Shake it Up – Chef Jennifer Biesty and Oakland’s Thriving Food Scene
As seen in our Spring issue!
Step into Shakewell, the buzzy modern bistro in Oakland’s Lakeshore neighborhood, and be transported into a lesbian haven of Mediterranean fusion. Chef Jennifer Biesty is cooking the food she loves, and diners are rewarded with her soulful take on the bold flavors of Southern Europe, Northern Africa, and the Middle East.
Everything you’re likely to sample is a standout, but a signature dish is the crave-worthy Piracicaba—Brazilian sprouting broccoli with crispy confit duck gizzards, sweet-spicy piquillo pepper, a fried farm egg, and migas. The well-traveled chef Biesty is proud to call Oakland home after spending long stretches training and working in Europe, New York City, and San Francisco.
“I am so lucky we landed in Oakland. It wasn’t the plan, but I love the friendly vibe. It is diverse and open—people say ‘good morning’ and look you in the eye all the time—and that’s how it should be,” she says. “Shakewell is in a fun neighborhood. You get a little bit of everything, and all types of people come to gather in our restaurant. It is wonderful.”
If you’re wondering what makes Shakewell especially queer—other than its chef, some of its staff, and a loyal lesbian clientele—Biesty recommends you come in for brunch. “You will see every type of family, all enjoying themselves. It’s great.”
The restaurant also has big plans for Pride. “We have a great crew here. We get a DJ and decorate the dining room, the staff wears wigs and beads, and we make fun cocktails. Last year was a blast!”
Not only is Biesty a Top Chef alum, she’s worked with some of the world’s great chefs, including Jamie Oliver, as well as Ruth Rogers and Rose Gray of the famous River Café. “I have worked with some great chefs over the years, and what is most important to me is to always have the highest standards and treat your team well. If you don’t have your team behind you, you will fail. It’s more fun, and cooking should be fun—it has to be.”
Advice for aspiring queer female chefs looking to break into the industry or perhaps one day open a restaurant of their own? “Stay current with trends and read as much as you can. Work in a restaurant that you admire or with chefs you admire—even for free—to learn. Learn techniques before you try to showcase your creativity, and know how to do things like make sauces, butcher, and work the hot line in a busy place. Once you have that, the rest should fall into place.”
As a married lesbian with a young family, Biesty is successfully balancing the demands of a thriving business with the joys of being a mom. “It is hard, but we manage. Our daughter is six months old and she is just a star, she lights up my heart! I never thought I would feel like this,” she confides. “I was secretly terrified to be a parent, but she is the best. I take a little more time out of the kitchen so I can have time with my wife Sara and our daughter. I feel blessed that I can. And sometimes I just can’t come home because of the demands of the restaurant, but we make the best of what time we have. Love goes a long way.”