Nelson German, owner of alaMar Kitchen & Bar and Sobre Mesa, will compete on Season 18 of Bravo's "Top Chef." Photo courtesy of Bravo
Nelson German, owner of Oakland’s alaMar Kitchen & Bar and Sobre Mesa, will compete on Season 18 of Bravo’s “Top Chef.” Photo courtesy of Bravo

AlaMar’s Nelson German will be on the next ‘Top Chef’

East Bay “Top Chef” fans have a local chef to root for when the 18th season of the Bravo cooking competition series premieres on April 1. Oakland chef Nelson German, who owns popular brunch spot alaMar Kitchen & Bar and Afro-Latino cocktail bar Sobre Mesa, will duke it out against 14 other chefs from around the country.

The latest season was filmed last year in Portland, Oregon, in the midst of the pandemic, and while the “Top Chef” Season 18 trailer shows mostly maskless chefs, hosts and guests as if it were any other year, some of the appearances and challenges speak to the times, including a Zoom appearance from Alice Waters and a competition where chefs work with Jose Andres’ World Central Kitchen to feed front line hospital worker. German is the third Oakland-based chef to compete on the series, the others are Tanya Holland and Tu David Phu (Preeti Mistry, of Juhu Beach Club fame, lived in San Francisco when she was on the show in 2009). No doubt, we’ll be cheering him on. Stay tuned, alaMar aims to host a watch party on April 1.

Cupcakin’s Virginia Bakery location opens Saturday


Cupcakin’ Bake Shop owner Lila Owens will finally open her newest location at the former Virginia Bakery this weekend. Photo: Sarah Han

In the summer of 2018, Cupcakin’ Bake Shop founder Lila Owens signed the lease and got the keys for 1690 Shattuck Ave., the former home of Berkeley institution Virginia Bakery, which had closed after 65 years that spring. At the time, Owens told Nosh she saw a great opportunity in the 3,725 square foot space, where she planned to bake her line of standard-sized and mini cupcakes, along with full cakes, cookies and even some of Virginia Bakery’s signature desserts. Now, Owens is finally counting down the days till the opening of the bakery, what will be Cupcakin’s third location.

Cupcakin’ will celebrate with a soft opening this weekend, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Saturday, Feb. 13, and Sunday, Feb. 14. Expect lots of luscious, decadent frosted cupcakes in a variety of flavors — including the shop’s seasonal Bourbon Caramel Passionfruit cupcakes — as well as scones and croissants, and two treats made from Virginia Bakery recipes: sprinkle and oatmeal cookies! Cupcakin’ Bake Shop, 1690 Shattuck Ave., Berkeley. Cupcakin’s other locations are 2391 Telegraph Ave. (between Channing and Durant), Berkeley and 907 Washington St. (at Ninth Street), Oakland 

HelpBerkeley founder wins a Jefferson Award


Michel Thouati won a Bay Area Jefferson Award for Public Service for founding HelpBerkeley, a delivery service that provides restaurant meals to COVID-compromised seniors in Berkeley, Albany and Kensington. Photo: Pete Rosos

Michel Thouati — founder of HelpBerkeley, a volunteer-run group that delivers low-cost restaurant meals to COVID-vulnerable seniors — has recently received a Bay Area Jefferson Award for Public Service. Since early in the pandemic, HelpBerkeley volunteers have delivered more than 25,000 meals to people aged 60 and older in Berkeley, Albany and Kensington. At the same time, the organization provides some revenue for participating restaurants, along with a chance for business owners to give back to their communities. (Read more about HelpBerkeley in Kristina Sepetys’ feature for Nosh.)

The Jefferson Awards for Public Service are given to “ordinary people who do extraordinary things without expectation of recognition.” When Nosh spoke with Thouati about the award, he was thrilled for the recognition, but wanted to clarify that “the Jefferson is not really going to me but to HelpBerkeley,” he said, “We are a truly collective group.” Thouati was also glad that the award was given just as HelpBerkeley is about to launch a new program this month. During the Christmas season, about 50 HelpBerkeley drivers delivered 1,038 free meals to seniors, and now the group wants to continue delivering free or subsidized meals on a weekly basis. Along with its cadre of volunteers, HelpBerkeley is powered by donations made by generous community members, and Thouati is hopeful the recent Jefferson win will inspire more people to give to the cause. Congrats to Thouati and hats off to all the HelpBerkeley volunteers!

Berkeley’s Blue Ox Wine Co. is now Hammerling Wines

Hammerling Wines is the new name for the Berkeley winery formerly called Blue Ox Wine Co. Photo: Hammerling Wines


Hammerling Wines is the new name for the Berkeley winery formerly known as Blue Ox Wine Co. Photo: Hammerling Wines

Berkeley’s Blue Ox Wine Co. has a new name. As of this month, the urban winemaker known for its sparkling vintages is called Hammerling Wines. Founder and winemaker Josh Hammerling explained that the winery had to rebrand because an Iowa distillery called Blue Ox Spirits felt customers would confuse the two brands. And while Hammerling had to quickly come up with a new moniker, logo and labels in just two months’ time, he said the change has a positive side, as it highlights how much his family has been involved in the business. Hammerling’s wife Jessie and his brother Jeremiah are both co-owners.

The winery’s latest releases are a 2019 Sparkling Chenin and a 2019 Sunflower Sutra. The Sunflower Sutra is Hammerling’s flagship sparkling wine. “It’s a California take on a French classic, but I’m not looking for any comparisons to champagne,” the winemaker said. Hammerling Wines is currently open for limited service, offering a by-the-glass menu and bottle service, from noon to 5 p.m., Saturday and Sunday. Hammerling Wines, 1350 Fifth St. (between Gilman and Camelia), Berkeley

‘Berkeley’s Fascination with Food’

painting of food and reference to Berkeley


Painting by Madeline Rohner for Berkeley Historical Society

Food lovers who enjoy digging into local history will find plenty to savor in Berkeley Historical Society’s latest online exhibit “Berkeley’s Fascination with Food.” Historical Society volunteers mined the archives to highlight interesting aspects of Berkeley’s food history, including a look at the diets of Berkeley’s earliest inhabitants, the Ohlone people; the birth and heyday of the city’s counterculture food movement in the ’60s and ’70s; and a timeline of the Gourmet Ghetto (which even includes the 2019 dust-up that led North Shattuck Association to drop the neighborhood nickname). Since February is Pizza Lover’s Month in Berkeley, we also wanted to point out a fun Berkeley pizza fact unveiled in the exhibit: The city’s first advertised pizzeria was Granata Restaurant, at 2370 Ninth St. It was listed in the city’s telephone directory from 1949 until it closed in 1989.

Find a lot more interesting local food history on Berkeley Historical Society’s website. And, learn a lot more in Berkeley Historical Society’s upcoming online event “Berkeley and the California Cuisine Revolution,” featuring food luminary Narsai David in conversation with author L. John Harris. The talk takes place at 2 p.m., Feb 28. Suggested donation is $5-20; proceeds benefit Berkeley Historical Society.

Sarah Han is Senior Editor, Food for Oaklandside and Berkeleyside. She has worked as an editor at The Bold Italic, the San Francisco Chronicle, and the San Francisco Bay Guardian. Read more stories by Sarah Han on Berkeleyside.