Gig,or Sharing, Economy Expands as Neighbors Cook for Neighbors

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

I recently ordered lunch online for an upcoming Thursday, although my husband and I actually saved it for dinner - sliced Chicken Marbella over kale salad and brownies for dessert.

To retrieve it, I walked several blocks to the kitchen of my Rockridge neighbor, Diana Pasquali, arriving between the hours of 12:30-2 p.m. as instructed and drawn in by the delicious smells wafting from behind her front door.

Diana P., as she is known, is the closest home chef to me listed on josephine.com, a recent start-up in the growing garden that is the sharing or "gig" economy.

Billed as "Home-cooked food from your neighbors," Josephine has its roots in Oakland, is spreading from the East Bay to San Francisco and claims renowned cooking guru Mark Bittman as a member of its advisory board.

On this day, of the six people coming to pick up their pre-ordered and pre-paid meals, I was the only one from Rockridge. Josh, who preferred his last name not be used, entered Diana's kitchen, carrying a one-year-old. "I'm on my way to pick up my daughter at pre-school," the Piedmont resident told us. "This is one of our favorite dishes."

Ann Moorhead, who lives in the Glenview neighborhood, stopped by on her way to work. No, it wasn't out of her way, she said, "because I shop in Rockridge all the time." This was her first time in Diana's kitchen, but "I love Josephine."

"A lot of people cooking for Josephine have professional cooking backgrounds," Diana told me. "I've tried some of their meals and everybody's really good." Part of why she enjoys being part of it is because "I set the number of portions. I decide the meal. I decide when I want to offer it. The most I've done is 30."

Diana herself is a recent graduate of Bauman College's five-month natural chef program in Berkeley. Friends told her about Josephine and she applied. "Three members of their staff came out and I served them lunch in my backyard," she says. After checking out her kitchen for cleanliness, her personality for warmth and her credentials that must include a California Food Handler's License, they helped her with portion sizes and provide compostable packaging and promotional materials.

The Wesleyan University graduate's "day job" is as a consultant for nonprofit organizations such as Greenpeace and Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America. I also learn she is married to Rockridge Community Planning Council (RCPC) board member Greg Pasquali. They are the parents of Eleanor, age one-and-a-half, and are expecting her baby brother in early February.

But within her already full life, "I like to sprinkle in a little cooking," Diana says. "I love to cook." In addition to offering her dishes on the Josephine website, she alerts her neighbors and past clients through emails such as this: "Hi folks who live nearby who work from home. I'm doing my first Josephine LUNCH [she's been doing dinners] next week on Thursday. If you'd like a crunch kale salad with olive chicken, stop by. Just click on the link and purchase your portion."

Diana also has her own food business - Bee & Biscuit (beeandbiscuit.com) - creating organic, homemade meals targeted to families with new babies.

"It's common to know about pre-natal nutrition," Diana told me. But her focus at cooking school was on post-partum nourishment because "I wanted to know about healthy cooking for new moms. It's a special time as to what they are putting in their bodies."

Some of her Bee & Biscuit clientele order for themselves, some for baby gifts. The dishes can be prepared individually or in multiples. The latter she calls "Stock the Freezer" and usually consist of six to eight quarts of such items as chicken soup and healthy casseroles such as wild rice and mushroom. "It's the simple things that people want," she says.

Berkeley Bowl is her go-to market. "My prices are a little higher because I prefer to purchase all organic products and make sustainably sourced meals," Diana says. But she and Greg also enjoy restaurant meals. After over three-and-a-half years living in Rockridge, their favorite restaurants are Pizzaiolo and A Cote. They also "love the roast chicken at Market Hall" and the take out from High Peaks Kitchen on College Avenue.

Like many young Rockridge families, they moved from San Francisco to have a yard and room for a family. "We love it. We love that we can walk to everything."

As to whether the home-cooked meals movement will be challenged in court by restaurateurs just as Uber and Airbnb have been by their more established competition, Diana believes "the laws will be updated" to adapt to the sharing economy. "It's really different from taking out from a restaurant. It's going into someone's kitchen."

Of the neighbors who have purchased her meals, "Some are friends. Some I've never met before who might live within a block or two. Sometimes they'll stay and have their meal in the backyard. My next door neighbors have purchased all of my dinners."

That would be Kerith Lucco and Rob White, doctors with two small children. "Everything Diana makes is flavorful and nutritious," Kerith says. "I like it. The fresh ingredients and the dishes are how people eat in their homes." They also purchase meals from a Josephine cook in Elmwood. Kerith sees the "cooking for your neighbors" concept as both feeding the community and engaging people.

"It really isn't a competition," Diana adds. "The more chefs in the neighborhood, the more I can go and buy a meal in my neighborhood. I feel really good about going into someone's kitchen and receiving my food right off their stove. I would love it if there were more Josephine cooks nearby."

They would come in particularly handy for the first few weeks after their new baby is born. "I will pause," Diana says, "and after a few months I'll start cooking again."
Your comments on this column and suggestions for stories about your Rockridge neighbors and neighborhood are welcome: email judyberne@att.net.