Engineer Marc Rumminger grew up in Michigan on a then-typical Midwestern diet: casseroles, canned soup and jello.

When he moved to Berkeley for graduate school his culinary world expanded and he became an avid home cook.

Rumminger experimented with Asian flavors, particularly Indian cuisine, and he immersed himself in pressing food issues, including the concept of locavorism.

Relatively early on in the world of blogging, Rumminger, 41, started writing about food on the group blogs Eat Local Challenge and The Ethicurean, a sustainable food site he continues to contribute to each week.

He also pens posts and shares recipes on his personal blog, Mental Masala, which he describes as a spicy mixture of ingredients where you’ll never find the same thing twice.  Mental Masala was recently named a blog with bite and featured on food rockstar Mark Bittman‘s recently launched group site.

Rumminger lives in South Berkeley. Set to meet at nearby Crixa Cakes (alas, for early birds like us, the store’s doors don’t open until 10) we settled in for a chat over tea (him) and a chai soy latte (me) at Sconehenge across the street.

Where do you like to eat out in town?

I mostly cook at home but when I do eat out my new favorite place is Gather. I think the restaurant is doing really experimental things with vegetarian dishes. They try new food combinations, different textures, and come up with interesting flavors. Not everything works, but they don’t play it safe.

Do you have favorite local food purveyors?

Starting on the decadent end, I like Spun Sugar on University. They have a good selection of quality baking ingredients, particularly chocolate.  Since I try to source most of my food locally, I’m a fan of Saturday’s farmers’ market. For spices I like Milan‘s at 9th and University. They have quick turnover and a big selection.

Are there cookbooks authors in the community you admire?

Alice Medrich, who has written several sweet cookbooks, including Pure Dessert. Her recipes are easy to follow, they’re inspiring, and they work. There’s an art to writing a good recipe and she has it down. I’ve made her dried fruit and nut cake, shortbread and honey, walnut caramels. All good.

What’s missing on the local food front?

Nobody in town makes tempeh, which is surprising in a place full of vegetarians. And I haven’t found anyone doing Malaysian food well.

What’s a misperception out there about how we eat here?

I think there’s a stereotype that Berkeley is doctrinaire and stuck in a crunchy, granola-y mindset. But the truth is a lot of people here are bringing back old artisan foods in new, modern ways. And while locavorism was coined here and locavore die-hards do live here, most of us do our best to eat locally most of the time — but we still make chocolate-chip cookies and drink coffee.

Each Friday in this space food writer Sarah Henry asks a well-known, up-and-coming, or under-the-radar food aficionado about their favorite tastes in town, preferred food purveyors and other local culinary gems worth sharing. Henry is a freelance writer whose stories have appeared in the Los Angeles Times Magazine, The Washington Post and San Francisco Magazine. A contributor to the food policy blog Civil Eats, she muses about food, family and growing greens on her blog Lettuce Eat Kale.

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[Photo: Bart Nagel]

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