Alice Walker’s personal chef’s Caribbean restaurant is coming to

Chef Verna McGowan is stepping away from her role as the personal chef of Pulitzer Prize-winning author Alice Walker and is opening her own Caribbean restaurant in Emeryville, Calypso Rose Kitchen.

McGowan tells Berkeleyside that his family taught him “…the best of Southern, Mexican and South American cuisine.” She links this to her Caribbean roots on her mother’s side, the culture she picked up growing up in the Bronx, and her experience choosing ingredients from human farms that she learned working with Walker – who has lived in the heart of farm-to-table Berkeley for decades.

McGowan’s career trajectory has not been a straight one, though it has certainly been successful. She started at the Fashion Institute of Technology and spent time as a regional sales rep for Levi Strauss; then she studied clinical psychology at San Francisco State University; eventually, however, she switched gears to attend California Culinary Academy and Le Cordon Bleu. It was this schooling and her work at restaurants like the Claremont Club and Spa that led her to spend time with Alice Walker.

Walker, says McGowan, was interested in delicious organic food, but also wanted to make sure that workers were treated fairly on the farms where that food came from. McGowan says this mindset has fundamentally changed the way he shops and views food.

Now, she brings that expertise and perspective to the Emeryville Public Market. Diners can sit inside the food hall or have their meals taken out.

The restaurant menu is already planned. Highlights include a traditional Guyanese oxtail stew with a twist, spicy Caribbean curries, black bean soup with fried green plantains placed on top, spicy grilled salmon and crispy chicken wings in a distinctive garlic and pineapple sauce.

Food should be unique. The name Calypso Rose Kitchen is also noteworthy. McGowan says it is named after a Trinidadian singer, McCartha Monica Sandy-Lewis, whose music speaks of racism and sexism, an awareness that McGowan says is very important to her.

The restaurant opens this summer. Currently, there are 17 other restaurants in the public market. Calypso Rose Kitchen will occupy one of the newly renovated booths, as reported by the Chronicle.

Michael M. Tomlin