March 2004 / San Francisco Chronicle

Cool panelists warm up to hot supermarket tamales:
Taster's Choice –
By Carol Ness Chronical Staff Writer
Supermarket tamales run the gamut. They're meat-filled or vegetarian. There are dainty husk-wrapped ones with a neat tie at each end, and gigantic ones three inches in diameter. Some are fresh, some frozen. They all make relatively inexpensive quick meals, easy to pop in a steamer or a microwave to heat and serve.
For our tasting, it was impossible to find the same kind of filling in all the most widely available brands, so we picked a sampling, fresh and frozen, warmed them in steamers and served them plain.
The winner was Primavera ($7.59 for four, 18 ounces, Rainbow Grocery), one of the refrigerated brands. The panel tasted the roasted green chile and Monetery Jack cheese flavor, and praised both the texture of the masa and the well seasoned filling.
"Lots of cheese, good seasoning, nice spice, good texture, " "good corn flavoring" and "good blend of corn and chile flavors" were among the compliments. One taster thought the filling was "almost to spicy." Three tasters would buy them, and one might.
Close behind was another refrigerated brand,
Donna's ($3.99 for four, 11.5 ounces, Whole Foods), the cheese chile variety. The tasters found them "zippy" and "spicy" with "a bit of heat." Two remarked on their "nice corn flavor;" three said they "need salt" or that "salt would help blend the flavors," but liked their spiciness. One taster was less enthusiastic, saying "too much spice" and "rubbery texture." Three would buy them; one might.Far behind was third-ranked El Monterey ($6.19 for 6, 27 ounces, Safeway), a frozen brand with chicken filling. The taster who liked them best found the "corn and chile flavors good," but said they were "a little heavy on the masa and light on the filling." The others criticized the "orange-y," "crumbly" and "artificial looking" exterior, and described the interior as "cheddar-y," "moist" and "artifical tasting," Two tasters might buy them, and two wouldn't.
Trader Joe's ($1.99 for four, 10 ounces), frozen cheese and green chile flavor, placed fourth. "Looks machine made." "dry, doughy," "wet, gooey, slimy cheese" were amoung the objections. One taster said the "flavors are good," but another said "no seasoning." One might buy them; three wouldn't.
Also tasted but unranked were Tamale Molly, Garibaldi and Golden West.
July 2002 / Marin Independent Journal

Fair fare pleases the palate
Dishes benefit wide variety of charities –
By Con Garretson IJ Reporter
What would a day at the county fair be without plenty of food?
As usual, you'll find cotton candy, butter drenched corn on the cob and smoked turkey legs at this years fair, but don't miss those cooking up special treats to raise money for local agencies. Food concession area fair goers won't get far without hearing Brian Finley hawking "the best barbecue ribs in the Bay Area."
Finely stands is new this year, with proceeds going toward finding a permanent home for the Helen Vine Detox Center, currently on Smith Ranch Road, where he works as a deputy director.
Those keeping tabs on their cholesterol might want to visit "The Heart Healthy Gourmet" run for more then a decade by Marin Artists International Network, which produces a long-running cable television arts show.
“We chose to
sell Donna‘s Tamales because of the quality of the ingredients

and the taste of
the masa.”
— Jonah Nickolds
A veggie dog by Wildwood of Fairfax and a vegetarian tamale produced by Donna's Tamales of San Rafael are on the menu at the stand run by Jonah Nickolds of Sausalito, a member of the organizations board. "We chose to sell Donna's Tamales because of the quality of the ingredients and the taste of the masa — 'dough' in Spanish — which is the outer corn portions that it is wrapped in," Nickolds said.
Dated needed / Marin Independent Journal

Prize Winning takeout
By Elizabeth Perez—Independent Journal reporter
A county fair usually evokes food memories of corn dogs, funnel cakes, cotton candy and a myriad of deep-fried foods.
But at this years Marin County Fair, held last week, I had a front-row seat judging what was probably the first-ever contest for best takeout food in the county.
As a reporter, my job is to observe others not be observed. So I'll admit it was a little strange sitting on a stage in front of a crowd to sample take-out cuisine with my fellow judge Mary Connell of the Novato Advance. Luckily, Marin County is a food lover's mecca and this year's takeout entries reflected the variety of cooking styles and fresh ingredients found right here at home. We have been the benefactors of organic farmers tending the land and cows in West Marin and high quality produce and food products found at our plentiful, open-air farmers markets. The variety and quality of the takeout entries made the task of judging even more difficult than I had anticipated especially for the Best Takeout From a Restaurant in Marin category.
But here are the best
of the best:
Parkside Tote Cuisine in Corte Madera earned a first place for its entry of a tender, pan-roasted salmon with a delicious romesu sauce of peppers, tomatoes, almonds and olive oil. Served on a bed of French lentils, the melt-in-your-mouth salmon was the standout of the day.
Dipsea Cafe in Mill Valley got second place and rave reviews for its creamy potato salad with a hint of dill and nice crunch of celery. This was potato salad like Grandma makes — the real thing — with just the right amount of mayonnaise and potatoes cooked to perfection.
The Dipsea Cafe paired the potato salad with a scrumptious and well above-average turkey sandwich. I'm talking real slices of turkey breast with ripe tomatoes and slivers of avocado on whole grain bread.
Best Takeout From a Deli or Market we judges concurred that Donna's Tamales of Fairfax (made with organic ingredients including cheese from the Straus Family Creamery in Marshall) Fi-Dee Chicken in Larkspur and Let's Eat In -Tiburon all deserved first-place ribbons.
November 14-20, 2000 / Ross Valley Reporter

Tamales moguls like flavor of success
Favorite treat turns into big business for
Fairfax pair –
Karen Foreign, Editor
It was something she'd enjoyed in her travels, and when Donna Eichhorn returned to her job as head chef at the Half Day Cafe in Kentfield her interest in creating a really good tamale was strictly personal. In her off-time she worked at it, trying again and again until she'd created an exquisite cheese-chili-corn tamale with an organic masa envelope and no lard to leave a heavy taste.
And as it turned out, the tamale - designed simply to recapture the flavor of a remembered treat - netted her a job offer from another restaurant. But instead of taking it, Fairfax residents Eichhorn and partner Shirley Virgil decided to take a chance, embarking on their own tamale adventure, creating Donna's Tamales and exploring the many ways the once-ignored delicacy can be interpreted.

"I fell in love with them, "she recalls of the tamales that inspired her own attempts. "I love Latin food."

Since Eichhorn and Virgil are vegetarians, the entire line of Donna's Tamales is meatless. But they were created to appeal not only to those with a similar food philosophy, but to anyone who wants a delicious and convenient meal, especially one wrapped in corn husks.
And the public has responded. Although the San Rafael - based company is only eight years old, the tamales are popular staples in Marin and San Francisco stores, and can be found as far away as Humboldt County, Eichhorn and Virgil's former home.
But it is in their fresh form that the tamales achieve the peak of adventurousness. Sold from a cart at a number of farmers markets, including the big one at the Civic Center, the flavors of the season are showcased.
"In spring we did asparagus," says Eichhorn. "Now we're into pumpkin, winter squash. Summer was eggplant. I think it's better when people eat that way... we have the philosophy of eating seasonally whenever possible."
A very popular variety available only from the cart is the goat cheese-mozzarella-swiss chard tamale with sun-dried tomatoes; current favorites include white bean pumpkin and black bean pumpkin.
Eichhorn attributes part of the success of the enterprise to the clean-tasting, healthy ingredients she uses.
"Older recipes were up to 50 percent lard," she notes. "Our tamales are the lowest-fat tamale on the market. We use pure olive oil, not lard, organic cheese, and organic masa made from organic white corn."
"They're really great for people with special diets," adds Virgil. "There's no wheat, they're unleavened, and there's no sugar or sweeteners in our tamales."
Of course. Sometimes all that healthy stuff can frighten people - especially the thought of tofu and chipotle tamale. "It's my favorite, but when you tell someone it's tofu and chipotle, you can see them start backing away." Laughs Virgil. "But once they try them they love them."
And the customers have some creative ways of convincing loved ones to eat the tofu and chipotle tamales - such as the women who transfers them into innocent unlabeled bags as soon as she brings them home, and whose teen has consequently never realized he's eating something healthy.
Another seasonal change is a bite-size tamale created as an appetizer.
"They'll be available
for Thanksgiving and Christmas, New Year, the Super Bowl," says Eichhorn. "They're popular with caterers and for parties."
Since the tiny tamales are labor-intensive, they'll only be offered in one or two varieties, and must be ordered a day or two ahead of time.
Something new that's staying around is the enchamale, a Donna's Tamales creation that Eichhorn and Virgil love so much they've put a copyright on the name.
"It's an enchilada in a corn husk," says Virgil. "Cheese, olive and onions, with Donna's delicious sauce - they can be steamed or microwaved. It's kind of cute, because I thought it would be difficult for people to remember the name - but they come right up and ask for enchamale."
There are a number of ways customers let Eichhorn and Virgil know how much they like what Donna's Tamales produces. The sales, of course. Compliments during farmers markets.
But an unexpected aspect has been fan mail. "It makes you feel like you're in the right line of work." Says Virgil with satisfaction.
"You think yeah, you're in the right business."
December 12-18, 2000 / Ross Valley Reporter

Community News
Good Earth Natural and Organic Foods advertisement
I started about eight years ago with only my love for Latin food and my commitment to vegetarianism. While cooking for friends here and there, the feedback I got about my tamales then was, "why aren't you producing these for the masses?" So here we are, many trials and stories later doing just that. Shirley and I have our tamales in the local farmers markets and a variety of natural food stores including this one (G.E.). The Good Earth now has the tamales (individually) in their fabulously awesome deli department and the sales there have gone ballistic for us. I feel like I live there just stocking them. Shirley wants the young parents to know about their packaged kids tamale too, called "Just Corn for Kids." She adds, "We left it plain, so you can top it or sauce it to their desire. A mild salsa, maple syrup, or even our favorite seasonal fresh fruit. With a fresh fruit topping they instantly become a fast healthy breakfast treat."
Donna and Shirley local Tamale Barrons, pause with a smile for the G.E. Cam, have been bringing their "Donna's Tamales" to the G.E. For years. They believe in a number of rules in operating their small business: as much organic as possible, never any GMO's, healthy and nutritious, and fresh and fast. "I believe everyone should take time to cook for themselves, but that's not reality always in today's society.
April 15, 1993 / San Francisco Chronicle

Conscientious Objectors of the Kitchen
Chefs Carving Out Meatless Careers
By Evelyn C. White - Chronicle Staff Writer
Lowther survived butchery instruction, but she says she hopes the California Culinary Academy will revamp its program to meet the needs of aspiring chefs like her. "Most of the teachers in cooking schools are from the meat-and-potatoes era." Said Lowther, who is 30. "But that isn't the culture anymore."
Beef Consumption Dropping
Beef consumption in the United States has been in a steady decline since 1976, according to University of Nebraska sociologist Paul Amato, an expert in the nations eating patterns.
"The move away from meat has been a slow but profound evolution in America," Amato said. "It stands to reason that people in the culinary arts would be influenced by this shift. Chefs who are shunning meat are simply following the market.
"Meatloaf and pot roast will never again be at the forefront of our diet." Some influential culinary leaders disagree. "It's true that people are eating more fish and fresh produce, but let me tell you something: Meat is here to stay," said Joyce Goldstein owner of San Francisco's acclaimed Square restaurant and a recent nominee for the Chef of the Year, the Oscar-equivalent in the world of haute cuisine.
‘When the Rent Has
to Be Paid’
"People in this business are going to have to cook meat," Goldstein said. "They may not like it. But when the rent has to be paid, shoes have to be bought and they have to see the dentist, guess what? They're going to grit their teeth and grill a steak."
Not Donna's Tamales. For seven years she was the chef-manager at the Half-Day Cafe in Kentfield. During that time she was able to get stir-fry vegetables, soy burgers and other vegetarian dishes on the menu. However, unable to reconcile her strict vegetarian practices with the demands of her job, she quit her $40,000-a-year job last fall to start Donna's Tamales. Made fresh from recipes featuring cheese, corn, tofu, chili sauces, and a variety of herbs and spices, the tamales are selling well in several Bay Area delicatessens, gourmet stores and vegetarian out-lets. "I finally realized that to get away from meat completely, I'd have to do my own thing," Eichhorn said. "Its been a lot of hard work, but I haven't regretted my decision for a minute."
Reminiscent of Classic Cuisine
Like Eichhorn, Eric Ticker was also able to stop cooking meat and maintain a job in the food industry. When he decided he wanted to hang up his apron at the restaurant where he had previously flipped burgers, he enrolled in The Natural Gourmet Cooking School. "I've learned how to prepare meals with amazing mouth appeal that are reminiscent of the classic French and Italian dishes but without the animals products," said Tucker, 27, now head chef at Milly's a vegetarian restaurant in San Rafael. "Using cashew milk instead of veal stock I can still create a delectable sauce. I've worked with interns out of the traditional cooking schools who are just blown away by what you can do with vegetarian cuisine."
In studying to become a chef, Kyra Lowther had to practically hold her nose during some classes.
Lowther prefers vegetarian food and has no intention of ever cooking meat for a living. But the 16-month, $21,680 training program at the highly regarded California Culinary Academy in San Francisco has no provisions for conscientious objectors to preparation of meat. "Butchery classes were a nightmare," said Lowther, who now cooks at Greens, a vegetarian restaurant in San Francisco. "We had to carve up animal carcasses in a room that just reeked of meat. I was completely grossed out."
Lowther is part of a new generation of chefs who are hoping to build successful careers with out cooking meat. Noting that Americans are cutting back on their consumptions of beef, these aspiring chefs believe that meat centered meals are a thing of the past.
So far, according to the American Culinary Federation, there is only one cooking school in the United States devoted exclusively to vegetarian cuisine. Founded in 1977, The Natural Gourmet Cookery in New York City offers everything from one-week intensive study to a five month, $7,500 chef training program — which can take as long as a year to get into.
"There is a great need today for people who know how to prepare vegetarian food," said school spokesman Louis Cress. "Not only in restaurants, but with the growth of organic food markets, catering businesses and the whole spa industry, we get more job orders than we can fill."
Anatomy 101
But most culinary schools are resisting pressure to establish meat-free courses of study for students who wish to specialize in vegetarian cuisine. They say that butchery will remain mandatory.
"Giving a culinary student the option not to prepare meat is tantamount to letting a medical student skip Anatomy 101," said Roberta Goodman, spokeswoman for Commission in Maryland. "There are minimum standards that have to be met, and the feeling in the food industry is that students have to learn how to cook meat. That's the bottom line.
It was the lack of a no-
meat option that dissuaded lifelong gourmet Donna Eichhorn form attending cooking school.
"I didn't want to learn how to cook rich sauces of beef Wellinton," said Eichhorn, 50 a Fairfax resident who recently started a vegetarian tamale business. "I don't eat that kind of food and I don't think that a lot of other people do either. So it just didn't make sense for me to spend the time and money to go to cooking school."