SFA Oral History: The West Coast Connection

Maria Carmen Del Flores_portrait_with ingredients at HOCFM booth
“My food speaks all of the languages that I can’t speak.” — Maria del Carmen Flores of Estrellita’s Snacks. Photo by Amy Evans.

Half of the SFA staff is in California this weekend for a series of events in San Francisco and Napa. What in the world are y’all doing out there? you might wonder. As it turns out, the Bay Area and the Napa Valley are both home to some pretty awesome women and men with ties to the American South and the Global South.

We’re constantly impressed and inspired by the work of Caleb Zigas and his team at La Cocina in San Francisco. La Cocina is a food business incubator that focuses on assisting female, first-generation immigrants to the Bay Area. Since 2013 is the SFA’s year of Women at Work, our oral historian Amy Evans jumped at the chance to conduct oral histories with a handful of La Cocina’s entrepreneurs earlier this summer. Those oral histories will be online next month; meanwhile, you can read more about Amy’s June trip here.

Amy is back in San Francisco this weekend to attend La Cocina’s Street Food Festival and participate in its Food & Entrepreneurship Conference for aspiring small business owners.

Fernay McPherson and Helen Turner in SF Aug 2013 photo by Amy Evans
Fernay McPherson (l) and Helen Turner (r). Photo by Amy Evans.

Things kicked off last night with a party for SFA friend and fashion designer Natalie Chanin at Heath Ceramics. (Remember the barbecue couture Natalie created for our 2012 symposium?) Cooking for the event was Fernay McPherson, owner of Minnie Bell’s Soul Movement, a La Cocina alumna whose story will be part of the SFA/La Cocina oral history project. Pictured above is Fernay with Helen Turner, Tennessee pitmaster and winner of the SFA’s 2012 Fertel Keeper of the Flame Award.

Chiefo Chukwudebe
“We have the same ingredients, but why is Nigerian food not here? My vision is to educate people on West African food—and not just about the food but also the culture.” —Chiefo Chukwudebe of Chiefo’s Kitchen. Photo by Amy Evans

Tonight (Friday), SIX (count ’em!) SFA oral history subjects—both old friends from our region and new ones from the Bay Area—will be cooking for La Cocina’s Night Market at Alemany Farmers’ Market (click to learn more about them):

Rodney Scott — barbecue
Sam Jones — barbecue
Helen Turner — barbecue
Maria del Carmen Flores — Central American street food
Chiefo Chukwudebe — West African food
Fernay McPherson — Southern-style soul food

Alicia Villanueva_closeup_Off the Grid copy
“If there is a woman that they want to do or follow their own dreams in the business of food, I really encourage everybody that they really have a dream on their heart, just make it and go for it.” —Alicia Villanueva of Alicia’s Tamales Los Mayas. Photo by Amy Evans.

Tomorrow (Saturday), Maria and Fernay are also taking part in the La Cocina Street Food Festival, along with another new oral history subject, Alicia Villanueva. If you are familiar with Mississippi Delta-style tamales, Alicia’s tamales will be a change of pace, and a delicious one at that.

On Sunday, Amy will be leading a panel with ALL of these remarkably talented women as part of the Food and Entrepreneurship conference.

And finally, on Sunday night, Charleston expats Jamey and Michelle Whetstone are our generous hosts for Potlikker Napa.