Local Chef Mixes Science With Food



Nicknamed "Eco-Chef" thanks to his Master's degree in ecology from San Francisco State University, scientist-turned-gourmand Aaron French has helmed the kitchen at Albany's Sunny Side Café since it opened five years ago -- and now he's also head chef at Downtown Berkeley's new Sunny Side, which opened last month.

The Albany café, that town's first officially certified green restaurant, has won the "Best Breakfast/Brunch" category twice in the Express' annual Best of the East Bay competitions, along with wins in the "Best Portions" and "Best New Restaurant" categories.

One of French's food-science convergences occurred when he developed over fifty different pancake recipes, then analyzed the correlations between them to devise what he calls "the Pancake Pyramid," which -- as he puts it -- "used the concepts of Multivariate Analysis to create a sectional array of pancake types: Soft and Fluffy, Firm and Dense, Smooth and Silky. The Pancake Pyramid is a useful teaching tool, because it simply explains the different axis of pancake recipe formation."

French's first volume, The Bay Area Homegrown Cookbook, is set for a 2011 release. Also a contributing editor at Fungi Magazine -- where his articles feature recipes such as the spring '09 issue's "Tequila Morel Mushrooms Over Pasta Orecchiette in Hedgehog Mushroom Romanesco" -- French grew up on a Sacramento-area farm, then later traveled the world as a tropical ecologist, studying rare species and investigating how birds and monkeys help to re-seed and thus re-grow rainforests. This passion continues at the Berkeley Sunny Side, whose menus feature organic, sustainable, and certified-humane ingredients as well as a tiny globe-shaped icon denoting low-carbon-emission items.