Chef Verna McGowan is branching out from her role as Pulitzer Prize-winning author Alice Walker’s personal chef, and she’s opening her own Caribbean restaurant in Emeryville, Calypso Rose Kitchen.
McGowan tells Berkeleyside that her family taught her, “…The best of Southern, Mexican, and South American cooking.” She couples that with her Caribbean roots from her mother’s side, the culture she acquired growing up in the Bronx, and her experience choosing ingredients sourced from humane farms that she learned while working with Walker — who has lived in the heart of farm-to-table Berkeley for decades.
McGowan’s career trajectory hasn’t been a straight path, though it has certainly been successful. She started out at the Fashion Institute of Technology and spent time as a regional sales rep for Levi Strauss; next, she studied clinical psychology at San Francisco State University; eventually, though, she switched gears to instead attend the California Culinary Academy and Le Cordon Bleu. It was that schooling and her work in restaurants like the Claremont Club and Spa that led to her time with Alice Walker.
Walker, McGowan says, was interested in delicious organic food, but also wanted to make sure workers were being treated fairly on the farms where that food came from. McGowan says that mindset fundamentally changed the way she shops and views food.
Now, she’s bringing that expertise and outlook to Emeryville’s Public Market. Diners can sit inside the food hall or take their meals to go.
The restaurant’s menu is already planned out. Some highlights will include a traditional Guyanese oxtail stew with a twist, spicy Caribbean curries, a black bean soup with fried green plantains placed on top, a spicy grilled salmon, and crispy chicken wings in a distinctive pineapple garlic sauce.
The food is expected to be unique. The name Calypso Rose Kitchen is stand-out as well. McGowan says it’s named for a Trinidadian singer, McCartha Monica Sandy-Lewis, whose music discusses racism and sexism, a consciousness that McGowan says is very important to her.
The restaurant opens this summer. Right now, there are 17 other restaurants in the Public Market. Calypso Rose Kitchen will take up one of the newly renovated kiosks, as the Chronicle reports.