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In the Kitchen with Michele Anna Jordan

Sebastopol chef-turned-author tells stories through food



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As with cooking, Jordan began writing at a young age, always with an eye to journalism. Yet it wasn't until she was running Brass Ass Pizza in Cotati in the 1980s that she found an opportunity to write. Bruce Robinson, then an editor at two local papers and now the news director at KRCB where Jordan has long hosted Mouthful, her James Beard–nominated talk show covering food, wine and farming, approached her with an offer.

"He said, 'I'm looking for a food columnist, why don't you write for us?' And he didn't know me," explains Jordan. "So I had this three-month anxiety attack, and he called back and said, 'Are you ever going to write that column?' So I did, and I never stopped."

Robinson remembers that Jordan was willing to work for free, which was what he could afford to pay her. "What she turned in was great," he says. "She's a very effective and enthusiastic advocate for the local food scene. I think she has, in her own substantial way, contributed to the perception of Sonoma County as an attraction."

In 1988, Jordan met an editor at Aris Books and sold him a proposal for A Cook's Tour of Sonoma, released in 1990. The book was praised for its community focus on Sonoma County at a time when the North Bay was just beginning to flirt with culinary renown. Jordan is perhaps best known for her writing in the Press Democrat, where she has maintained up to four food columns and blogs continuously since 1997. She says she really blossomed as a writer in the early 1990s while freelancing at the Sonoma County Independent, an earlier incarnation of the Bohemian, and the books started coming very quickly.

  • Katie Stohlmann

The Good Cook's Book of Oil & Vinegar kicked-off Jordan's long-running series in 1992. The Good Cook's Book of Mustard followed in 1994, with The Good Cook's Book of Tomatoes following right after it, in 1995. From there, Jordan covered foodie topics ranging from the seemingly mundane to the sensational. Her works all possess strong narratives to accompany the recipes and topics, and with each dish, Jordan invites readers to share her experience.

"I think she's highy underappreciated," says Lucas Martin, chef and co-owner of Sebastopol's K&L Bistro. "She's definitely one of the leading voices for farm-to-table. She has a good sensibility about how she reviews and critiques, with an open mind and equal temperment. She knows there is no wrong or right way about food."

Chef John Ash agrees.

"I've been a friend and most of all an avid reader of Michele's work for more than 25 years," says Ash, himself a venerable figure in Sonoma County cuisine. "She has the unique ability to take even simple subjects like salt or mustard and help us all understand their history and importance in our culinary lives."

Empowering readers through her narratives, Jordan offer tools in identifying and exploring each individual's taste.

"Julia Child used to say we learn to cook so we don't have to rely on recipes," says Jordan. "A recipe is a way to tell a story to another person; cooking is something else. Cooking is intuition, knowing your ingredients and what to do with them. For me, recipes are translations of that knowledge into a story. They're like a map, a way to get to your destination, but there's more than one way to get there."

We've become very precise in the last several decades, she says, and home cooks don't feel that they make food as good as in restaurants. Nonsense, she says.

"I tell people, to get used to tasting their food, learn the principles of what makes it taste good."

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