Hi there! I’m Natalie, a prep and line cook at Nopa Restaurant. I’m a strong believer in —whether it’s a person, glass of wine, or a dish — the more you know about something, the more you enjoy it. As someone whose love of food has grown through getting to know ingredients, growers and techniques, I’ve decided, ‘what better thing to do than share that knowledge with others who seek it!?’
In the weeks ahead, I’ll be looking more closely into some smaller aspect of kitchen life—an ingredient, a meal, a person, or a process—with the hope of adding a new layer of admiration, curiosity, humor and ultimately enjoyment to your dining experiences. This week I thought it would be cool (and seasonally appropriate) to dive into strawberries. We see them on plates all over the city, but what do we know about the life cycle of the average California strawberry? I wondered what it would be like to spend a day in their shoes…so I spoke with Adriana from Tomatero Organic Farm in Watsonville, and took my best stab at a day in the life…
The Diary of Albion the Strawberry
I think today is finally the day. Since I was just a small plant, just some roots and leaves planted into coastal California’s well-aerated soil, I’ve been dreaming of the day I’d reach my berry potential and be picked. Not that I don’t love it here in Watsonville – it’s a very prestigious neighborhood with very expensive rent for a strawberry. But it’s where we grow best! It’s been almost 4 months now that I’ve been growing here. I quite like it. The temperate climate has treated me well, and the dynamic community of berries in the area makes for a lively neighborhood. I even met my wife Rosa here! As an Albion, I’m known for my firm, crunchy, yet sweet characteristics. I like to think I’m the perfect balance of sweet and acid. Of course, there are others like me, they even have the same name…but none of us look exactly alike. Most people have a hard time telling us apart. That’s alright, I feel that way about most of the insects I see on a daily basis.
My wife, Rosa, is something special. Adorably small and cute, many would say she’s the sweeter one. Of course there are other Rosa’s out there, even some Sweet Ann’s who have such soft, bright skin…but I swear, I only have eyes for my Rosa.
Anywho, this morning I was awakened by a ray of sunshine beaming through the leaves. It was a warm day! Hoorah! Perfect for that last bit of sweetening up. I felt extra plump and juicy.
Next to me, ol’ Sea Scape was lookin dark and hanging pretty low.
“What’s the matter?” I asked.
“Well Al, I’m just feelin a bit over ripe. I don’t know if I’ll be picked today and it’s just a matter of time before—“ all of a sudden Sea was snatched up by our favorite human Adriana.
“Yippeee!” he yelled as he was tossed into the basket. I knew I couldn’t be far behind! Into the basket I went and off to the truck. I hoped Rosa and I would be chosen by the same family or restaurant, it would be nice to retire together.
A few hours later, a very nice looking man in a brown shirt was eyeing us at the Berkeley farmer’s market.
“I’ll take three cases Adriana. Two Albions and a Rosa. Those look perfectly ripe.” I could see Rosa blushing at the mans compliment. What a flirt.
We arrived at Nopa a few hours later – what luck! I’d heard other berries gossiping about this place. We have to wait our whole life to meet other foods, and I couldn’t wait to find out which plate I’d get put on.
But first, to the walk-in.
Man that place is like New York City…or so I hear. I’ve never been to the east coast, but I have a cousin in Maine. So many foods in one place. Lettuces and asparagus and other berries and stone fruits…I was in heaven. It was nice and cool in there, away from the hot sun.
After a couple hours it got a little chilly, we were at the very top after all close to a fan, but some other Al’s and I cozied up for warmth and had a nice chat with the apricots a box over.
Not long after, a nice lady, who I later learned was named Fernanda, picked up our box and took us to an even bigger room downstairs. Over the next few hours I saw some of my friends being introduced to the butter lettuces, blueberries, and pistachios. They got coated in what looked like a nice creamy layer of sweet honey balsamic vinaigrette, and then whisked off on an adventure to the dining room.
Before I knew it, it was my time to shine…
I got sliced up all pretty and mixed in a bowl with my new favorite nuts, those crazy walnuts! What fun they are when they’re all toasted. We smelled delicious. Fern decided to put thyme with us as well. What a fragrant treat.
Next door a warm goat cheese moved in, alongside crostini. All of us were joined by a light sprinkling of pepper, and out of nowhere a sudden a shower of chives hit the goat cheese but completely missed us—those SF microclimates…
What a night. Can’t wait to see what happens next. Oh look – we’re meeting some new human friends! Must go socialize.
See you tomorrow!
*unfortunately this was the first and only diary entry we uncovered from Albion’s diary.
Have a specific aspect of kitchen life that intrigues you? Let me know and I’ll do my best to demystify it. Happy eating!