A Radio Producer’s Journey From Childhood Junket to Seven Fishes with Alice Waters
Kitchen Sister Davia Nelson talks about her inspirations: food and stories
You may have heard Davia Nelson’s name while listening to NPR’s “Morning Edition” on your commute. She might’ve snapped you out of your pre-caffeinated languor with food-centered stories like “An Unexpected Kitchen: The George Foreman Grill,” “Birth of Rice-A-Roni: The Armenian-Italian Treat,” or “Weenie Royale: Food and the Japanese Internment.”
Nelson is an independent radio producer and co-founder of the nonprofit production company The Kitchen Sisters — and the stories above are from “Hidden Kitchens:” her James Beard Award-winning series that explores under-the-radar cooking and the people behind it. Among other projects, she’s also behind, “The Kitchen Sisters Present,” the podcast that “explores lost recordings and shards of sound along with new tales of remarkable people from around the world — stories from the flip side of history.”
“What did you have for breakfast this morning?” I asked — an interview question she suggests as an icebreaker at her Kitchen Central teaching workshops in San Francisco. Turns out, she had a cup of coffee while driving over the Golden Gate Bridge from Salinas, then chowed down some yogurt with Marcona almonds.
“Food has always been at the center of all things for me because it wasn’t at the center of all things,” Nelson says. Her childhood in Los Angeles tasted, for the most part, like that of many American kids growing up in the ’60s. Nelson describes her mother’s junket, her stepmother’s mushy, scorched hamburger bean pot stew, and the buttery comfort of her father’s matzo brei and silver dollar pancakes for the long awaited Sunday brunch.
Then, in junior high, Nelson took to baking in a home economics class. She started picking up more responsibilities in the kitchen at home, and she had begun to understand that food has real power in bringing people together.
In college, food became more of a priority. When she was a student at UC Santa Cruz, Nelson baked chocolate chip cookies to raise money to stop the Vietnam War. She lived in a co-op where they…