5 Questions with Shawn Walker-Smith
A Southern California native living in Oakland since 1991, SHAWN WALKER-SMITH writes about food (and food for thought) at SWS Eats. After careers in retail and corporate interior design, Shawn left the business world to enter the California Culinary Academy and subsequently opened and operated TART! Oakland - a made-to-order baking business - for 7 years, after which time he closed the business and pivoted to devote more time to writing and being present for his family. Shawn lives and writes in Oakland with his husband and two sons.
BFiO: Whose food in Oakland do you enjoy as much as your own?
SHAWN: We are fortunate to have such a rich bounty of good food and talented food makers/chefs in Oakland. Nelson German immediately springs to mind. The food that he puts out (at aLaMar and Sobre Mesa) is straightforward and full of flavor, but with a complexity that keeps it interesting. The seafood boils are a fun meal to share and the Romesco Butter Sauce steals the show every time. Wanda Blake’s hot pepper Chow Chow is WAY MORE than just a condiment. I order up a couple of jars and have it on EVERYTHING. And I’m STILL dreaming about Matt Horn’s barbecue. His smoked brisket, with its glistening black crust and tender pink interior sets the bar pretty high.
BFiO: What food do you think is overrated?
SHAWN: Red Velvet Cake is at the top of my list. And why folks have decided that “red velvet” has to be in everything eludes me. From pancakes, to muffins, to french toast. There is too much bad, flavorless, red food color laden food out in the world. That being said, I am more than willing to be proven wrong about the cake. I hear Tanya Holland has done a collab with Humphry Slocombe that is supposed to be great! Oh, can I add edible flowers? #stopthemadness
BFiO: What’s missing in the Oakland food scene?
SHAWN: Good desserts. Not enough places get it right.
BFiO: At what local Oakland markets do you shop for ingredients/food?
SHAWN: Farmers markets, like Grand Lake on Saturday or Old Oakland on Fridays. Oaktown Spice Shop is my kryptonite. I’m like a kid in a candy store. There is always something new and amazing to discover there.
BFiO: What does The New Normal look like for Oakland restaurants & food businesses in the age of COVID-19?
SHAWN: What hospitality looks like at a brick and mortar level will be different for the foreseeable future. The questions become: How do we -- as guests -- get the same experience from gathering over a beautifully prepared meal in a comfortable and welcoming environment? How will the staff be able to provide and create that atmosphere in a way that is safe for them? It is also the time to reevaluate what everything looks like through the lens of equity and compensation. None of these questions have easy solutions, but they must be addressed. Unfortunately I think we will continue to see more small businesses permanently close. However, in their wake there will be space created for varying concepts to come in and fill the void with interesting and innovative ideas. People who are able to refine and really dial-in the take out and delivery aspect of food service will do well in the current environment.
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