Alice Walker’s personal chef to open a Caribbean restaurant in Emeryville

Calypso Rose Kitchen Spicy Grilled Salmon. Courtesy: Calypso Rose Kitchen

“I didn’t go for a lesson, but of course I got one,” Verna McGowan says, referring to her tenure as the personal chef of Pulitzer Prize-winning author and former Berkeley staple Alice Walker. , who taught the chief caution. and care when it comes to finding ingredients. “He’s an incredible human being to think about all those things, from selecting where your oils come from, to treating the farmers who pick your produce humanely.” McGowan will apply those learnings in his new restaurant, Calypso Rose Kitchen, which will open in Emeryville this summer.

McGowan’s working time for The purple color scribe helped further shape McGowan’s foodie perspective, which began as a child in New York. Growing up, she was fed a blend of flavors from the Caribbean and the southern United States.

Verna McGowan’s new restaurant, Calypso Rose Kitchen, is set to open at the Emeryville Public Market this summer. Credit: Verna McGowan/Facebook

“I come from a family that is not only Caribbean, on my mother’s side, but a family that taught me all about the best of Southern, Mexican and South American cuisine, for n ‘To name a few,’ she said in a still-noticeable Brooklyn accent.

McGowan’s culinary career trajectory is by no means typical: before honing her craft at the California Culinary Academy and San Francisco’s Cordon Bleu, she earned a degree at the Fashion Institute of Technology. After graduating from FIT, she worked as a regional sales representative at Levi Strauss, with territories in Iowa and Illinois. After moving to the Golden State, McGowan earned another degree, this time at San Francisco State University, where she trained in clinical psychology to counsel troubled and at-risk children. “I wanted work that deals with compassion and humanity,” she says.

From there, she caught the great early food wave, led by telegenic chefs like Emeril Lagasse, and decided to step up a gear in the culinary arts. ” What can I say ? I have a long, long history and I reinvented myself 1,000 times,” she said.

Her decision to switch careers to the world of food turned out to be her smartest move yet: Shortly after earning her stripes at places like the restaurant at the Claremont Club and Spa, she received a day a call from the author’s personal assistant Alice Walker.

“When his assistant phoned me and told me who she was calling, I couldn’t believe it. I really couldn’t believe it,” McGowan said. “Although I know she was an outstanding writer, having worked with her for years, I had no idea how much she would have contributed to my way of thinking about food.”

For Walker, as McGowan described it, the idea of ​​having deeply flavorful organic food was not the author’s primary concern. Instead, she wanted to know the treatment of the workers who made and produced her food. Did the farms treat their workers fairly? Did they have human hours when they could take appropriate breaks and time off? Are the workers safe? Walker, a former Berkeley resident, is as well known for her civil rights activism as she is for authoring books like The purple color and My Familiar’s Temple. In recent years, she has also been the source of significant controversy as her criticisms of Israel have veered into anti-Semitism, and she was recently disinvited from the Bay Area Book Festival for praising and defending a book written by a well-known conspiracy theorist.

“Alice has made a remarkable difference in the way I shop,” says McGowan. “I use a lot of products from local farmers, egg products and more. I want to know if animals and people are treated humanely, how people use their soil – that knowledge I learned was working with her over the years.

“She was an incredible teacher,” she adds.

Calypso Rose Kitchen black bean soup topped with fried green plantains. Courtesy: Calypso Rose Kitchen

In early summer, the New York native will bring her Caribbean-inspired cuisine to the Emeryville Public Market. Highlights of Calypso Rose Kitchen’s inaugural menu include black bean soup topped with fried green plantains; grilled spicy salmon coated in butter; and Crispy Pineapple Garlic Chicken Wings.

McGowan also promises a Guyanese-inspired oxtail stew and a few curries. “There’s a big difference between Indian curries and Caribbean curries,” McGowan said. “The difference is that there’s a lot more turmeric in Caribbean curries than your traditional Indian curry,” along with coriander, allspice, garlic, and healthy amounts of cayenne pepper.

While diners can enjoy Calypso Rose Kitchen seated inside the food hall, the menu is also available to take away. noted.

And then there is the name of the restaurant. Named after the longtime nickname of Trinidadian singer McCartha Monica Sandy-Lewis, it not only reflects McGowan’s love of her groove, but also honors the 81-year-old singer’s lyrics dealing with racism and sexism.

“Actually, I’ve always been very fond of Calypso music,” McGowan said. “In addition to his music and beats, I like his politics and forward-thinking that raises consciousness, which is also very important to me.”

Michael M. Tomlin