Coordinating two-dozen local food purveyors for a conference is no small feat! But if anyone is up to the task it’s Tina Tamale.
We chat with Tina ‘Tamale’ Ramos about her experience delivering the best handmade Oakland fare to the 2014 BALLE Conference, and her eight-year journey from BALLE Conference scholar to the co-founder of Oakland Grown, all while sticking to her culinary and familial roots.
This is the first of a two-part series investigating the Localist food cycle of BALLE’s 2014 conference.
BALLE: Tina, you’ve been working with communities in Oakland for quite some time. What is your Oakland Story?
Tina: My grandmother founded La Borinquena Mex-icatessen in 1944. We are celebrating its 70th anniversary this summer. Mama Tamale, my mom, has worked here since she was 12 year old. A few years ago, I was approached to do mobile vending at various Oakland community events and street fairs and also started to see a need for full-meal catering. My alter ego, Tina Tamale, became a brand! I now operate the Tina Tamale Pop-up & Catering business as an extension of my family’s indie business. The Oakland community has supported us for generations, we’re happy to give back when we can.
BALLE: When did BALLE come into the mix?
Tina: I attended the BALLE 2006 conference “Grow Deep” as a scholarship recipient. I returned to Oakland and joined the marketing committee that founded Oakland Grown, our local BALLE chapter. Local and indie is my LIFE.
BALLE: Could you walk us through your preparations for the conference? What factors into curating an Oakland food experience?
Tina: The first task was making the process of planning the meals into digestible chunks. My fellow catering crew colleagues, Char Van Riper and Krista Gettle, and I worked on multiple spreadsheets, lists of logistics and figuring out supply needs in the weeks prior to the conference.
Next, we made sure all food lifestyles and dietary restrictions would be met at every meal. Aside from my own restaurant/catering company, we enlisted the help from 23 local food purveyors and makers; a truly diverse bunch including people of color, women, gay and lesbian, and most of us with 10+ years in the food industry. When we couldn’t find a particular menu item, we challenged some of our makers to specifically create certain items. Finding items that were both vegan and gluten free was a fun challenge for our granola and cold soup shots!
During the actual conference, our amazing onsite staff worked together to make sure all these beautiful, delicious, local and sustainable food items were well presented and it was easy to find what worked for any particular diet, all on bio-compostable serviceware.
Tart Bakery and Fist of Flour among the two dozen Oakland food purveyors and makers featured at the 2014 BALLE Conference
BALLE: Was there anything surprising or unique about the BALLE Conference among your other catering experiences?
Tina: I work on large scale events like festivals and cater for large weddings and other milestone events on a regular basis. What was different was serving/coordinating so many meals for 500-600 guests within a 72 hour service frame! We were pleasantly surprised at how early and often were were thanked by attendees (starting with the first night dinner), how well received some of the culturally different cuisines (Filipino, Argentinian, Mexican tamales, etc.) were devoured, California (we used 85% CA) fruits & vegetables were so exciting to so many and who knew that paleo muffins, farm pastured hard boiled eggs and quinoa salad were such a thing!?
What I loved the most about working on this scale was really getting the opportunity to work with so many Oakland food makers on a one-to-one basis. Especially the nano and micro businesses who pushed themselves to make this all happen! They fed my spirit when days got longer and longer while I worked the coordination for the conference, fulfilling the bulk of many of the BALLE meals and my regular (read hectic) schedule of being an indie food-maker myself!
BALLE: What’s next for Tina Tamale? Where can we find you out and about?
Tina: I always have new projects going on! I use the cooking analogy a lot – a couple pots on the front burners, a couple on the back burners simmering, a few off to the side marinating – to describe my work. My current goals are to continue to support my family’s business, expand my catering program as well as the Tina Tamale brand.
I also do a lot of multi-media public relations. In additional to my own social media, I was an early adopter and can be found almost everywhere as Tina Tamale (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc.) I can be found on the “Cooking with Ryan Scott” (KGO 810AM) radio show on a monthly basis as a fill in co-host and sometimes guest. I’ve taped a couple of segments of the nationally broadcast and Emmy award wining TV show, Food Rush with the new segment airing in July 2014. I love both hosting and participating in local fundraising events like ¡VIVA Tamales!, SF Bay Chili Cook Off & Oakland Bacon & Beer Festival.
The BALLE conference got me salivating to work with our Oakland food artisan even more. It’s my new secret project, more details coming the the next few weeks. Follow me online to find out more!