A “Breif” History Time
Hello! My name is Sara and I am the Betterfoodguru. I have been interested in food and cooking since I was a small child. My parents were decent cooks, but they did not have the exposure to whole foods and spices that I was afforded at an early age. In our home, we ate a lot of pasta, meats, cold cuts, casseroles etc that were typical for an Irish/Italian American family in small town Massachusetts. I always favored salads and savory dishes over desserts which is lucky since obesity ran in my biological Father’s family. I tended to always lean towards overeating and carrying extra weight because I spent my days reading, drawing and dreaming rather than running. I started cooking omelets and Pasta sauces around age 9 and I remember getting obsessive over perfecting my techniques. Over the years I branched out a bit adding veggies like mushrooms and peppers and broccoli, making lasagna and meatballs, things that did not push the family’s comfort zone much.
Then as a teenager I was lucky to date a boy from a few towns over whose Mother was a holistic practitioner and had a broader view of healthy living. I admired her fiercely and enjoyed eating dinner at their house several nights per week over a couple of years. Their house always smelled so good of essential oils and her Massage Therapy office fascinated me. They ate things like stir fry with sesame oil, tons of fresh garlic, veggies, seeds, nuts, rice that wasn’t out of a box! I began incorporating these ingredients into my own cooking and started to push the envelope announcing that I was going vegetarian albeit only half-heartedly. They also opened my eyes to the wastefulness in mainstream American living, to my parent’s dismay since my Stepfather made his living selling paper products and packaging supplies!!
In college at Umass Amherst where I studied Fine Art, I was lucky to live in Butterfield, a co-op dormitory that had it’s own private dining hall. The food at Butterfield was unreal, so many veggie options, curries, fresh salads, stir fry’s, and exotic spices. My mind was blown and I went full on Vegetarian. This community at Umass was intrinsic in the formation of who I am today as a Chef, an Artist, a Global Citizen, a Tree Hugging Liberal and a Woman. This was my first exposure to line cooking and dish dogging and the resident Chef Phil was an Idolic figure.
While at Umass I began working at Bread and Circus in the prepared foods department. Working there was a catalyst for me to start taking cooking seriously as a passion and doing Fine art took a backseat. All the vegetables and fruits!! All the different grains!! So many flavors and textures and colors! Cooking was like painting for me, instinctual, visceral, visual, textural, and most importantly it was experimental. My youth was all about being experimental and breaking molds on every level, but I won’t get into all that now. The kitchen got so hot for me that I quit school and moved to Boston where I worked at Whole Foods and I got further exposed to diversity.
I spent one summer working in Ogunquit Maine which is a hub for Tourism and Hospitality and a Mecca for the LGBTQ community of whom I am an ardent ally. This was my first true restaurant in the weeds working a billion hours experience, and I relished every moment. I woke up at 5 am and dragged myself to Joan’s Breakfast where I was the dish dog. The guys thought I was so fast and amazing that they trained me on the line to cook lunch while they left to go surfing. I would hang on the beach for a while and then go to my nighttime gig at Roberto’s where I was a glorified pot washer and ran for stuff to fill the line cook’s stations. It was awesome and I was HOOKED. 10-12 hours a day in the thick of the rush, feeding hundreds of hungry tourists, me sweating, learning, moving faster than I had ever moved in my life, learning new things, laughing, yelling profanities and LOVING LIFE.
Then I moved to California for the first time. I lived with a family in the Berkeley hills(whose son I met in Boston fresh off Phish tour) and gave them a hand with their youngest son and cooked dinner nightly for the family in exchange for room and board. This was personal cheffing at its best, the Mother would give me cash every morning and I would walk down to the Gourmet Ghetto and pick up all the fresh food and have dinner ready when they got home. They delighted in my nightly creations which further fueled my ambitions to cook. This also began my love affair with California.
I embellished my resume and grabbed two line cooking jobs:one at the iconic Cafe Mediteraneum on historic Telegraph Avenue where I learned to short order cook breakfast and Micheal’s Vegetarian Diner which was run by some sort of cult where I learned even more about vegetarianism. But life spiraled out of control and I returned to Massachusetts.
In Worcester Ma, I worked at the Living Earth, a natural grocery for a while but found my real culinary home at Tortilla Sam’s, a tex-mex taqueria where I grew exponentially as a line cook. At age 24, I was made kitchen manager and chef for the first time. I loved being the conductor of the line, calling out orders to the other cooks, plating everything and and expediting the food. I was also afforded complete creative license by the owner to make specials menus which I wrote by hand. I was in heaven. This manner of creating was ideal for me as a bohemian, I never had to cart around art materials or canvass and my artistic creations were enjoyed by the eyes and then devoured and gone. The ultimate in BE HERE NOW art forms. Tortilla Sam’s had quite the following for it’s fresh, atypical flavors for Massachusetts at the time. Although I made vegetarian food a menu priority, I began eating meat and eating and drinking out a lot and began to gain weight. In those days, the Atkins diet was all the rage so I tried it and had some success even though I felt pretty gross. After several years the owner sold Tortilla Sam’s and I was FREE and back to Oakland California I went with several buddies.
I took some time off from working and fully basked in the Bay Area California lifestyle, walking and biking to farmer’s markets and the amazing Berkeley Bowl daily, playing pool in the sun at Thalassa, growing heirloom tomatoes in our commune-like apartment home on Alcatraz Ave. that was full of our make-shift family. Nightly I cooked dinner for the crew and weekly we had amazing dinner parties where I experimented with so many fresh ingredients. Though I lost some weight from the healthy eating and outside activity I continued to retain some extra because I was a HEARTY drinker.
Intrinsic to my prowess as a vegetarian cook was working at the Westside Cafe in Berkeley where I learned so much about grilling vegetables and marinades from the owner Janice. Truly embodying a greener lifestyle, the owner used all recycled containers and bought exotic grains in bulk. I learned to bake bread and joyfully grilled mushrooms and picked green beans to my hearts content. This place was a hidden gem. Over the years I helped them cover vacations and open for dinner and filled in wherever they needed but didn’t stay long.
At this point I was grabbing any job I interviewed for, so as soon as I felt I was not learning any more I moved on. I went for a part time job at the famous Rudy’s Can’t Fail Cafe where I started working nights. I then moved on to Jeanty at Jack’s, a french bistro in San Francisco where I sous cheffed for a while. Although it was a huge learning experience, all the weird meats and animal parts were just not for me and I was unhappy. At that point the owner for Rudy’s called and offered me the job of Chef and kitchen manager which I immediately accepted. I worked at Rudy’s for the better part of a decade, helping to establish the place as a brunch destination with my monthly seasonal rotating brunch specials. I lived and breathed that restaurant, worked every weekend on the line slinging eggs and omelets , bennedicts, burgers, shouting orders, swearing, laughing and sweating. This coincidentally is when I met my husband who was a line cook at Rudy’s. All of my hard work culminated in the ultimate reward for me. Rudy’s was featured on Diner’s Drive In’s and Dives and I got to be on TV for my craft.
I was dumbstruck by how much I loved being on camera. I promptly left Rudy’s and delved into film auditions and acting classes. Simultaneously I started a very active yoga practice which for the first time ever had me feeling strong and athletic and lean. So I got certified to teach yoga as well. I got engaged. I quit smoking which I had been doing for almost 18 years and stopped drinking like a fish. I was happy and healthy and engaging fully with my paramount goal of a healthy lifestyle when I became pregnant with my first child at age 38.
I waitress-ed through my first pregnancy at Noodle Theory in Oakland and Troy in Berkeley. I married my husband and began embracing Motherhood and Marriage. Cooking and grocery shopping were still my two faves and my yoga practice fell off since I had developed a hernia because of my enormous weight gain. I also developed thyroid problems after the baby was born which needed medication. My ambitions for film work were dashed by motherhood, without putting the baby into costly daycare the flexibility needed for an acting career was impossible. I went back to the restaurant biz when Rudy’s asked me to be chef of their now two locations.
In the meantime at age 40 I had my son and found myself working full time with two small children. Since both hubby and I were both chefs we were able to work full time and pass the proverbial torch avoiding daycare traps but really pushing the envelope on the exhaustion front. Then at age 41 expecting my third child, we moved back to Massachusetts. People are constantly asking me WHY DID YOU MOVE HERE?? I blame the pregnancy hormones. The Bay Area was getting too expensive for a family of 5 and we really wanted to buy a house. Worcester, Ma is a growing community, super diverse, big culinary and arts scenes, and has decent schools and as a Mother in a mixed race family it is imperative to me that we live in a diverse community. I want to raise my kids with a global mentality and teach them to reject sexism and racism in all forms. Ideally, I would like to be Bi-Coastal. This has always been a dream of mine, having a home on both coasts and enjoying all the best parts of the US. I am putting this out there in the hopes to manifest my dream because I believe in the power of words. I want to travel more with my family and expose these kids to all the wonderful culture, food, art and nature that the world has to offer.
My cooking and life adventures are not over just because I have “settled down”. I still plan on publishing some cookbooks, a novel or two, being a recognizable household name as a culinary force in the whole foods and green lifestyle movements, acting in and writing some films, and showing these three gorgeous spirits that we made how amazing the world is.
I am available for Restaurant Biz Consulting, Personal Chef Gigs, Film and Tv, Creative collaborations, Classes, Chef for yoga retreats, or any other type of opportunity that seems to “jive” with me. Shoot me an email to Betterfoodguru@gmail.com.