When Mark Bittman defected to Berkeley last spring for a lecturing gig, the Bay Area food writing community collectively high-fived. It's not often that we lure New York's own to our fairer coast, and Bittman—prolific author, famed New York Times columnist, and brilliant journalist—is one of the biggest catches we could net.
So what was the tug? “I don't know, lust for life?" jokes Bittman. “I've always wanted to live in the Bay Area...It seemed like a great idea, and it worked out." Three days after his arrival for a stint as a visiting Fellow at the Berkeley Food Institute last spring, during which he produced the YouTube series California Matters, Bittman angled to stick around.
He'll spend next spring teaching Opinion Writing—something this native New Yorker knows a bit about—at UC Berkeley's Graduate School of Journalism. In the meantime, he's soaking up the Berkeley food vibes, hitting up his neighborhood institutions (“This sounds so corny coming from a food writer, but my landmarks are Chez Panisse and Monterey Market"), and palling around with other food luminaries like Michael Pollan and Alice Waters, whom he notes without of sniff of jest is, “the bomb."
(Photo via markbittman.com)
As of this summer, Bittman also took on another very Bay Area role—that of entrepreneur, having joined vegan meal kit delivery startup The Purple Carrot as partner, cofounder, and chief innovation officer. Bittman adopted veganism in 2007 after facing health concerns, and subsequently created the “VB6" (vegan before 6pm) approach and cookbook, which makes the transition from the Times to tech—for him at least—an obvious one. “If we can get [plant-based] meals into more hands—in the hundreds of thousands—that's a fantastic achievement. We'll be able to support farmers and other suppliers who are producing the kind of food that more people should be exposed to...On a personal level, it's a new growth effort for me. It's not only producing my recipes for a different audience in a different way, but getting involved with a startup. That's completely new and completely exciting," Bittman says.
Beyond recipe development, he'll develop the company's mission statement and policies, standards for sourcing, as well as guiding philosophy. “I'm the moral compass, to some extent," he says. What he's most jazzed about is the opportunity to innovate labor relations, packaging, sourcing, and more issues he had previously only theorized about. “I want to put some of the stuff I've been talking about into practice. I think we can source responsibly, support sustainable agriculture, and help a number of suppliers thrive. It's not a unique idea—other companies are doing it—but it's important." And while the company is based in Boston, they've recently expanded to the West Coast, so dishes like orecchiette with broccoli rabe, pine nuts, and currants; red paella with roasted green beans, limas, and almonds; and tofu pad Thai inspired by Kin Khao owner Pim Techamuanvivit can be yours this week. // thepurplecarrot.com