Aaron and Monica Rocchino: their goal is to bring restaurant quality meat to the home cook
Aaron and Monica Rocchino, owners of The Local Butcher Shop in Berkeley which has won a 2015 Good Food Award. Photo: Tracey Taylor
Aaron and Monica Rocchino, owners of The Local Butcher Shop in Berkeley which has won a 2015 Good Food Award. Photo: Tracey Taylor

Last Thursday night, the 2015 Good Food Awards ceremony showcased the most regionally diverse crowd in their five-year history, yet even with this abundance of talent from around the country, the East Bay had a definitive presence.

East Bay food judges were present in all categories. Alice Waters held court on the stage all night, along with fellow food leaders Ruth Reichl and Nell Newman. Mark Bittman, who is to lead Cal’s Edible Education class this spring, delivered the keynote speech. And longtime East Bay businesses, Market Hall Foods and Fra’Mani won awards amid a youthful crop of food artisans.

The Good Food Awards was founded in 2011 in order to celebrate high-quality, sustainable food production in the U.S. Helmed by The Seedling Projects’ Sarah Weiner, the awards have grown from a relatively small, West coast-focused ceremony to a wider, diverse celebration of all things good food. 

Each year, food artisans are invited to submit their products for judging. Hand-picked judges from various states and professions conduct a blind tasting of the submitted items, and are then scored based on flavor. The top products are then vetted for their environmental and social practices.

The top five products in each region (North, South, East, West, and Central) for each category are named finalists, and the top three are given top honors. In other words, there are a lot of winners. And a lot of good food. Guests to the ceremony got to sample all of the winners at a party afterwards, and many of the artisans sold their wares at the Ferry Plaza Marketplace on Saturday. 

Berkeley’s Local Butcher Shop a winner

A winner: The Local Butcher Shop's Coppa di Testa. Photo: Local Butcher Shop
A winner: The Local Butcher Shop’s Coppa di Testa. Photo: Local Butcher Shop
A winner: The Local Butcher Shop’s Coppa di Testa. Photo: Local Butcher Shop

Berkeley’s The Local Butcher Shop took home an award for their Coppa di Testa. The charcuterie is made from a whole de-boned pig’s head, spiced with fennel, crushed chile, rosemary, thyme, lemon zest, and black pepper. Think porchetta, but funkier. This is their first Good Food Award, but it’s not likely to be their last. The shop, founded by Chez Panisse and Oliveto alum Aaron Rocchino and his wife, Monica, is emblematic of the principles of the Good Food Awards. 

The organization’s standards vary depending on the industry, but in general, they agree that “Good Food is made with real ingredients, local wherever possible, and respect amongst the people whose work goes into creating it. Good Food is made with good animal husbandry and without the use of artificial ingredients, hormones, synthetic pesticides, herbicides and fertilizer or genetically modified ingredients,” according to the Good Food Awards website. As Bittman put it in his speech, this moniker of “good” is the best way to represent responsible food, since “every other word, like natural, organic, and free-range, has been co-opted” by industrial agriculture. 

Likewise, the Rocchinos pride themselves on serving the absolute best meat they can. They buy animals directly from farmers located within 150 miles of Berkeley, and is always pasture-raised. “We aim to positively impact eaters, farmers, ranchers, food artisans, and fellow butchers through our community-based business by sourcing and cutting the finest meat available in the Bay Area and by teaching our customers how to source and cook meat,” they explain on their website. 

Rockridge Market Hall takes home two awards

Rockridge Market Hall Chef Scott Miller with his Good Food Award medals. Photo: Market Hall
Scott Miller. Photo: Market Hall

Rockridge Market Hall also won for the first time this year, and they won big, landing two awards for their silky Chicken Liver Mousse with Port Jelly and tangy Pickled Mixed Vegetables. Their executive chef, Scott Miller, accepted the awards, while their managing partner, Sara Wilson, presented the awards for the oils category. (Wilson is also being inducted in the Specialty Food Association’s Hall of Fame at this week’s Fancy Food Show.) Market Hall has long specialized in producing high-quality prepared foods, charcuterie, and cheeses, and has been an anchor in the Rockridge neighborhood for decades. 

Fra’Mani victorious for the third time

Salami Nostrano from Fra' Mani
A winner: Salame Nostrano. Photo: Fra’ Mani
A winner: Salame Nostrano. Photo: Fra’ Mani

Another East Bay stalwart, Fra’Mani, took home an award (their third) for their Salame Nostrano. The company was founded in 2006 by Paul Bertolli, who, like Ricchio, is a Chez Panisse and Oliveto alum. Fra’Mani produces cured and cooked salami, sausages, and pancetta, as well as a line of prepared foods for Costco. The winning salame is an exercise in simplicity, consisting of little more than pork, salt, and a little bit of garlic, wine, and spices. This no-frills recipe is standard for Fra’Mani — they’re not trying to complicate charcuterie. Indeed, their “mission is to keep old world food traditions alive in taste and craft, using ingredients of the highest quality from sustainable sources,” says Bertolli on their website.

Ultra-seasonal ingredients triumph for INNA Jam

Black Mission Fig jam: a winner for INNA Jam. Photo: INNA Jam
Black Mission Fig jam: a winner. Photo: INNA Jam

Up-and-coming Emeryville preserves company INNA Jam has a similar focus on simple products made with pristine ingredients. On Thursday, the company took home two awards, one for their earthy Black Mission Fig Jam and one for their tart Quince Shrub. INNA Jam specializes in ultra-seasonal and ultra-local jams, pickles, and shrubs. Says their founder Dafna Kory: “Our single-varietal jams are crafted so that each fruit’s unique essence and natural subtleties shine through in bright flavors. A jar of jam contains fruit from a single source. INNA jam tastes like the freshly picked fruit from which it was made, each jar a time capsule of flavor.” This mission clearly resonates with the Good Food Awards judges; INNA Jam also took home an award for their Pretty Spicy Fresno Chile Jam in 2013. 

Other East Bay winners include Stonehouse Olive Oil and La Tourangelle, both of which have their offices in Berkeley, and San Leandro’s High Water Brewing. All three companies took home their first Good Food Awards this year.

Mark Bittman: Why I’m coming to UC Berkeley
Paul Bertolli: Curemaster at Berkeley’s Fra’ Mani
Jammaker turns hobby into thriving local business

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Kate Williams has been writing about food since 2009. After spending two years developing recipes for cookbooks at America’s Test Kitchen, she moved to Berkeley and began work as a freelance writer and...