This Sunday (Mar. 3) the San Francisco Chronicle’s new food writer will make her debut with five restaurant reviews and shows she’s not afraid of sacred cows. One of her initial reviews will tackle Alice Waters’ iconic Chez Panisse.
In Soleil Ho’s own words, this is what she has to say about herself on her website: “My name is Soleil Ho, and I wear a lot of hats: I’m a freelance food, culture, and travel writer and the host of two podcasts, the multiple award-nominated Racist Sandwich and Popaganda. I’ve written about assimilation food, my proto-feminist love for Sailor Moon, and the curious culinary legacy of Asian immigration in Mexico. In addition to all of that, I’m the co-writer of MEAL, a graphic novel on culinary mentorship, queer romance, and eating insects. (Amazon) “In 2018, I received a Southern Foodways Alliance Smith Symposium Fellowship and a UC Berkeley-11th Hour Food and Farming Journalism Fellowship. In 2017, I was featured in this really funky short on chefs and tattoos for Bulleit Whiskey and Pop-Up Magazine.”
Ho has some big shoes to fill. She takes over from legendary food writer Michael Bauer, who wrote on the subject for 32 years and helped usher in the Bay Area’s rising status as a foodie haven.
“I’m so honored to be the Bay Area’s full-time food critic and to be tasked with doing this diverse, complicated region’s foodways justice through my writing,” Ho told the Chronicle when the newspaper announced her hire. “This is a total dream for me.”
The Chron published an advance review to tease readers and local foodies in which she tackles another Bay Area legend, Chez Panisse, the seminal Berkeley restaurant in which chef Alice Waters introduced a new vocabulary in food and launched a bunch a legion of chefs trained in her kitchen and philosophy.
And Ho isn’t cowed by Waters’ status akin to food royalty. “When there are so many interesting points of view that have emerged from the food world since 1971, Chez Panisse’s approach comes off as stale,” Ho writes. “I get that the whole premise of Chez Panisse is that simple presentation and purity of ingredients constitute a more meaningful way to eat, but that lack of ambition on the menu feels more like a bug than a feature, especially considering the unevenness of the dishes I had there on these visits.”
In a Chronicle podcast, Ho mentioned the other restaurants she’ll be writing about:
“Some pretty wonderful Chinese American restaurants,” presumably in a group review, La Folie and its lounge (just when you thought Ho’s predecessor, Michael Bauer, was gone for good), Cambodian hit Nyum Bai in Oakland, and La Calenda, Thomas Keller’s new casual Mexican restaurant in Yountville.
Ho comes to the Bay area from Minneapolis with stops in kitchens across the country, such as Bayona in New Orleans and Grand Cafe in Minneapolis. Her podcast, Racist Sandwich, has been an increasingly influential voice in discussions of race, class, and gender in the restaurant industry (and beyond); she founded it with co-host Zahir Janmohamed. According to Chronicle editor-in-chief Audrey Cooper, “[Ho] was a clear choice: she has a fresh and modern approach to food journalism.” In hiring Ho, the Chron is acknowledging the cultural diversity that makes up the Bay Area. Ho reportedly won’t be afraid to write from the perspective of a person of color. Ho’s work thus far has focused on fostering conversations around social justice and ethics, bringing voices of marginalized communities into the spotlight.
We hope she won’t lose that viewpoint. However, as the Chron reports, the ultimate goal remains to “enlighten, entertain and most of all, determine whether local restaurants are worth a diner’s time and money.”
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