Monday, July 14, 2014

Patty Darragh

Executive Director, California Olive Oil Council
Berkeley, California

Patty is fun. 
I want her seated next to me at a dinner party or at my table for aperitivo. A realistic and kind woman, she often helps me see through the pettiness of other people's insecurities and actions.  I am grateful for her mentorship when navigating difficult waters.  Aside from her role as the executive director of the California Olive Oil Council (COOC), she is a storyteller and one of my inspirations for starting this interview style blog.  When I was still at the UC Davis Olive Center, we traveled together to the Paso Robles Olive Festival every August. Over dinner one night at a table of five women, she asked each of us to recount a positive food memory from childhood.  The stories past around the table made for one of the most memorable meals. She mentioned the wonderful soups her mother made as a child growing up in Brooklyn. That image has stuck with me over the years. The other image that sticks in my head is the five of us cramming into the cab of a work van to ride back to our hotel. Somewhere there is a picture proving it happened....

Patty made me a wonderful peach and burrata salad with California olive oil (of course!) at her home in Berkeley.  I cannot believe that during our shoot it was the first time I had seen her in over eighteen months. Her kitchen is full of knee buckling marble and more of that great Bay Area light I like to talk about. 

How did you find yourself working in olive oil? 

Through an acquaintance who told me that the COOC was looking for a very part time person back in 1997.

What do you wish everyone knew about olive oil?

That the fresher the olive oil is the better….maximum life of two years and store in a dark cool area away from heat and light.

Where do you find cooking inspiration?

My mother always experimented and had some flavorful family recipes which still inspire me today. For comfort food, I look to those family style meals. My mantra now is use the best possible ingredients with the simplest recipes possible.  Clean, simple food ...

Did you have a mentor?

My mother without a doubt. A working mom at a time where this was not the norm. She was independent and forthright and told me early on to prepare myself for life by being educated, resourceful and independent. Along with that great advice, she was a very active person with a sense of humor and a resiliency that I find very remarkable.

What is your earliest food memory?

In late summer, sitting in my maternal grandmother's kitchen with my mom and other relatives canning fruits and vegetables for the upcoming fall and winter. My grandmother lived in eastern Long Island at the time and it was famous for tomatoes, potatoes etc.. Also family dinners revolved around food and NY politics which was always a very lively discussion.

Last most memorable meal?

Restaurant -wise, barbecued shrimp with cheesy grits at the Brown Sugar Cafe in Oakland. At home, I made crab cakes with homemade pesto last weekend and it was divine.

Favorite cooking tool?

I took my first trip to Paris in 1970. I was beyond excitement as I had become obsessed with  French cuisine via Julia Child and Simone Beck. I knew that Julia loved the venerable store Dehillerin on Rue Coquilliere. I could not believe the assortment of copper etc. when I took my first visit.  I was a bit timid being in this bastion of cuisine but managed to converse with the clerk and purchase  a copper ladle. It was very substantial with a  slightly hammered finish and deep bowl. It remains a prized possession and makes me smile to think of my youthful exuberance. 

Describe your personal style?

Tailored and simple. I was a tomboy in my younger days. I still try to achieve a classic look with minimal fuss and jewelry. I am trying to wean myself off of headbands.

Favorite spot in the house? 

The patio outside of our kitchen or the book nook on the landing upstairs.

Advice for working mothers?

I am the proud mother of a self sufficient 24 year old. As a working Mom I would provide the following advice: 1. Do not over-schedule yourself or your child. Everyone needs some time to just unwind and not be in a programmed activity. 2. Make every minute count as the time flies by and always remember "family first".

Leo here is her true baby. Eighteen and going strong.

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