Have You Eaten Yet?

Chef Mona Leena Michael & The Bay Area’s Food Scene

December 14, 2020 Kassata Bollman Episode 8
Have You Eaten Yet?
Chef Mona Leena Michael & The Bay Area’s Food Scene
Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

Chef Mona Leena Michael joins us from Oakland.
She’s a Palestinian-American chef who has worked for over a decade at some of the best restaurants in San Francisco.
She brings those skills to the kitchen & creates a modern twist when it comes to Palestinian cuisine.

- At the start of 2020 Chef Mona was working at Dyafa.
- Due to COVID the restaurant closed.
- Chef Mona took action by starting https://themanaeeshlady.com/
- Despite battling the health department about her pop-up she continues to move forward, determined to make the best of 2020.
- We discuss:
- The Bay Area’s latest lockdown & restrictions.
- What’s currently happening in Bay Area’s food scene
- As an industry do we need to reform pop-ups on some level in order to make them easier & accessible for everyone to make a livable wage?
- It’s not just Southern California, some Bay Area restaurants are already defying the ban…
- Undocumented chefs are struggling on a whole other level during COVID

[[MUSIC]]


WELCOME! 

I’M KASSATA BOLLMAN. 

TODAY MY GUEST IS CHEF MONA LEENA MICHAEL.

SHE JOINS US FROM OAKLAND CALIFORNIA. 

CHEF MONA IS A PALESTINIAN-AMERICAN CHEF….WHO HAS WORKED FOR OVER A DECADE AT SOME OF THE BEST RESTAURANTS IN SAN FRANCISCO. 

FRENCH, ITALIAN & JAPANESE TECHNIQUES ARE IN HER WHEELHOUSE. 

SHE BRINGS THOSE SKILLS TO THE KITCHEN….. & CREATES A MODERN TWIST WHEN IT COMES TO PALESTINIAN CUISINE.

..…...SO I’LL START BY ASKING….. CHEF MONA….  “HAVE YOU EATEN YET?” AND IF YOU HAVE….WHAT DID YOU EAT TODAY?


[[CHEF MONA DISCUSSES]]


CURRENT SITUATION:

RIGHT NOW THE BAY AREA IS FULLY LOCKED DOWN.

THERE’S NO MORE OUTDOOR DINING.

GATHERINGS ARE FORBIDDEN.

NON-ESSENTIAL TRIPS ARE NOT ALLOWED UNTIL AT LEAST JANUARY 4TH.

RESTAURANTS CAN SERVE FOOD & COCKTAILS VIA TAKEOUT AND DELIVERY.


CURRENTLY THERE’S NO FINANCIAL ASSISTANCE FROM THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT.


HERE IN NY RIGHT NOW…. AT THE TIME OF THIS RECORDING, I’M WAITING TO HEAR WHAT’S GOING TO HAPPEN TO MY RESTAURANT….I’M EXPECTING THE GOVERNOR TO ANNOUNCE THAT WE’LL HAVE TO REDUCE TO 25% FOR INDOOR DINING….THAT ALLOWS ME ABOUT 12 PEOPLE INSIDE…. AND IT’S DECEMBER IN NY….. SO OUTDOOR DINING IS NOT REALLY A WAY FOR ME TO SURVIVE……


MANY RESTAURANTS AROUND THE COUNTRY ARE CUTTING THEIR LOSSES & CLOSING PERMANENTLY….OTHERS ARE HIBERNATING FOR THE WINTER…….TAKEOUT AND DELIVERY DOESN’T FULLY SUPPORT A RESTAURANT’S BOTTOM-LINE….THIS CYCLE OF COURSE LEADS TO AN INCREASE IN UNEMPLOYMENT. 


CHEF MONA WHAT HAS THE LAST WEEK BEEN LIKE FOR YOU WHEN IT COMES TO DEALING WITH THE LATEST LOCKDOWN & RESTRICTIONS?

HOW ARE YOU MAKING A LIVING RIGHT NOW?

AND ALSO WHAT ARE YOU HEARING FROM OTHERS IN THE FOOD SCENE THERE?


[[CHEF MONA DISCUSSES]]


POP-UPS 


WITH MANY CHEFS OUT OF WORK THERE’S BEEN A RISE IN HOME-COOKING SETUPS & POP-UPS IN THE BAY AREA. CHEF MONA YOU STARTED A POP-UP DURING THIS PANDEMIC.

FROM WHAT I’VE READ, WHEN YOU STARTED, THE POP-UP WAS ONCE A WEEK….YOU WOULD SELL OUT WITHIN 20 MINUTES……AND AT ITS HEIGHT AN ANONYMOUS PERSON COMPLAINED AND REPORTED YOU…. TO THE HEALTH DEPARTMENT…….THEY SHOWED UP WITH COPS & SHUT YOU DOWN.


POP-UPS ARE ACCEPTED BUT TECHNICALLY ILLEGAL.


THIS PANDEMIC HAS PUT A SPOTLIGHT ON MANY THINGS…. & ISSUES THAT NEED IMPROVEMENT…..POP-UPS & THE RIGHT TO LEGALLY WORK & MAKE A LIVING IS ONE OF THOSE THINGS.


PERSONALLY I’VE HOSTED A POP-UP AT MY RESTAURANT FOR YEARS NOW….THE SAME CHEF HAS USED OUR SPACE FOR THESE DINNERS ….BI-MONTHLY…...FOR OVER 5 YEARS…..WE’RE A DAYTIME RESTAURANT SO THE SPACE IS AVAILABLE AT NIGHT…


I HANDLE THE BEVERAGE MENU & SALES FOR HIS DINNERS….WE’RE OPERATING BY THE BOOK...THE LIQUOR LICENSE IS IN MY NAME AND I'M THERE SERVING THAT LIQUOR & MANAGING THOSE SALES…..HE HAS HIS OWN INSURANCE POLICY THAT COVERS THESE DINNERS IN OUR SPACE…...BUT STILL POP-UPS ARE IN THIS GRAY ZONE IN OUR INDUSTRY...NO MATTER HOW MANY RULES YOU FOLLOW….


AFTER BEING SHUT DOWN, YOU APPLIED FOR PERMITS TO LEGALIZE YOUR OPERATION CHEF MONA…..YOU SAW THE DEMAND WAS THERE FOR YOUR PRODUCTS & WANTED TO OPERATE BY THE BOOKS…..


I READ THAT FOR AN EXTENDED PERIOD OF TIME YOU WEREN’T EVEN RECEIVING ANY RESPONSES FROM THE HEALTH DEPARTMENT….

WHERE DOES ALL OF THAT STAND TODAY?


AND….DO YOU THINK THAT AS AN INDUSTRY WE NEED TO REFORM POP-UPS ON SOME LEVEL…. IN ORDER TO MAKE IT EASIER & ACCESSIBLE FOR EVERYONE TO OPERATE & MAKE A LIVABLE WAGE?


[[CHEF MONA DISCUSSES]]









OUTDOOR DINING BAN


IN SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA I WOULDN’T SAY THERE’S A FLAT OUT DENIAL ABOUT COVD...BUT IT SEEMS THAT SURVIVAL & THE NEED TO MOVE FORWARD & MAKE A LIVING HAS TAKEN CENTER STAGE FOR SOME RESTAURANT OWNERS THERE…. BUT CERTAINLY NOT ALL……


ORANGE COUNTY HAS DEFINITELY SEEN THEIR FAIR SHARE OF RESISTANCE TO RESTRICTIONS AND MASK WEARING…..


SOME LA RESTAURANTS ARE STILL SETTING UP OUTDOOR SEATING & TABLES BUT NOT SERVING CUSTOMERS…..SO YOU GET TAKEOUT FOOD FROM A RESTAURANT AND THEN YOU CAN SIT AT THEIR OUTDOOR TABLES FOR EXAMPLE…..OR SOME PLACES ARE CONVERTING THEIR OUTDOOR DINING AREAS INTO PUBLIC PARKLETS….OFFERING SEATING TO ANYONE….NOT JUST CUSTOMERS. 


IT’S NOT CLEAR IF THESE RESTAURANTS WILL BE HELD ACCOUNTABLE…..OR WILL BE HIT WITH FINES OR A SUSPENDED LIQUOR LICENSE….


I WANT TO GET YOUR PERSPECTIVE ON THIS DEFIANCE…..SINCE LOCAL OFFICIALS DID SHUT DOWN YOUR POP-UP & HIT YOU IN YOUR POCKETS…


DO YOU FEEL THAT OFFICIALS PICK & CHOOSE THEIR BATTLES? 

OR 

DO RESTAURANTS TEND TO SLIDE BY…. WHILE POP-UPS PERHAPS….. ARE MADE AN EXAMPLE MORE OFTEN?


AND, DO THINK THAT SOME BAY AREA RESTAURANTS WILL ALSO DEFY THE OUTDOOR BAN…. AS DAYS TURN INTO WEEKS?



[[CHEF MONA DISCUSSES]]







CHEF MONA & THE BAY AREA:


CHEF MONA, WHAT’S THE ONE THING THAT PEOPLE SHOULD KNOW ABOUT WHEN IT COMES TO THE FOOD SCENE IN THE BAY AREA RIGHT NOW? 


AND ALSO ONE THING THAT YOU ARE TRYING TO ACCOMPLISH IN THAT SCENE...


[[CHEF MONA DISCUSSES]]


TAKEAWAY:


CHEF MONA, THANK YOU FOR SHARING YOUR STORY WITH US …....


I LIKE ENDING…. BY ASKING IF THERE’S ANY TAKEAWAY THAT YOU’D LIKE TO LEAVE WITH LISTENERS…... THAT CAN POSITIVELY INFLUENCE THEIR LIVES….. 

IT COULD BE SOMETHING THAT WE JUST DISCUSSED, A PRO TIP…. OR GENERAL LIFE ADVICE THAT YOU LIVE BY ….……..


[[CHEF MONA DISCUSSES]]


…...CHEF MONA WHERE CAN PEOPLE FOLLOW YOU ?


[[CHEF MONA DISCUSSES]]


THANKS FOR LISTENING….AND IF YOU HAVEN’T ALREADY….... SUBSCRIBE TO “HAVE YOU EATEN YET?” ….WHEREVER YOU GET YOUR PODCASTS….



[[MUSIC]]


CURRENT SITUATION: BAY AREA
CHEF MONA'S CURRENT SITUATION
COMPETITIVE FOOD MARKET
CHEF MONA'S POPUP PROBLEMS
HEALTH DEPARTMENT HEADACHES
DEFYING OUTDOOR DINING BANS
SO MANY CHEFS OUT OF WORK