Welcome back to Speaking Nopalese, my collaboration with Nopa that introduces you to people inside Nopa’s community. Today we meet Brooke Town, former manager at Nopa and Nopalito restaurant. After a 6-year tenure with the company, I caught up with with Brooke on her last week of work.
"I hear you’re about to skip town."
"Yep, heading to the Central Coast of California."
"I’m glad we got a chance to connect before you bounce on out."
"Me too, I’ve been wanting to share my experience of working at Nopa and I wasn’t sure how. I’ve never been more of a rock star than when I was working there."
"That’s interesting, in what way were you a rock star?"
"Well, San Francisco gives you a certain bit of anonymity in general, but being at Nopa connects you with so many people you end up being recognized all over the city. Whether you’re a server, or a stalker, or bartender,or-"
"Is stalker an actual position?"
"Stocker, yeah, it’s the person who buffs the glass. It doesn’t matter what role you play there, as long as you’re a part of it. Even regulars start to become part of the whole thing. It’s a true community of farmers, and winemakers, or any chef in San Francisco."
"Nopa does have a really unique culture, it feels like people really care about what they’re doing. How was that culture established?"
"You know, I think they’ve just done it right from the beginning. Their commitment to late night makes it so industry people had somewhere to go and the it would feel like a house party in some way. People stay there till 3 in the morning because they like it so much. When you’re waiting on people that are your peers, you have to hold yourself to a certain standard because they’ll push you. You’ll bring out a bottle of wine and people will argue about whether or not the wine is corked. Everyone has different opinions because they have different levels of sensitivity in their palette."
"What do you mean ‘if the wine is corked’?"
"That’s when there’s bacteria in the wine that affects the way it tastes. Wine service is obviously a major part of Nopa so it’s great to have people with so much knowledge and refinement."
"Have you worked in the industry for a long time?"
"Yeah, I worked at Rubicon before I came to Nopa, that’s actually where I met the owners of Nopa. One day they told us the owners of Nopa were coming in and I was like, ‘Me! I wanna wait on them.’ Jeff Haneck and I had coffee and I ended up becoming a manager at Nopa, the first female manager actually. I had to box my way through those first few years, but I learned so much about communication, developing relationships with people, the way I eat, the I think, the way I speak, the way we interact, the way we respect each other as humans, how to handle mobs of people, how to take it seriously but have stay centered because it us dinner, and we are gonna make it through. I learned so much there."
"So do you feel like your palette change a lot while working there?"
"Oh yeah, my palette is always changing, always evolving. I think Nopa was able to truly feel and be a part of the season. That helped to sensitive my palette. It was like, ‘There’s an early girl tomato, I’m going to eat that early girl tomato and truly experiencing the wave of that season."
"Since there is that seasonality and things are always changing on Nopa’s menu, do you have a favorite dish from all the time you worked there, like in the summer 3 years ago, at the beginning of the season?"
"Ha, there are so many. You could put a blind fold on me and I would pick the right thing. With that being said, I could eat the goat cheese with a glass of Kava anytime. The accompaniment would change though, Instead of pickled beets, you might see pears, or dates, or kumquats, or cherry tomato confit. So that dish represented that seasonality while still having that consistent comfort. That’s definitely one that stands out. Also, tomatos. Because I didn’t eat tomatoes before I started working there. But the first time I had an early girl tomato with maldon salt on it at Nopa…ahhh! When they’re right, they’re right. Balsamic vinegarette, and croutons, mozarella, it’s so classic! Oh! One more. If I could pick one thing to eat forever it would be the grilled broccoli with lemon and anchovies. It’s always on the menu."
"So if someone was wanting to expand their palette what would you suggest they do?"
"I think you have to be willing to try different things that you’ve never eaten before. Try that pickled herring. Eat it raw, smell it raw, eat it cooked. Even if you know you don’t like it, try it again. You have to force yourself to be exposed to food and we are in no better place in the world to do just that."