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Andrea Rappaport, 52, is the chef and owner of Bijou Catering, a small-event catering business. Her interest in food was sparked by her Jewish grandmother, who frequently cooked dinner for her family, and her parents taking her at a young age to L.A.’s best restaurants. She started working in a restaurant kitchen while an undergraduate at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, and by the time she graduated had decided to attend the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York. The Los Angeles native worked in the kitchens of Spago in L.A. and Las Vegas and at the S.F. restaurant Zinzino — now closed — in the Marina. She started Bijou almost four years ago after working as a private chef for a Silicon Valley family for over a decade.
J.: Last month, you spent several days in Chico feeding first responders and fire victims. Tell me a bit about that.
AR: I’m a huge fan of chef José Andrés and the organization he founded, World Central Kitchen. Seeing what he accomplished in Puerto Rico after the hurricane and his dedication to a country he was not born in, but [helped] because he is an immigrant, was really moving and inspiring for me. When you hear about these disasters, the heartbreak is so intense. I don’t take for granted how fortunate I am. When someone posted [in a Facebook chefs’ group] about going up to Chico, I had a few days between gigs so I headed up there. There were two operations, with chefs cooking meals in one building and volunteers making sandwiches in the other. There were too many chefs in the kitchen, but the woman running it was a total badass. Although chaotic, it was really well-organized. I think we did over 50,000 meals for victims and first responders, with the Red Cross coming to pick up the food and distributing it.
Last spring, you volunteered to cater a prom for LGBTQ youth, and you’ve also volunteered teaching cooking classes to women coming out of prison through the cooking nonprofit 18 Reasons. Clearly, you believe in putting your cooking skills to use in other ways than catering.
It’s come after some real soul-searching on my part. Catering and private cheffing is not that fulfilling in my soul. For a long time, I’ve had this sense of wanting to contribute more than just by feeding people who can afford my prices. While I can’t take on any big commitments because I need to leave my schedule open, whenever I do something like this, it shows me that I need to be doing more of it. Owning my own business now means that when these opportunities present themselves, I can help people and make a difference.
This fall, you did a pop-up dinner with the proceeds going to Voice of Witness, an S.F.-based nonprofit that “advances human rights by amplifying the voices of people impacted by injustice.”
I used to do pop-up dinners with an ex-boyfriend a few years ago, and sometimes they would have a theme. I really love word play, and I hadn’t done one in a few years, so I was itching to do one. I had been feeling so disappointed in the Trump administration, not that I ever had any hopes for him, but I felt like a pop-up with proceeds going to a human rights organization could be my own form of personal protest.
You called it “Make America Eat Again: The Art of the Meal,” and the 13-course dinner had courses called “Fake Booze,” “Putin on the Ritz,” “Lox Her Up,” “Build the Waldorf Salad,” “Orange Jerk Chicken,” “Impeach Melba,” “Robert Cruller and Paul Bananaport” and “Dark and Stormy Daniels.” How did you come up with each course?
It was a great creative outlet for me. I sat down with a piece of paper and listed every key figure in his administration and every bad term that has been coined, and then wondered how I could play on that with food. “Lox Her Up” was an obvious one. The creative process was so fun. I didn’t want to be highly controversial, that wasn’t the point, so other than the “Orange Jerk Chicken,” I kept it fun and light, with serious undertones.
Tell me about some of your favorite courses.
The “Build the Waldorf Salad” went through several iterations. I wanted to do something with a divided plate, where half would be Mexican and half would be American, but that didn’t come together. I also brainstormed how to make an actual wall-like barrier out of food, but it felt forced, so I did a Waldorf-like salad with Mexican accents, like cumin-roasted grapes, spicy chili walnuts and a Mexican oregano crema dressing. “Lox Her Up” had salmon mousse in a cream puff, and “Putin on the Ritz” is a deconstructed beet borscht on a Ritz cracker, which is an item on my regular catering menu.
I could see this kind of dinner being used for a political fundraiser.
That is the hope. I am already going to be doing one in L.A., and I love the idea of doing it for some sort of political event, to raise money for a candidate or cause. The creative part about a pop-up is so fun for me, and I love when people ask me to plan a dinner around a theme. Themed pop-ups are my jam, cooking this kind of dinner is my happy place.