Last week we introduced to you Jacqueline Thomas of People’s Grocery and the Growing Justice Institute in West Oakland, CA. A pioneering organization committed to improving the economy and health of Oakland residents through the local food system. Underneath the guidance of Executive Director Nikki Henderson and Growing Justice Supervisor Saqib Keval, Growing Justice leaders are creating unique opportunities for their community through classes and workshops on health and nutrition, urban gardening and food preparation in order to truly connect with what goes on their plates. This week we continue our coverage with an interview of Paula Beal. Paula is no stranger to community activism and the promotion of a better food system. A pioneer in her own right she is a cook, teacher, and urban gardener. She is currently using her platform at People’s Grocery to create a series of community meals and a community-based restaurant. Keep reading to find out just how it all began for Paula Beal.
TBTB: Tell me about your Culinary Journey?
Paula: Both of my Grandmothers and Great-Grandmother cooked awesome meals daily. All three came from large families, I’m talking like 17 sisters and brothers, and eventually had pretty large families of their own. I grew up in the midwest, my Mom had 6 boys and 6 girls and we were all in the kitchen with her. She was a firm believer in doing everything from scratch and doing it right. If we messed up and the food was edible, she would have us give it away to a neighbor and start over. Growing up, food was always being cooked, canned, frozen or given away. We had fresh fruit and vegetables from various backyard gardens and at one time a family farm. My dad kept bees so we always had fresh honey, he was also an avid hunter and fisherman. We had bear, raccoon, venison, squirrel and we always had the most amazing fish, even if Dad didn’t catch it himself there were plenty of good roadside fish stands and markets near by. My parents were always so kind to neighbors and friends who were down on their luck and needed a good meal, folks would come through and Mom and Dad always had something for them. That’s just what they did, they would help where they could and feed all who would come. It was a wonderful way to grow up. Two of my brothers are chefs and two of my sisters own their own restaurants. My entire family is involved in either farming, gardening, or some other type of food related business it was only natural that I too would come to be involved with food in some capacity.
TBTB: What is your first great Food Memory?
Paula: At age two, I can remember picking tomatoes from the backyard garden.
TBTB: Who or What inspires you most in the Kitchen?
Paula: My mother, grandmothers, and great-grandmother. Those women taught me everything I know.
TBTB: Favorite Ingredient?
Paula: Garlic & Rosemary
TBTB: I’m a firm believer in the art of the Sunday Dinner, which is a common practice throughout many African-American homes. Every Sunday after church I sit down with my parents, husband, kids, and countless other relatives to what is arguably the best meal of the week. The conversation is good and the food is always great. What do you do for Sunday Dinner?
Paula: Sunday dinners are usually spent with my family. I’ll have dinner with my sons, their wives and my grandchildren. It’s always delicious. Sometimes my brother, a chef, will join us. You’re right it is the best meal of the week. Its even better when other food loving friends come over too. We’ll spend hours talking food and new recipes. And its the same wherever I go, if I’m visiting family in Illinois, we all get together (easily 50-100 people in the house), have a great meal while discussing farming, gardening, running restaurants, anything about food.
TBTB: What is the best piece of advice you can offer the next generation of food professionals (Chefs, Writers, Activists, Restauranteurs)?
Paula: Have a mentor, stay focused, keep a list of cohorts, don’t give up, and have a solid business plan. Do what you need to do for a job well done.
Thank you Paula, wise words indeed!
Check out Paula’s contributions to my next Sunday Dinner.