Realizing that this coming Friday, March 8, is International Women’s Day got me thinking about all the female food-and-drink entrepreneurs I’ve met around Northern California over the last few years, and some of the fun and inspiring things they’ve told me.
For instance, Deborah Brenner (pictured above) left a plush Manhattan marketing career to write a book about female winemakers in California. That book, 2006’s Women of the Vine, inspired Brenner to move to the Wine Country, make wine herself, and create Women of the Vine, a winery offering the creations of a dozen-plus female vintners.
“I had spent the past 20-plus years in a very male-dominated field,” Brenner told me. Upon first meeting female vintners, “I knew instinctively that there had to be more behind the barrels of wine than just a professional woman who chose this career path because I knew the struggles, fears, disappointments, and triumphs that I endured in my career and my life. I was curious to see if these women were like me, desperately trying to find the balance of work and life, finding my purpose, connecting with others, and struggling to make tough decisions. …
“To my surprise, I learned more about myself throughout this journey than I anticipated. Sharing these moments with these successful women inspired me to stop doubting myself. They encouraged me to pursue and press on no matter what bumps in the road came before me.”
Women of the Vine will celebrate International Women’s Day on March 8 with a Grand Tasting Event featuring 24 female vintners at the Westin Verasa in Napa, CA.
With her partners Tia Harrison and Dave Budsworth, Angela Wilson owns and operates Avedano’s, a traditional butcher shop in San Francisco.
“These days, people want to know again where their meat is coming from, just like they want to know where the rest of their food is coming from,” said Wilson, who told me that she finds the three-hour experience of butchering a lamb “meditative and relaxing. It’s one of my favorite times.”
Meredith Melville co-owns Bocanova restaurant with her husband Rick Hackett. (Depicted above is a dish I was recently served there.) Celebrity chef Joanne Weir (depicted below) owns Copita Taquileria y Comida in Sausalito. Shannon Radke co-owns Cinnaholic, downtown Berkeley’s vegan-cinnamon-roll emporium, with her husband Florian. On the same block, Zain Oke co-owns Suya African-Caribbean Grill with her husband Seun.
Jessie Boucher co-owns the San Rafael-based gourmet food delivery service Jessie et Laurent. In an interview about exotic ingredients, Boucher told me:
“After traveling recently in New Zealand and experiencing pizza made with venison and cranberries, I can easily imagine a thin-crust escargot pizza would be divine. I would make it with thinly sliced Yukon gold potatoes, whole roasted garlic and chopped flat-leaf parsley. Of course, a bottle of Cotes du Rhone would be required to complete the taste experience.”
Caterina Mirabelli is co-owner and resident spirits genius of Old Oakland’s District restaurant. One of her most popular cocktail concoctions is the Breakfast of Champions, comprising Fernet Branca, house-made bacon-infused bourbon and ginger beer. Another is the Bluegrass, a rich melange of bourbon, fresh blueberries, lemon juice, maple syrup and rosemary.
“Women are drinking more hard alcohol these days, although they’re not leaving behind their passion for wine,” Mirabelli told me in an interview. “Now women are realizing how many types of whiskey they can appreciate.”
Jennifer Colliau agrees with her. As owner-operator of Berkeley-based Small Hand Foods, Colliau makes orgeat and other syrups best-known for their use in pre-Prohibition and World War II-era cocktails such as the Pisco Sour, Sazerac and Mai Tai. (The latter, Colliau is quick to note, was invented not at some exotic island outpost but at Trader Vic’s in Oakland in 1944.) In an interview, she told me:
“As Americans, we have not been taught to drink. Most of us grew up with a very puritan attitude toward alcohol” that mainly consisted of warnings against it. “Maybe at age sixteen — especially if we are female — we were poured our first Midori Sour. We liked it because it tasted like concentrated lemonade, and we couldn’t taste the alcohol.”
“Americans are making a concerted effort to develop their palates for alcohol. Through repeated exposure to more and more flavorful things, they learn to seek out more and more nuanced flavors. It’s fine that we still have a lot of rich, sweet cocktails,” says Colliau. “Even sweet cocktails are now being balanced properly and crafted with care.”
Get into the International Women’s Day spirit: Patronize woman-owned (or co-owned) businesses this Friday. These could include such restaurants as Revival Bar + Kitchen, Souley Vegan, Kuwa, and Vanessa’s Bistro … just for a start. — AJ Rufus