Eat Local. Eat Organic. Eat Sustainable. Eat Clean. Eat Whole. Eat Real. These edible catch phrases have become so commonplace that in many ways it is easy to mock them. When several come together on one package it can make your head spin. Yet as our culture becomes more and more educated on their value, we can set aside the light-hearted teasing and appreciate what it means. If we have reached a time when these terms have become more commonplace in the grocery store aisles, we are headed in the right direction; one towards a healthier lifestyle in favor of good food that is good for you. Oakland is fast becoming a hub of food culture that supports all of these phrases. Food artisans are tucked around every corner, eager to offer up their flavorful combinations. What is special about this movement is how it is being fostered from the ground up on a local level. It takes a lot to reach the point of success where one’s product name sits on a market shelf; if that is even the goal. For many just to make, create, craft and then share something that is both artistic and edible allows passion to thrive and grow. Food Craft Institute, itself a passion project born out of the wildly successful Eat Real Festival here in Oakland, is a unique place where those with the desire to take their artisan skills to the next level can come.
Food Craft Institute (FCI) was founded in 2011 by Anya Fernald. Fueled by the success of the Eat Real Festival which she had created three years prior, Fernald felt that an educational model was needed that combined both training in specific traditional food crafts, as well as critical business skills such as business planning and marketing. FCI kicked off its first workshop in spring 2012 with a course in jams, marmalades & chutneys. Since then food artisans have stepped out of their collective kitchens to become students again, building their skills in everything from coffee roasting to chocolate craft & confectionery. Fernald has continued to spread her message of sustainability through the creation of BelCampo, Inc., and in 2014 Ally DeArman stepped in as director of both Eat Real and FCI.
I had the opportunity to meet the team at FCI during a networking event in June. Conveniently located in Jack London Square, FCI has a combined office/classroom space which serves as a central hub for its students. While its programs include classroom style courses, the students also spend much of their time on-site at local businesses during practitioner days, getting their hands dirty so to speak. Over drinks created by some of FCI’s alumni and with a pickle making bar to keep us busy we were able to chat about the current Oakland food climate and the ever-changing landscape of our local restaurant scene.
(From left to right: Ally DeArman, Mallorie King, and Willoughby Smith of FCI)
FCI is a non-profit, funded largely in part by profits from the Eat Real Festival, which is being held the weekend of September 23rd-25th. Eat Real has put a spotlight on one of the ever present obstacles in the healthy eating movement: cost. All food at the festival is priced at $8.00 or less. With a mission at-hand to grow local food systems, Eat Real encourages interest in the craft of artisan food through its vast vendor base during its 3-day foodie fest. Since its inception, Eat Real is now on the calendar of many locals as a must for the year, which allows FCI to thrive through those of us who attend, eat, and imbibe.
With a goal to keep healthy-eating catch phrases on the map, FCI strives to make artisan food businesses a permanent part of our retail landscape. By offering a diverse array of coursework that gives them all a fighting chance, FCI is contributing to this vital part of our food culture. In a prior interview done for Edible Marin & Wine Country, DeArman noted that one-third of their alumni have gone on to start successful businesses; which means that approximately 70% have not. While a seemingly disappointing statistic, DeArman feels that in an industry often plagued with failure, FCI is educating entrepreneurs and allowing them to make smart decisions about whether their product is viable in a very competitive marketplace. If a specialized business module program and a fundraising workshop give someone the knowledge to make an educated decision to walk away, that is still success. However, the combination of those two things allowed FCI alumni Sam Gilbert to take a giant step forward with the opening of Temescal Brewing this summer.
As beer works its way up the totem pole in our wine-loving local culture, Sam Gilbert saw an opportunity to take his own love for brewing to the next level. Gilbert had already started BrewLab in 2011, a home-brewers collective that brings together those with a passion for beer so they can share knowledge on all levels of brew-related topics. Gilbert enrolled in The Business of Beer Master Course at FCI in 2013 to see if his desire for creative experimentation in craft brewing was viable as a local brick-and-mortar business. Indeed it was; fast forward to 2016 and the North Oakland brewery and taproom, Temescal Brewing, was officially opened.
As a beer-lover, and in particular a pilsner fan, I was thrilled to see a local spot open that is dedicated to “the softer side” of beer. Temescal’s beers have more subtle flavors that compliment adjectives such as light and refreshing as opposed to the bitter bite that often comes with the local favorite, India Pale Ale. Creating a clean and fresh space was the obvious way to mirror the flavor palette found at Temescal. Gilbert let creative director Tolled Biggs drive a design project that resulted in what you see; crisp white tile, honey colored wood, pastel tones, and a splash of bright color thrown in with the vibrant murals on display in the beer garden.
Sam Gilbert, FCI Alumni and owner of Temescal Brewing
Vibrant mural to the right done by David Polka, Refresh sign to the left done by Marcos Lafarga
Gilbert is steadfast in his dedication to the craft of brewing and therefore has put in place a “house rule” for the first year or two: they will never brew the same beer twice. This allows freedom to experiment before finalizing a house approach; Gilbert invites his customers to enjoy the ride with him and his team. So while I was sad to see that one of my new favs is no longer on the menu, the refreshing Visitation Pils, I look forward to popping in for his current offerings.
Head brewer Wade Ritchey has brought his experience from SF-based Cellarmaker to Temescal. What is also represented in the styles he is creating is his time spent brewing beer around the world, particularly in Italy of all places. When I visited on a sunny Friday afternoon several weeks ago, Ritchey sat down with my husband and I and chatted about how his time spent at Birrificio Italiano, a brewery in northern Italy not far from Lake Como. Just as the Bay Area’s drinking culture is becoming more varied away from just red and white tones, Italy is challenging its own wine scene with craft brewing. He shared with me how his time spent abroad expanded his knowledge of brewing immensely, especially on pilsners which aren’t always the easiest to get just right.
As summer has begun to give way to fall, cooler temperatures are just around the corner. The large beer garden at Temescal is the perfect invitation for a hot summer day, but Gilbert assured me that plans are underway to winterize the space; heaters are already on-site, rainproofing is being investigated, and Gilbert has some other “fun winter stuff” in the works. As its a space that welcomes families with open arms, I see puddle jumping as a possible activity for my little ones while I enjoy what winter brings from the Temescal tanks. With kid-friendly drinks on hand, and a popcorn machine cranking out kernels coated in coconut oil, Temescal Brewing is a wonderful local spot if you have kids in tow.
Temescal Brewing is an example of how it can be done; a combination of strong business knowledge, a viable food craft product, and maybe a sprinkling of luck can come together to create a local success story. While Gilbert may be holding a couple of secrets close to the vest, namely the seasoning blend for his popcorn and what’s in the pipe for 2017, FCI has built a business around sharing industry secrets between instructor and student to help bring success to the up-and-coming. Putting it all out on the table, both good and bad, is what can help an entrepreneur learn and make educated decisions. In this way, FCI is fostering success in the artisan food realm. As Gilbert told me, the experience gained during his practitioner days and the value of the network that he was able to build among prior instructors and colleagues has been invaluable.
As you look towards fall next weekend, don’t forget to swing by Jack London Square to see what amazing offerings are being dished out at Eat Real Festival. All profit from beverage sales goes directly to the educational programs at FCI. Temescal Brewing will of course be one of many pouring pints in the beer shed. A large list of FCI alumni will be dishing out their edible creations (see list below), amongst a slew of other food artisans sharing their own as well.
So head on down, learn more about our local food scene and help support the future of FCI; I hear they may branch out from craft beer and possibly add a course on craft spirits and distilling in 2017. You can be assured you will get to experience all the edible catch phrases that FCI is helping to foster: Eat Local. Eat Organic. Eat Sustainable. Eat Clean. Eat Whole. Eat Real.
For more information about FCI, please visit their website at www.foodcraftinstitute.org
Detail about the upcoming Eat Real Festival, held September 23rd-25th, can be found at www.eatrealfest.com
FCI has an upcoming workshop, “The Business of Beer”, on tap for October 22nd – November 19th. Please visit here for more information and to register.
Temescal Brewing is located at 4115 Telegraph Avenue in Oakland
Please visit www.temescalbrewing.com for hours, current beers on tap, and a list of upcoming food trucks.
Below is a complete list of FCI Alumni who will be on hand at Eat Real, be sure to check them out!
Hidden Star Orchards
Crooked City Cider
Keena’s Kitchen Catering
Alameda Fruit Co
Ian Scott Confections
Fat Face Popsicles
Brown Dog Mustard Co.
Pop Mama Pop
Rocko’s Ice Cream Tacos
Harmonic Brewing (on tap in the Beer Shed)
Temescal Brewing (on tap in the Beer Shed)
Image of FCI Team taken by Scout E. Hebinck, www.scouteephoto.com; supplied by Shannon Gomes of Good Food PR.
Image of Sam Gilbert of Temescal Brewing supplied by Shannon Gomes of Good Food PR
All other images by Adrienne Schell
I would like to thank Shannon Gomes of Good Food PR, Ally DeArman of FCI, and Sam Gilbert of Temescal Brewing for their time…it is appreciated!