." without getting angry about it and just being like, how do I make this a more graceful conversation?

Kerry Diamond: How do you? Do you have some thoughts on how to do that?

Claudette Zepeda: I have my cooks. We have thing called a chef swim, so we let the servers kind of give it over to them. If you sell it right and you can make anything sound romantic people will kind of go like, "Oh yes, that sounds good." If you're a good salesperson or generally customer service-oriented server. And then the cooks go out and describe what it is because the chefs when they've cooked, the server won't know what's going to happen on the plate until we kind of play a Russian roulette on the line and I say, "Chef swim," and whoever raises their hands or whoever doesn't raise their hand, then gets picked. And they create the dish out of nothing, and if there's three vegetarians or three vegans at a table, they all get something different.

Claudette Zepeda: So then the cooks walk out and have to interact with the customers. And it adds value to it because they have some trained professional make something for them. They explain which box it came out of, what grows around it, the pollinators that help and we really put a lot of effort into this garden and you can see it's on steroids right now with the bees and the summer just kind of, one switch happened and then the corn grew taller than the lights now. But I think that the connection between putting a human in front of them, that had to do it... I took off avocados off the menu when they got really expensive because then I couldn't justify charging someone $30 for a guacamole plate. But they'll go, "Oh, there's avocados at Costco."

Claudette Zepeda: "Well yeah, but they're bad avocados." Like you don't want avocados from Peru, I promise. You want avocados as close to you as you can. But they don't put a human next to a vegetable. We don't because we're a consumer generation of like, "It's supposed to be instant... Amazon prime brought it in an hour." It's like we're humans and we grow things and here we grow things and we sell them, so it's the connection comes full circle.

Kerry Diamond: All right, crystal, what is on your mind?

Crystal White: There's this massive shift happening with our culture. People are buying a lot of things online now. Retail stores are closing a lot more. Online community is happening, but it's shifting the way that community is formed. And I think that like bakeries and coffee shops are one of the last remaining traditional places where community is built. The same people come in every single day and they talk to their neighbors and they're actually experiencing that community that I feel like most of the people in this room grew up with, because we're kind of pre-digital age.

Crystal White: I don't know. I spent a lot of time thinking about what... Kind of that's a lot of pressure on some terms because it's like people aren't... They're kind of losing their social skills. I know I am, I'm really bad at talking to people because I stare at my phone all the time. And I feel like being kind of one of the last strongholds of a traditional community sense, I'm kind of just always thinking about what role that plays for the future and how things are going to change in the future and what place bakeries and coffee shops have in that general grand scheme of things. It's very wholesome but it's also kind of terrifying like to...

Kerry Diamond: Crystal, your social skills seem just fine.

Crystal White: Okay thanks.

Kerry Diamond: Just to reassure you.

Claudette Zepeda: My daughter likes to call me an elder millennial. We still have a little bit of social skills. Yeah, just a little.

Kerry Diamond: Mai.

Mai Nguyen: Yeah, so what am I thinking about most of these days other than this baby?

Claudette Zepeda: That answer's okay.

Mai Nguyen: But yeah, and a lot of these times where I'm sitting and nursing and thinking about this world that I've brought this baby into. I am just like, "I'm sorry we didn't solve climate change, we didn't solve structural racism before you were born." And I'd guess between the two, the one that I ended up thinking about the most, especially in regard to farming and my ability to make a living farming, kind of going back to what Claudette is talking about, structural racism is so tied to that.

Mai Nguyen: We devalue food because we've devalued the people who have grown food since the founding of this country. And we continue to do that. And as I think about the other big one, climate change or anything about alternatives to how we're conducting our industries and farming and transforming our landscapes. The alternative practices are ones that we already have. There with immigrant communities, indigenous communities, and that structural racism has largely maligned and marginalized those forms of knowledge that are really key to having different ways of growing food and valuing it and valuing each other and having community around it. If I had to choose one, yeah, structural racism.

Kerry Diamond: So you've got a lot on your mind. But it is interesting the parallels between what Claudette said and what you're talking about, the value of a human-

Mai Nguyen: Valuing the human.

Kerry Diamond: ...the value of a vegetable. Yeah. How they're connected. So one thing I would love to talk to you about is the San Diego scene. I'm new to the San Diego scene. So tell us a little bit about what you love about San Diego. Claudette we'll start with you.

Claudette Zepeda: You know, I make Mexican food. So the proximity to the border is both amazing for me because I can cross the border, go get ingredients and come right back. But it's also kind of my Achilles heel because I have to convince people that what I charge is value. Again, going into what we value as like skilled workers, I try to give my staff a living wage in San Diego. It's very hard, not as hard as New York, San Francisco, Chicago, but it's still hard to live. Most cooks don't make a living wage. They live in houses with multiple people or they live in TJ. So having the proximity to the border being so close and what I do and what I specialize in, I think San Diego has such a diverse kind of cultural I guess diversity.

Claudette Zepeda: You can go to a convoy, you go to convoy, you have all these different cuisines. You can go to Chula Vista and you have every single region of Mexico, you can go to La Jolla, you can have amazing bakeries, patisserie and I dont-

Kerry Diamond: Yeah that's true.

Claudette Zepeda: And you can go snowboarding. You can go snowboarding, hiking, surfing on the same day, San Diego is very special in that way and it's not overcrowded like LA is. You're not in your car for five miles for two hours. But at the same time I have this weird dilemma of, because what I specialize in is not valued in this part of... Geographically of the States because we're so close to the border. So I have a love-hate.

Kerry Diamond: No, it's an interesting thing that you bring up and we hear this from chefs all across the country, certain cuisines are just expected to be cheaper. And again, I think it goes back to what Mai said, you know...

Claudette Zepeda: I mean I could do this in LA and charge double the price and no one bats an eye.

Kerry Diamond: Crystal, San Diego, which year were you here?

Crystal White: San Diego. I've lived here two and a half years. Before this I lived in San Francisco for five years and before that I lived in LA for five years and before that I grew up in Neapolis. So I've had like pretty exciting food upbringing in so many ways. And I see so much opportunity in San Diego, but it's also a very frustrating place because I don't know, I try to break it down in my head because I am new here. And I think that there are more small farms per capita here than anywhere else in the country, but they're not represented in the restaurants.

Crystal White: There are such incredible sources of produce. Even like I'm growing a passion fruit vine over my patio right now, there's like 500 passion fruits on there. Coming from where I come from up North, I'm like, "These costs $5 a piece and they don't taste good," but here it's like this amazing subtropical growing region, everything grows, everything's amazing and yet there's just this lag that's happening. And I think it's just... I don't know what it is to be honest. There's a lot of restaurant groups. There's a lot of structured corporate food scene here. I found it very, very difficult to open a small business here because nobody's willing to take a chance on somebody who's like trying something small that has an owned a restaurant before. There's so many hurdles that you jumped that I had talked to people who've opened restaurants in bigger cities that have a stronger food scene and it's not easy there by any means, but they don't run into those same hurdles.

Crystal White: So I feel like there's this growing excitement about food here that started long ago and has been picking up momentum. And I think that there's so much potential and so much opportunity, but I think there's still so far to go and I don't know why. I don't know what the hangup is. I don't know when things are going to start moving forward again. I think like I said things are going forward significantly, even in the two and a half years that I've been here. But yeah, it's not LA and it's not San Francisco, but it all the same, I don't know, benchmarks to be met. I don't know.

Kerry Diamond: Mai, how strong is the food community here?

Mai Nguyen: So I grew up in city Heights, which is a largely refugee immigrant population, and what I really love about San Diego and its city Heights in particular is that you can just walk along the street and see a lot of independent immigrant-owned businesses. You walk by all these houses and you can kind of see... You can tell who lives there, where it's like, okay, there's dragon fruit peeking from that yard that's , that's a Vietnamese house. There's sugar cane that's flagging a Somali house and then a nopal farm in the city, that's the Mexican house.

Mai Nguyen: And so I really love that the food traditions are in people's backyards and that as you walk through the city and you talk to elders and aunties, you can learn how to harvest and prepare all these different foods from around the world. And it's such a unique sort of microcosm of the world right here. And at the same time, the irony isn't beyond me that this is also a military town and that the training up and deployment of troops from here is also related to the diversity of people who have ended up here. But given our circumstances, I really do enjoy meeting all the neighbors and learning all the different horticultural practices from around the world.

Kerry Diamond: We're going to switch to a little speed round speed-ish and then we'll take some questions from the audience. Okay, Claudette, favorite thing to make, bake or cook.

Claudette Zepeda: Pineapple upside-down cake.

Kerry Diamond: Ooh.

Crystal White: Bread. Always.

Audience Member: What's in the bread?

Crystal White: Oh, naturally fermented, organically-grown flour bread. That is just so compelling because you have so much less control over it then you want to.

Kerry Diamond: Mai, favorite thing to make, bake or cook?

Mai Nguyen: Dumplings because they're a gift for future me.

Kerry Diamond: And to follow up, what kind of dumplings?

Mai Nguyen: Kimchi dumplings.

Kerry Diamond: Ooh. All right. Who is your culinary-

Mai Nguyen: Thank you.

Kerry Diamond: Who is your culinary hero?

Claudette Zepeda: Actually, I'm going to piggyback off of Julia Child. I learned English watching Julia child, Mr. Bean, Are You Being Served? The BBC taught me English and my brothers... So Julia child is my culinary hero.

Crystal White: I mean it's like a three way tie. Chad Robertson is definitely one of them, Alice Waters is a huge one and Nancy Silverton-

Kerry Diamond: Oh.

Crystal White: Who's ever popular in this community.

Kerry Diamond: We love Nancy. Mai, your culinary hero?

Mai Nguyen: Minh Phan who's over there... the cocktail bar. She is the creative genius behind Porridge + Puffs, which is a restaurant up in LA, award-winning and also made time to come down here on her one day off a week-

Kerry Diamond: Wow.

Mai Nguyen: ... to hold this baby while I give this talk, so yeah.

Kerry Diamond: It takes a village. So thank you for being here and we can't wait to come see your place in LA. All right. Where do you do your best thinking since this is the Food for Thought Tour.

Claudette Zepeda: Lately, the dish pit.

Crystal White: While I'm shaping bread and nobody's bothering me.

Kerry Diamond: It all goes back to bread for you.

Crystal White: It really is a quintessential part of my life.

Mai Nguyen: Probably in bed right before I fall asleep.

Kerry Diamond: This might be a tough one, but a favorite thing to eat or drink in San Diego that you do not make.

Claudette Zepeda: There's this really small Indian Punjabi restaurant in Miramar that is a hole in the wall and the cashier daughter is always pissed off. And I'm a glutton for punishment and so I go there and she hates me. My favorite place.

Kerry Diamond: What do you get there?

Claudette Zepeda: One of everything. They have the lunch special where you can get the tikka masala, the rice, the samosas and I just go, "Yes, one of everything," and she looks at me, rolls her eyes and then gets it from me.

Kerry Diamond: And you cannot say bread by someone else.

Crystal White: Okay. There's this adorable cafe out in Ocean Beach called Little Lion Cafe and it's owned by two sisters and they are fantastic. And they make this mermaid bowl that is just so good. It's like chia seeds and algae and coconut cream and fresh fruit and you're right outside, looking at the ocean and it's just like a dream.

Kerry Diamond: I'm a sucker for anything called mermaid.

Mai Nguyen: I really like the lemonade berries that ripen on the trails around here. So when you're on mission trails or if you're in Black Mountain or Torrey Pines, in the spring and lemonade berries come out and it's these berries that... Essentially it's the semen of a berry that's tastes like lemonade and it's always very odd for runners going by because I don't want to pick the berries off because we want to retain berries that can propagate. So I'm just like sucking on these berries off of the plant but they're really delicious. I highly recommend them.

Kerry Diamond: You are amazing. What do they look like?

Mai Nguyen: It's a kind of sumac and then their fruit is... They're like cranberry sized and red and they have like a white coating when they're ready. Yeah, they're at perfect mouth height.

Kerry Diamond: I don't think we have those Brooklyn but I could be wrong. Well that is it. We want to take some questions from... Oh, okay. We have one already.

Audience Member: I just want to know why are you excited about food right now? Whether that be a food movement or a certain seasonal produce or the pint of Ben & Jerry's in your fridge that you're going to have tonight.

Claudette Zepeda: Yeah, the amount of ice cream... I'm a huge ice cream lover. I'm excited that at least in our community, we're going back to cooking what is comforting versus what is hip. I try to teach my cooks like, "Think of what you ate and what resonated with you and you're a child and make that feeling again on a plate." And I feel like more and more of our community and my friends and my colleagues are all talking about just going backwards, simplifying, editing and cooking what makes you feel good and what you're proud to serve. So it doesn't have to be always aesthetically pleasing as long as it tastes good. So I think going backwards to the comfort. The world's going (beep), but our food is good, you know? That's like the one place where you're like, "Yeah, it's a warm bowl of soup." Soup is good.

Dawn: Hi, I'm Dawn. Hi Crystal. My question is for all of you in terms of what stories do you want to see more in the media?

Claudette Zepeda: I feel like media still has kind of like the media darlings of the industry and I would like to see more in smaller towns. What you see in the media, it's what's New York, San Francisco, LA, Chicago. We're a fly over city, San Diego doesn't exist in the media world. We really don't like. We get a little bit and then it's like, "Oh yeah, but LA." Yeah, San Diego's small, but we're huge, we're a huge county and we have a lot of talented chefs. There's my great friends, amazing talented chefs, Indianapolis. They'll never get anything because they're next to Chicago. And it's really on us and on the journalists to kind of go out there and find it.

Claudette Zepeda: It's easy to write a piece on Olguera, it's easy to write a piece on Javier Plascencia in Baja. But how about you write the next generation? You know, find the people that were... Maybe he started with them and that spawned off in their own project. One of my best friends owns Emilia in Mexico city, one of the best restaurants I've ever been to in recent memory. No one knows about it. And it was a breathtaking experience going, "Damn, this place is amazing, the music, the vibe." It's always packed because it's a 20 seat restaurant but you don't hear anything about it on media because it's not the name, the tag name, so just more diversity.

Crystal White: I don't know if I'm allowed to say this for this podcast, but I'm very proud to be a woman-owned business, but I would like it if it would stop being referred to as that necessarily.

Mai Nguyen: I think maybe less about the stories that are told, but what happens after the is told is what I'm interested in. Like I'm often asked to speak at conferences or yeah, do like talks with socially conscious media and they're like, "Okay, tell us your sad minority story." And I'm like, "Okay, well but what are you going to do to help me get to the point where we can all be equal, right? What sort of work in terms of equity are you going to do to help connect me with investors who would look at me and and doubt my ability to farm." So I think having media take that other step of having accountability and working with the people whose stories they're telling to succeed so that there's a story down the line of you where we've been and how far we've come. I think that's what I'd like to see more of.

Kerry Diamond: We totally agree Mai. I was very happy to learn that after we left San Diego, some of the attendees started the San Diego Women in Food Networking Group. If you live in the area and would like to know more, check out Medichefs on Instagram. That's M-E-D-I-C-H-E-F-S, Medichefs. Thank you to our speakers and our attendees for such a lovely event. And a big thank you to Kerrygold for supporting our tour and providing us with beautiful butter and cheese at each stop. Our show was produced and edited by Jess Zeidman. Thanks for listening everyone, you're the bombe.