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By Elena Kadvany

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A fond farewell from the Peninsula Foodist

Uploaded: Apr 9, 2021
I have some bittersweet news: This marks my farewell as the Peninsula Foodist.
After putting out 47 Peninsula Foodist newsletters and eight years covering restaurants and education for the Palo Alto Weekly and our sister publications The Almanac and the Mountain View Voice, I'm taking a job as a food reporter at the San Francisco Chronicle.

I've felt the full emotional gamut that comes with starting a new life chapter after a very formative one, and it feels particularly difficult to leave behind this column and the community behind it. When I first started the Peninsula Foodist column many years ago, I had no idea what it would turn into. I just wanted to write about restaurant news and do justice to the food of the region I grew up in. Fast forward to today, and there's the column, a newsletter and thousands of passionate people who are as obsessed with the ins and outs of local food as much as I am.


Peninsula Foodist Elena Kadvany interviews Meichih and Michael Kim, former co-owners of Maum restaurant in Palo Alto, at Orchard City Kitchen in Campbell on August 5, 2019. Photo by Veronica Weber.

One of my editors suggested I put together a list of my favorite stories from over the years for this last article. It's almost impossible to do that since, at the risk of sounding really sappy, they're all my favorite in different ways. My reporting took me into local kitchens and bakeries and gave me access to some of the Bay Area's most interesting and important culinary characters. It gave me an excuse to start basically my dream series — asking local chefs out to lunch at a restaurant of their choice for an interview (the photo above, taken pre-pandemic, is from the first conversation in that series with the former Maum co-chefs).

But I'm going to list a few stories below that have stuck with me and illustrate the driving force behind the Peninsula Foodist: to be the most comprehensive, compelling source for food news in this region, and, most critically, to tell the stories behind the food on our plates.

It's hard to express how rewarding it is to build something from the ground up, especially in the media world. I'm so grateful to parent company Embarcadero Media for supporting this passion project and investing in restaurants as a serious beat in and of itself, which wasn't the case for a long time (maybe ever) at our newspapers. In that vein, the Peninsula Foodist will continue on with a new writer.

Thank you so, so much, for all of your support over the years — every email, tip and interview. I still have lots of connections on the Peninsula and plan to be around (read: eating) often, so please don't be a stranger. You can always reach me on social media at @ekadvany on Twitter and lenak21 on Instagram.

Here are seven of my most memorable stories:

How San Jose became America's Vietnamese food mecca


A spread at Vung Tau, including lemongrass beef charbroiled in banana leaf, shaking beef and bánh h?i with grilled pork and sugarcane wrapped in shrimp. Photo by Michelle Le.

For Vietnamese refugees, restaurants provided economic opportunity and community. Today, they offer a delicious case study in regional flavors. At San Jose's venerable Vung Tau, soup is history.

The restaurant serves eight noodle soups, each of which starts with the same broth but tells its own story about Vietnamese history through toppings, condiments and serving style.

Read more here.

Silicon Valley's underground food movement is driven by Instagram and COVID economics


A variety of lumpia is served with sweet and sour sauce. Photo by Magali Gauthier.

There's an underground food movement booming on the San Francisco Peninsula.
It's not happening at restaurants, but in the homes and backyards of out-of-work cooks, high school coaches, mothers and fathers — people who have turned to selling food to make ends meet during the coronavirus shutdown. On any given day, if you're clued into the right Instagram and Facebook pages, you can find homemade quesabirria tacos, fresh tamales, lumpia, pupusas, smoked brisket, smoothies, boba tea and otai (a Polynesian drink made from fresh fruit).

Read more here.

How 12 million pounds of food gets distributed during a pandemic


National Guard troops work in Curtner Center, one of two Second Harvest of Silicon Valley warehouses in San Jose, on June 16, 2020. Photo by Magali Gauthier.

A line of cars stretched through the parking lot of the Mountain View Senior Center on Tuesday morning, drivers waiting patiently for boxes of fresh produce, milk, eggs, canned goods and chicken to be placed in their trunks by masked volunteers. One young mother left quickly to prepare food for her baby, while two older women filled shopping carts with free food so they wouldn't have to spend money at the grocery store this month. Jose Quijano, who has been out of work since March 16, was picking up free groceries for the fifth time.

Read more here.

Ghost peppers and legal waivers: Our search for the spiciest dishes on the Peninsula


Hottest dish on the Peninsula? Steins’ ghost-basco sauce (above with fork) is definitely a contender. Photo by Veronica Weber.

At first, I thought the waivers were funny, almost a gimmick.
I mostly skimmed them, signing my bodily rights away without much thought at two restaurants that required them before serving me the hottest dishes their kitchens can muster. I just wanted to get to the spicy part.

Then I found myself at the bar of The Swingin' Door in San Mateo ordering the "Habanero Burger XXX," which the British pub claims is "the hottest burger in the nation."
Read more here.

Desperately seeking soft serve: chasing down Mister Softee on the Peninsula


Sweet reward: The famous double Softee with rainbow sprinkles. Photo by Elena Kadvany.

It wasn't easy finding Mister Softee.

For someone used to food trucks with fixed locations, chasing one down was new to me. Sure, you can use the iconic East Coast soft serve company's smartphone app to track the trucks in real time, but they're constantly in motion. Every time I put in a location on Waze, by the time I arrived, the truck I was following had moved somewhere else, just out of reach.

Read more here.

Food trumps hate: Inside the Peninsula supper club celebrating immigrant cuisine


Mieng kham, a staple, one-bite snack at any Thai home: wild betel leaf with lime, ginger, shallot, lemongrass, peanuts, toasted coconut and chili. Photo by Federica Armstrong.

Lalita Kaewsawang was 10 years old, and obsessed with chicken fat rice. Growing up in Nonthaburi, Thailand, she'd return to the same street vendor over and over to watch him make the khao mun gai, a deceivingly simple yet technically challenging dish. She offered to wash dishes for an hour just to be able to watch him pour chicken stock into a vat of rice at the exact right moment.

Read more here.

Behind the scenes at Manresa's staff meal


Pasta topped with chicken parm, salad and a cookie on the side at Manresa's family meal. Photo by Michelle Le.

Just after 4 p.m. at Manresa Restaurant in Los Gatos, you'll find some of the kitchen staff in an unlikely setting: sitting in a nondescript parking lot behind the three-Michelin-star restaurant, eating out of ceramic dishes filled with chicken Parmesan, pasta, Caesar salad and garlic bread. Welcome to family meal.

Read more here.
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Comments

 +   7 people like this
Posted by Julian Sinai, a resident of another community,
on Apr 9, 2021 at 11:37 am

Julian Sinai is a registered user.

Elena, I will miss your articles. I always looked forward to them.


 +   1 person likes this
Posted by Bystander, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Apr 9, 2021 at 12:01 pm

Bystander is a registered user.

Always entertaining to read your blogs. Hopefully we will still have ways to talk about our favorite eateries here. Best wishes for your next venture.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by side splitting, a resident of Midtown,
on Apr 9, 2021 at 12:47 pm

side splitting is a registered user.

Will miss your blog, always looked forward to a new post. Congrats and best of luck!


 +   1 person likes this
Posted by dollarbin, a resident of Monta Loma,
on Apr 9, 2021 at 3:50 pm

dollarbin is a registered user.

Good luck Elena! You've done a fantastic job on the Peninsula Foodist and I'm looking forward reading you in the Chronicle.


 +   2 people like this
Posted by mikwossel, a resident of Menlo Park,
on Apr 9, 2021 at 4:11 pm

mikwossel is a registered user.

Congratulations on your new adventure! I have always enjoyed your column and will look forward to more at the Chronicle. Love learning all I can about our food culture here in the Bay Area - thank you for celebrating it!


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Todrford, a resident of Shoreline West,
on Apr 9, 2021 at 9:31 pm

Todrford is a registered user.

Congratulations...look for your stuff at the chronicle


 +   2 people like this
Posted by MidtownMom, a resident of Midtown,
on Apr 9, 2021 at 9:40 pm

MidtownMom is a registered user.

Elena,
Thank you for writing this column. Through you I have enjoyed many beverages, meals, and snacks from places I wouldn't have found on my own. I hope someone else picks up covering this subject area and continues to support the local restaurant scene. Good luck at the Chronicle!


 +   3 people like this
Posted by Online Name, a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland,
on Apr 10, 2021 at 1:52 pm

Online Name is a registered user.

Good luck at the Chronicle and hope you increase their Peninsula coverage!


 +   1 person likes this
Posted by Sherry Listgarten, a resident of Greenmeadow,
on Apr 10, 2021 at 2:29 pm

Sherry Listgarten is a registered user.

Elena, I will miss your amazing blog! Your posts were so varied and interesting and fun to read. I wish you the best of luck at the Chronicle. You will do great there, and they are very lucky to have you. I look forward to reading your writeups on SF eateries :)


 +   1 person likes this
Posted by Annette, a resident of College Terrace,
on Apr 10, 2021 at 2:40 pm

Annette is a registered user.

Congratulations - and thank you for all you did while here. You will be missed!


 +   9 people like this
Posted by Victor Bishop, a resident of Another Mountain View Neighborhood,
on Apr 10, 2021 at 4:22 pm

Victor Bishop is a registered user.

So happy for you. Will miss your great articles and recommendations.
I guess with the desperate situation that Bill Johnson and Embarcadero media is in ( based on constant emails and online pop ups asking for money) it is the right choice to make


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Jennifer, a resident of another community,
on Apr 10, 2021 at 6:34 pm

Jennifer is a registered user.

Good luck Elena. A new and exciting adventure with a smile on your face...


 +  Like this comment
Posted by stephen levy, a resident of University South,
on Apr 11, 2021 at 12:26 pm

stephen levy is a registered user.

Thanks Elena and best wishes and good luck


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Theresa, a resident of Menlo Park: other,
on Apr 12, 2021 at 7:54 am

Theresa is a registered user.

I've really enjoyed following your Foodist articles from the start- they've guided me to fun and delicious weekend adventures. I know you'll be successful in your new position and look forward to reading more of your work. Thank you and farewell!


 +  Like this comment
Posted by JR, a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park,
on Apr 12, 2021 at 6:28 pm

JR is a registered user.

Elena: congratulations to you. We have greatly enjoyed your reviews and your enthusiasm for you work. We valued your insight and learned of many new spots. Not a surprise that a great new role came up for you. You will do a fantastic job.

Thank you and best of luck.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by DIana Diamond, a resident of Midtown,
on Apr 13, 2021 at 8:23 am

DIana Diamond is a registered user.

Elena --
Not only can you spot good restaurants (while staying so thin!) but you also have come up with good news stories about what restaurants and their owners are doing in our communities during the pandemic.

Enjoy San Francisco cooking -- you will find some wonderful and interesting food there, too.

Diana Diamond


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Jane D, a resident of Midtown,
on Apr 13, 2021 at 11:58 am

Jane D is a registered user.

Will miss your columns. Thank you. Best wishes for a smooth transition and exciting challenges.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Cordelia, a resident of Old Mountain View,
on Apr 14, 2021 at 2:25 pm

Cordelia is a registered user.

Congratulations Elena, well deserved! BTW, I'm following you to the Chronicle and looking forward to reading your future articles!


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Jerry Underdal, a resident of Barron Park,
on Apr 15, 2021 at 2:35 pm

Jerry Underdal is a registered user.

Elena, sorry to see you go. I've enjoyed your food writing, but prized your consistently informative coverage of the schools scene over the years. I hope we haven't seen the last of your excellent reporting on education issues. Best of luck to you.


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