A “Taste of Bunche”

When Ralph J. Bunche Academy reached out to me about potentially visiting their school, I was intrigued. I don’t know of many schools that have a home ec course anymore, let alone an entire culinary program! Ralph J. Bunche Academy is a school within the Oakland Unified School District that teaches an HTR (Hospitality, Tourism, and Recreation) curriculum alongside the usual K-12 standard education. 11th and 12th graders are learning how to cook at the professional level! Whether or not they decide to pursue these paths after graduation, they’ve gained essential life skills!

While I haven’t gotten to visit during a regular school day, I did attend their first fundraiser, “Taste of Bunche” this past weekend. The fundraiser was to raise money for their culinary program and to build a new state of the art kitchen. I was really excited to be able to attend and support such a great cause – especially after seeing what these kids can do! Seriously, I can’t cook anywhere near this level on my own, and I’m going to be 28 this year, lol.

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The fundraiser was held on school grounds, in the center of their campus. Since the campus is outdoors, the event was outside as well, but they made it look really cute with string lights hanging from the ceiling throughout the area and cocktail tables. There were six food stations and a station that served mocktails. While guests ate and mingled, we were entertained with jazz music, also provided by the students! There was also a silent auction happening throughout the night and two demos from Oakland restaurateurs.

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So, me being me, I headed straight to the taco station first. They were serving steak tacos with chimichurri sauce on corn tortillas. These were really good! The steak was cooked perfectly; it was soft and tender. I’m already a fan of chimichurri sauce, so I was sold on this. I love the fresh taste of cilantro and the acidity provided by vinegar. I liked them so much I came back for seconds – even though I was trying to taste a little bit of everything.

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I could not have the Arugula, Fennel, and Grapefruit salad because I can’t eat grapefruit (it reacts with my medications), but my sister really enjoyed it! She thought the flavors blended really well and it was refreshing. She finished it pretty quickly, so I know she wanted more. I do wish I could’ve tried it – I’ve really grown to appreciate arugula over the past couple of years.

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I got thirsty, so I headed over to the mocktails area. Vita Simone Strauss from Copper Spoon was assisting one of the students at this station with her mixing, and it was pretty profesh! I like hibiscus so I was excited to see how this would turn out. The mocktail of the night was a Hibiscus Tonic, with infused hibiscus, citrus peels, allspice, clove, and black pepper. This was tart, bitter, and spicy! I love tart and spice, so I really enjoyed the surprise kick at the end. I do wish there was a little sweetness so it wasn’t totally bitter, but it was still a refreshing drink nonetheless.

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I felt ready for another round, so I lined up for shrimp, grits, and collard greens! I always get excited for some Southern food – especially when it’s pork free! This was probably my favorite dish of the night. The shrimp was cooked perfectly and the sauce had those cajun flavors and it was spicy! My nose was getting runny while I was talking to another attendee lol. The grits were nice and creamy, I was eating them quickly by the forkful. But the collard greens – that was the real surprise. I’m not a huge “green” person. I’ll eat salads now, but usually because I’ll add one or two ingredients that I really like to cover up the fact I’m eating leaves. Collard greens are not my favorite either – they usually just taste soggy and bitter to me. But these ones had the same cajun flavors that the shrimp sauce did – and not bitter. At. all! This entire dish was composed really well and everything complemented each other. I’m in awe of these kids.

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I was pretty full at this point and needed to digest a little, so I ended up not trying the Banh Mis. They looked really good, however. These Vietnamese sandwiches were served with cucumbers, pickled carrots, daikon, cilantro, and a choice of smoked pork or chicken. The line was pretty consistent throughout the night, so I know they were a hit just like everything else.

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When I was finally ready to eat, I headed for the sopes. I’ve only had sopes a couple of times, but they’ve quickly become a favorite. Not every Mexican restaurant serves them, so I consider it a treat if I see it on the menu. Bunche’s Sopes were vegan, with a vegetable strew and tomatillo sauce. I love the flat bread part of the sope; it reminds me of a Pakistani puri. Both are crispy and flaky on the outside but soft and layered on the inside. The vegetables were seasoned well and the tomatillo sauce really brought it together. I wish I had gotten more to take home because they were delicious.

 

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I did try a little of the Cioppino (since my sister ended up picking up a bowl), and this also tasted great. You get all of those hearty, seafood flavors in that rich tomato bisque. It was also perfect later in the evening since it started getting a little chilly! Bay Area weather has become so unpredictable.

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For dessert, they had ice cream sandwiches, with chocolate chip ice cream sandwiched between two chocolate chip cookies. We got ours too early in the evening (because were worried they might run out), so mine got pretty melty by the time I went back into a classroom to eat it. Did I mention how cool it was to sit down and eat food in a high school classroom? I haven’t been back in high school since I graduated (my 10 year reunion is this year, woo /sarcasm), and I definitely didn’t get to enjoy fine dining while sitting in one!

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I grabbed my ice cream sandwich and headed towards the front of the stations, where there were demos. Vita Simone Strauss of Copper Spoon demonstrated the process in which she uses the hibiscus and infuses it, so it could be used in a cocktail or even just lemonade. It was really simple since you just brew the hibiscus and let it cool down! I’ve thought about doing that in the past since I was going through a hibiscus phase, but this confirms that it’s really easy to do.

Chef Nora Dunning of Drip Line demonstrated interesting uses for rosemary. First, she let us sample rosemary shortbread cookies. It sounds weird, but they were amazing! I wish she gave us the recipe for those cookies, because those would be a great base to work off of to put new twists on cookies – like she did with the rosemary. The cookies were really buttery but then you get the herby freshness of the rosemary. It somehow brings out the richness of the cookie without making it too savory. She also showed us how to blend together rosemary, lemon, and salt for rosemary salt. It smelled so refreshing! And it looked like a great rub to add to any dish.

By the end of the night, I was totally stuffed. It was a great evening of the community supporting and encouraging these students with all of the hard work they’ve put in this year. I loved that they had a diverse menu – it’s representative of the Bay Area and all of the amazing cuisines we have access to. I was very honored to be invited to attend and cover the event and can’t wait to see what else Bunche students do in the future! I know we’ll end up seeing a couple of them on Chopped in a few years. 😉

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