Meet Our Featured Taste Maker: Sandy Sonnenfelt
Say Hello to the Prepared Foods and Pasta Program Director of Market Hall Foods
Hi there, Sandy!
You've probably glimpsed her around Market Hall Foods (formerly the Pasta Shop), a woman with pink hair in a white chef jacket, peering into the prepared foods display, hovering over the sandwich case, or in earnest conversation with a floor staff member or any one of a legion of cooks in crisp whites. This is Sandy Sonnenfelt, longtime director of the Prepared Foods and Pasta Programs at Market Hall Foods. She'll be doing a pasta demo at the Ferry Plaza on September 3rd, so let's get to know her a little better.
A Little Background
Sandy hails from 60's South Africa, where she got her delightful accent and a set of values that has informed her choices ever since. Deeply involved in her country's Back-to-the-Land movement, she and her husband managed farms all over the country.
In 1983, after 10 years in a kibbutz in Israel (Sandy working in the orchards and managing a kitchen), they moved with their two sons to California. Sandy worked in a specialty food store at the forefront of the burgeoning food revolution, and for a successful pasta retailer.
In 1995, Sandy joined Market Hall Foods, and—21 years later—is still going strong. Sandy is pivotal to Market Hall Foods' success in her role directing all prepared foods, overseeing the pasta program for The Pasta Shop (our wholesale pasta kitchen), and serving as Product Developer for KL Keller Foodways. She is also an olive oil expert and a longtime member of the California Olive Oil Council's (COOC) taste panel.
We sat down for a chat in Sandy's tiny office just off the grand, pristine kitchen where all manner of delicious foods are created.
What does your day at Market Hall Foods look like?
My day-to-day can be anything from tasting dishes to creating new recipes to administrative work. This morning, I tasted the egg salad and I pronounced it good [laughs]. I am the official smoked salmon and gravlax taster. We make our own, and I am very particular. Recently, I've enjoyed developing our Tray for Two, basically a greens-and-grains-based bowl for two accompanied by a lovely protein.
Anybody who knows me knows I'm crazy about Marash chili. For a few months, that's been my thing. Right now, I'm revelling in peppers. I'm totally into buckwheat, though I seem to be a minority of one. It's a great grain—actually it's not a grain but a fruit seed. I cook it up every morning and spoon it over vegetables with a poached egg on top.
How do you come up with the flavors for our fresh ravioli?
It's a seasonal thing. I'm at the farmers markets all the time, plus I'm reading newspapers and magazines, watching programs and listening to our customers: what are people asking for? So it's a combination of things. We always have our "chocolate, vanilla and strawberry", and then the seasonal items—an acknowledgment of what's on the market, which gives me a chance to play a little.
Popular ravioli flavors?
Sweet Pea & Mint. We could probably make that all year round and people would be happy. Also Winter Squash & Sage.
Jalepeño, Jack & Cilantro—melty, delicious, we love it. But for some reason, it doesn't sell.
What do you think are the next culinary trends?
Turkish food is coming on strong. Korean influence is huge, and of course there's an enormous emphasis on healthy, simple eating and knowing where your ingredients come from, especially in the protein world. There's a growing consciousness around not using GMOs. Also, gluten free is here to stay, like it or not. I'm excited by the growing of local wheat, and the new California wheat economy. Of course, we're talking about the 1%, a privileged population . . . the world has a long way to go.
What are your favorite MHF menus and why?
Our Indian, Persian, and Asian menus—like the Thai menu—are superb and rivals most restaurants'. And they're made with conscious ingredients, all the best ingredients. The carnitas are absolutely superb, our braises are fabulous, the proteins we do are out of this world. Most of what we make I really love. We have some really fine cooks in the kitchen and they are guided by Scott (Miller, Executive Chef), with whom I have a very strong partnership.
What will you be sharing at your Ferry Plaza demo for The Pasta Shop?
I'll most likely be doing my favorite preparation of peppers, fire-roasted and sautéed, paired with our summer squash and corn ravioli. I'll also make a quick, sautéed zucchini sauce to use with our Community Grains bucatini, tossed with sheep's milk ricotta and pecorino.
Any funny memories?
In my early days at Market Hall Foods, our catering manager's daughter—15-years-old or younger—was helping out during the holidays by answering phones. She took a call from a customer who asked, "Do you have to be Jewish to order off the Chanukah menu?" The girl burst out laughing; we all got hysterical. I don't even know if we ever answered the customer, we were laughing so hard. Obviously, the answer is no.