Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Liz Kleinman

Airbnb and the Gastronome Explorers Club
Oakland & Davis, California

Liz chose me as her friend. I first met her to talk about the University of Gastronomic Sciences where I had recently completed my Masters in Italy. After chatting for over an hour about the program, California food scene, and Davis, she informed me that we would now be friends. She is also the sole reason we chose to move to Village Homes where she grew up and her mother helped develop. I must have passed the test.

Liz is a force of nature. If she wants to make something happen, it will to happen. Her events have a warm customized feel as if they delicately fell together as the day progressed. The reality is her planning and execution skills are meticulous and exquisite. She is an excellent reminder that if you know what you want, you are 90 percent there. Liz now works at Airbnb and has started her own culinary tours on the side under the name of the Gastronome Explorers Club. Her creativity is infectious and I feel lucky to have her as a resource in my toolbox. She is always telling me about the next restaurant or food product about to explode. "Have you heard about Koju? Its all the rage in Japan.  Japanese housewives cannot live without it in their pantry." A natural PR player.

I met her for the Temescal Farmer’s Market on a Sunday and we shopped for a decadent spring lunch at her home in Oakland. Her house is a joy to photograph as every inch is full of that famous defused Bay Area light and artfully displayed still lifes. Despite the fact that she no longer lives in Davis, her connection to Village Homes is still strong. When she talks about her childhood adventures, you can see how strongly they shaped her confidence and connection to food. From the first time I went to her mother's home I decided to make visits a regular occurrence in my life, so I invite myself over from time to time.....

You grew up in Village Homes, how has that influenced your cooking style and lifestyle?

I am so obsessed with my childhood. Village Homes was a magical place to grow up. I feel like I was so beyond blessed to grow up in a community that felt almost tribal, where I could be pretty free to wander at a very young age through the paths that connect the edible landscape and postage stamp lots with their solar homes. I understood the rhythms of the seasons; passing months were marked by the trees that were in bloom and the fruit that had ripened. We used to play this game we called ‘lost girls’ where we would forage for anything edible and then cook it in a gourd (inside on the gas stove). I feel like my sense that anything is possible and my creativity are the results of this upbringing. 

My mother’s home has a nearly revolving door and on any given afternoon we might have as many as twenty people stop by- neighbors, kids, their parents, friends out walking -- that is really special. So often we end up entertaining on the fly and just throwing together whatever we have, big dinner parties and potlucks and pulling an extra chair or four up to the table.

Aside from your awesome new day job at Airbnb, tell me about your new side business?

I feel like I haven’t really started a new business, but what I hope becomes an energetic and meaningful community. The Gastronome Explorers Club brings together the epicurious for adventures around food. Giving people a sense of belonging is critical to the mission, which is why for the first adventure we went up to Yolo County and met up with several friends, who welcomed the gastronomes with wines they had made, their incredible breadth of knowledge about olive oil, their day-old baby lambs, and a fabulous dinner on a farm.

What items are always in your fridge or pantry?

Acid! and a dash of sweet -- that's my jam and could describe the flavor profile of about anything I cook. Some remnants from whatever adventure I have been on most recently. I still have a fully stocked array of sauces for Thai coooking after our adventure to South East Asia this past summer. I went to a great class on Koju at 18 Reasons so I have been experimenting with a tub of that most magical an ingredient as well.

What do you wish everyone knew about event planning?

 There is so much more than meets the eye!

Personal style?

Rag-a-muffin, when I can get away with it. 
I've been trying harder to care. I love looking at clothes and accessories, but in the past I did not put much thought or investment into what I wore. I guess I realized it does matter if I'm being completely honest. I love monochromatic outfits and about 90 percent of my clothes are black, navy and grey. I love white but I spill a lot.

What are your favorite shoes and why?

I love shoes -- it's kinda a problem, but I hope my obsession isn’t too obvious. I love these new Vince slides that I just got. I know I will wear them nearly every day this spring. Slate grey is my new favorite neutral. I think I wear my Rag and Bone booties about three to nine times a week. In a typical day I can easily wear three or four pairs of shoes. If I don’t put away my shoes every day by the end of the week my dressing room has about 15-20 pairs strewn about.

I feel like I’m starting to sound like a slob...

Decorative style?

Boho Chic -- ha! Sounds so cheesy, but I think it's true. It is pretty eclectic. My husband and I love flea markets and vintage stores. I also get a kick out of repurposing things. I like to use a pallet of 2-3 main colors in every room and link the rooms by repeating at least one of the colors. My Pinterest is full of modern images with lots of white and wood, but when it comes down to it I just can’t resist color and patterns! One of Michael’s expat friends visited recently and said our home felt very California – which I thought was an interesting take and a nice complement.

Imagine the perfect event?

Currently I am trying to deliver my perfect event with the Gastronome Exporers Club – so rather than an event it's more of an adventure. All day! Out in the world. Doing something new and making new friends. I want people to feel that same sense of adventure you did as a kid. I like when events feel unplanned. That said, the amount of structure needs to be calibrated to how well people know each other. Everyone should always have a drink in hand. I like to create environments where people can roll up their sleeves and eat with their hands. At our wedding I warned the ladies not to wear silk because we served elote during cocktail hour. Many did not mind the instruction and nor did they care -- and that is the perfect party in my mind. I want people to be themselves, make deeper connections, connect with their inner kid and, of course, feel a connection to land and people. It's crucial to surprise and delight with the little details. It’s also important to end on a high note – before the party comes to a true unwinding end, unless, of course, you are drinking bubbles and dancing with your best friends, in which case the party ends when you just can't keep your eyes open any more.

Well put, Mrs. Kleinman.

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