Alicia Faris Bio
My personal food journey, like many of yours, began at a very young age. Food is something we all share, steeped in tradition, in memories, in scents and flavors. Sharing it brings us joy, surfaces memories of loved ones, and reminds us that we are all one, sustained by the bounty that this earth provides for us.
I grew up in a generation where processed and packaged convenience foods were like enlightenment to my hard working baby-boomer parents. The Betty Crocker Cookbook was the only one I ever knew, with its quick and easy to follow recipes, suggesting canned this or that to get dinner on the table in short order. When they were kids, these convenient foods were not an option. The ability to come home from work and cook a meal for the family by placing something frozen in the oven or microwave was like a godsend. Who can blame them? At the time, when these convenience foods began to take rise, as a culture, we were mostly unaware of the lack of nutritional quality that comes with such ready-made, mass produced foods. When I think about food memories as a child, those which bring me the most comfort are ones that my parents didn't really have to cook at all. The thought of settling down to a piping hot lasagna in its disposable aluminum pan after a busy day still fills my heart with the happiest of memories.
In this time, however, I was not out of touch with the way things used to be either. I remember sitting at the table with my grandma, listening intently and learning about 'the days of old.' We would share home cooked meals for hours as she recanted tales of the effort required for dinner when she was my age. We would laugh together as she got up from the table to show us how they would chase chickens around the yard, wring their necks, and painstakingly pluck their feathers for hours. With mouthwatering detail she would explain the sweet flavors of tomatoes growing on the vine, sprinkling them with salt and eating them like they were apples. She taught me to make a few home cooked southern staples, and how I wish she were still around to teach me more. Those memories shared with her were some that created a lifelong passion to remain connected with my food source. While I still loved the flavors of the processed foods I grew up eating, something from the quiet moments with her at the table sparked a flame within me to keep this ancestral connection to earth alive, and share it with others.
Food has been a passion of mine since I was young. I have the fondest memories of adventuring around gulf coast seafood restaurants where I grew up as a child. I would sneak into the kitchen as ask the chefs questions and hope they had the time to give me a tour. They would gladly take me out to the docks and show me where the fisherman would bring in the daily catch. Afterward allowing me to examine the plethora of sea life sleeping on ice in the huge walk-in coolers. I was enthralled by the restaurant community from a young age, constantly pretending to be service staff and taking dinner orders for my family. I began my career working in restaurants on my fifteenth birthday, the first day I was legally allowed to do so. From that point on, I was surrounded by amazing chefs creating the most delicious meals for their patrons. Constantly inspired and empowered to try new things, my palate began to expand, and my relationship with food began to evolve. My preferences began to shift from fish-sticks and macaroni to grilled Atlantic salmon with fresh greens and rainbows of produce. It wasn't until I moved to California in 2010 that I really began to understand the beauty of organic produce and local ingredients. There was a whole new world of tastes, flavors, and ingredients to use that I had never even seen. Something incredible was available at the farmers market year round. I began to study the seasons, befriend the farmers, and learn as much as possible about the new abundance which was now at my fingertips.
Landing jobs at Michelin starred restaurants inspired me to push the boundaries with food, flavor, and creativity in the kitchen. Food that is beautiful, colorful, and delicious will make even the toughest of critics smile. The current state of health in our country encouraged me to do more, and share the knowledge I have with others. I was inspired to begin volunteering with CUESA (Center for Urban Education about Sustainable Agriculture) in their Foodwise Kids program. Here, kids from bay area schools come on field trips to the Ferry Building Farmer's Market. We teach them about local, sustainable, and organic food, seasoning, and flavor, and encourage them to learn more about their local foodshed. They are empowered to shop the market in groups, selecting ingredients for a dish they will create together and share with their classmates. Watching them collaborate and co-create is nothing short of magic. Using surveys after each program, we see that the kids are always inspired to try new fruits and vegetables, and excited to share this knowledge with their families. They leave with a sense of accomplishment that will transcend into other aspects of their lives.
I was asked to lead the charge as Nutrition Education Program Manager with local non-profit Bay Leaf Kitchen. Here we taught hand on culinary education to hundreds of kids and their families in under-resourced neighborhoods. They explored positive practices by re-connecting with nature through adventure, gardening, and cooking. I believe that access to healthy food is a human right, and I teach families to decolonize their diet and take back their personal sovereignty.
I teach cooking classes and summer camps all over the San Francisco Bay Area and now, all over the world from Zoom! I help families simplify mealtime by incorporating easy meal planning strategies that empower young eaters to learn to cook nutritious meals and build lifelong healthy relationships with food. When kids learn to feed themselves well, they take ownership of their feeding journey. My mission is to inspire the next generation to reclaim the traditional wisdom of cooking and sharing nourishing meals.