When Andrew Ellis moved from the Boston area into his current Uptown Oakland apartment on Jan. 1, 2012, the New Year brought a fortuitous new beginning in his new town: his new housemate, Dan Graf, was the man who would start Baron Baking, the latest in a string of Oakland-based bagel sensations.

Ellis himself is a passionate foodie – he went to culinary school briefly, has years of experience working back-of-the-house in restaurants and frequently dabbles with recipes in his down time. Through Graf and his own networks, Ellis found himself connected with the inside track of Oakland’s transforming food scene. (Graf, for example, shares a commercial kitchen with the proprietors of Bar Dogwood and Fists of Flour.)

Now Ellis, 34, is channeling his passion for food and food justice into a book called “Oakland: New Urban Eating.” Ellis is heading up a book team that includes his buddies Ray Robinson, a chef; Clint Walker, an art director; Maribel Lopez, a project manager and food stylist; and Daphne Lopez, a documentarian and social media whiz. Since August of last year, Ellis and team have been working to document the existing and evolving landscape of what it looks like to eat in Oakland.

“My passion is food,” Ellis said. “And for my day job, I do ethnographic research at a place called Collective Invention, where I go out and interview people and write reports.”

Even before taking on his current job, Ellis was well-versed in collecting people’s narratives about culture and cuisine, having studied linguistics, worked as a documentary filmmaker and lived everywhere from Cambodia to Chile to New York City.

Ellis is wielding his research background to approach the book using an “ethnographic methodology” and conducting interviews – 15 and counting so far – with not just Michelin chefs, but also urban farmers, food foragers, families in Oakland’s various neighborhoods and more.

Ellis said that, as it is developing now, “Oakland: New Urban Eating” will be divided into three sections. The first will cover Oakland’s brick and mortar restaurants and will include recipes and stories from Oakland’s celebrated restaurant chefs.

The second section will involve Oakland’s food artisans and food trucks, with narratives about kitchen incubators, Off the Grid, the annual Eat Real Festival and the guerrilla food-on-wheels scene.

The third section will speak to the Oakland community’s involvement with food, including stories about people and organizations working for food justice, food foragers’ tips on how to forage for crab and start urban gardens and recipes submitted by regular community members from all over Oakland.

And it goes without saying that glossy drool-worthy photographs will be sprinkled throughout.

According to Ellis, the biggest challenge has been in collecting recipes – he’s found that he often needs to visit a restaurant three to five times before he is able to acquire a recipe from a busy chef or restaurant owner. Even so, he’s happy to reveal that he has thus far collected mouthwatering recipes from the likes of Old Oakland’s Cafe Gabriela and Caffe 817, as well as a recipe for a traditional Chinese chicken herbal soup from Jane Lin of Mama Tong and two community members’ recipes involving fish – one a recipe for fried fish with jicama salad and another for fish with mango salsa. (To help expedite the recipe-gathering process, you can submit a recipe for inclusion via the book’s website.)

The “Oakland: New Urban Eating” team hopes to publish the book by April 2014. They’re currently shopping for a publisher and can’t quite predict how the process will pan out. In the meantime, in spite of the work, they’re having fun with the project – they threw a pizza-and-beer launch party in March and a grilled cheese competition in April, both hosted out of The Kitchener and with food courtesy Ray Robinson.

For more information about how help bring this ambitious Oakland food narrative to life, visit the website or contact Andrew Ellis at andrew@newurbaneating.com.


Oakland Social is a weekly arts and culture column devoted to upcoming events, new places, and narratives about going out in Oakland. Have ideas for what to cover? Contact goingout@oaklandlocal.com.

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