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

Calypso Rose Kitchen’s Grilled Seasoned Salmon. Courtesy: Calypso Rose Kitchen

“I didn’t take a lesson there, but I certainly got one,” said Verna McGowan, recalling her tenure as personal chef to Pulitzer Prize-winning author and former Berkeley devotee Alice Walker, teaching the cook caution and Diligence in sourcing ingredients. “She’s an incredible human being when you think about all of these things, from selecting where her oils are sourced to humanely treating the farmers who pick your produce.” McGowan will apply those insights at her new restaurant, Calypso Rose Kitchen, the opening in Emeryville this summer.

McGowan’s time is working for The colour purple Schreiber helped continue to shape McGowan’s gastronomic perspective, which began as a child in New York City. Growing up, she was fed a mix of Caribbean and southern US flavors.

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

“I come from a family that’s not just Caribbean on my mother’s side, but a family that taught me everything from the best of South American, Mexican and South American cuisine to name a few,” she said with a still noticeable Brooklyn accent.

McGowan’s culinary career is far from typical: she earned a degree from the Fashion Institute of Technology before honing her craft at California Culinary Academy and Le Cordon Bleu San Francisco. 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 from San Francisco State University, where she received training in clinical psychology to counsel disturbed and at-risk children. “I wanted a job that was about compassion and humanity,” she says.

From there, she caught the big food craze of early childhood, fueled by telegenic chefs like Emeril Lagasse, and decided to switch to culinary arts. “What can I say? I have a long, long history and I’ve reinvented myself 1,000 times,” she said.

Her decision to make a career move into the food world turned out to be her smartest move yet: Shortly after earning her spurs at places like the restaurant at the Claremont Club and Spa, she received a call from the personal assistant at the Author Alice Walker.

“When her assistant called me and told me who she was calling, I didn’t believe it. I really didn’t believe it,” McGowan said. “Even though I knew she was a remarkable writer, after years of working with her, I had no idea how much she would have contributed to how I feel about food now.”

For Walker, as McGowan described it, the idea of ​​having deep-tasting organic foods was not the author’s fundamental concern. Instead, she wanted to know how the workers who manufactured and produced her food were treated. Do the farms treat their workers fairly? Were they given decent hours when they could take appropriate breaks and time off? Are the workers safe? A former Berkeley resident, Walker is as well known for her civil rights activism as she is for authoring books such as The colour purple and My confidant’s temple. She has also been the source of significant controversy in recent years, as her criticism of Israel has turned into anti-Semitism, and she was recently disqualified from the Bay Area Book Festival for praising and defending a book by a well-known conspiracy theorist.

“Alice has made a remarkable difference in how I shop,” says McGowan. “I use a lot of goods from local farmers, from produce to eggs and more. I want to know if animals and people are treated humanely, how people use their land – I’ve learned this knowledge through years of working with her.”

“She was an incredible teacher,” she adds.

Calypso Rose Kitchen Black Bean Soup with Fried Green Plantains. Courtesy: Calypso Rose Kitchen

In early summer, the New York native brings her Caribbean-inspired dishes to Emeryville’s public market. Highlights on Calypso Rose Kitchen’s inaugural menu include black bean soup topped with fried green plantains; buttered grilled spiced salmon; and crispy pineapple and garlic chicken wings.

McGowan is also promising Guyana-inspired oxtail stew and a few curries. “There’s a big difference between Indian curries and Caribbean curries,” McGowan said. “The difference is that Caribbean curries contain a lot more turmeric than your traditional Indian curry,” as well as coriander, allspice, garlic, and healthy amounts of cayenne pepper.

While guests can enjoy the Calypso Rose Kitchen while seated in the dining hall, the menu is also available for take away. “It was particularly important to me to be able to prepare these dishes where they can be picked up and delivered without compromising flavor or integrity,” McGowan said.

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 for her groove, but also honors the 81-year-old singer’s lyrics, which explore racism and sexism.

“Actually, I’ve always been very fond of calypso music,” McGowan said. “In addition to her music and her beats, I love her politics and her forward thinking that raises awareness, which is also very important to me.”

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