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March 17, 2003

Chef Bruce Aidells hopes to counter promotion of highly processed foods

By Scott Rappaport

Renowned chef and cookbook author Bruce Aidells has pledged a $20,000 gift to establish a cookery endowment at UCSC.

Chef Bruce Aidells

Bruce Aidells, who has written 11 cookbooks, ran a restaurant called Fat Alberts Rotunda when he was a student at UCSC. Photo courtesy Bruce Aidells

Aidells is the author of 11 cookbooks, including the meat and poultry chapters for the newly revised Joy of Cooking. He has also been a guest chef on a wide variety of television shows such as Martin Yan’s Yan Can Cook, Martha Stewart’s From Martha’s Kitchen, and Cooking Live with Sarah Molton.

"I’m interested in making this endowment so future generations have access to information about how to cook, since that information is no longer being passed down from mother to daughter, or mother to son," Aidells said. "I want to do as much as I can so that we don’t produce a generation of students who depend on corporations to put a hot meal on the table."

Aidells hopes to counter the corporate promotion of highly processed foods with a complete range of educational materials that promote the values and various techniques of home cooking with high-quality fresh foods. The goal is to give students a lifelong appreciation for good food, plus an awareness of the role that raising, preparing, and sharing food plays in creating community across the world.

An alumnus of UCSC, Aidells earned a Ph.D. in biology in 1974. He worked as a research fellow at the Imperial Cancer Research Fund in London for three years, before heading off to a two-year stint with the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland. Though he found the English intellectual approach to science appealing, he soon gave up science for a career in the kitchen.

"I made a lifestyle decision that it was more important for me to remain in the Bay Area than find a job in science in an area of the country where I didn’t want to live," Aidells said. "And I always thought I was a better cook than I was a scientist," he added.

Aidells had briefly tasted the life of a restaurateur during his student days at UCSC. An amateur cook in his spare time, he had been given the opportunity to design and build his own small restaurant on campus in the early 1970s, during the planning stages of what is now Kresge College.

"It was called Fat Alberts Rotunda, named after the cover of a Herbie Hancock album," Aidells recalled. "I was officially a graduate student. But I had to give up my restaurant when my graduate adviser said he hadn’t seen me in the lab in six months."

He went on to create Aidells Sausage Company in 1983, providing his own handcrafted sausages to chef friends at some of the Bay Area’s top restaurants. The business was wildly successful, and he became a familiar figure in the cooking world.

Aidells has since made more than 30 appearances on Bay Area television, and has appeared with wife Nancy Oakes (chef and co-owner of Boulevard Restaurant in San Francisco and the James Beard Foundation’s 2001 "Best Chef in California") on shows such as PBS’s Rising Star Chefs and the Food Channel’s TV News. He is additionally a regular contributor to national magazines such as Gourmet, Bon Appetit, Fine Cooking, and Cooking Light.

Aidells said he was currently working on a new cookbook about pork, which will be published by HarperCollins in 2005. He spends his time now writing books, testing recipes, and teaching cooking classes. Aidells recently traveled to Texas for one such course.

"I like the fact that a guy from Berkeley, California, goes to Texas to teach a bunch of Texans how to cook meat," he observed wryly.

The UCSC endowment income will be used to create and maintain a core collection of books, periodicals, audiovisual materials, personal papers, and archives at the University Library on the subjects of cooking, eating, and gastronomy. Aidells has also agreed to provide content for an online cooking site which would be linked to the library’s home page, and aimed at teaching students how to stock a kitchen and prepare food. Eventual plans may include cooking classes held at the organic farm on campus, as well as lectures, food demonstrations, and even a café.


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