Each Friday in this space food writer Sarah Henry asks a well-known, up-and-coming, or under-the-radar food aficionado about their favorite tastes in town, preferred food purveyors and other local culinary gems worth sharing.
Meet Anand Chokkalingam, UC Berkeley professor by day and chocolatier by night.
This cancer epidemiologist pursues his passion for high-end confections in his off hours and puts his scientific sensibilities to sweet use by hand-crafting artisanal chocolates with top-notch ingredients.
Turns out that Anand is a Sanskrit word that refers to a state of pure joy and divine bliss, which is an apt description of Anand Confections.
Parlaying a fondness for making sweet treats into a chocolate following that started by word-of-mouth, Anand’s small-batch business got a boost last December when Town & Country paired one of his exotic candies with a tawny port. This writer discovered his inspired offerings at a recent bakesale benefit for Haiti. Anand enjoys playing with flavors from his Indian heritage, which give his concoctions their signature tastes, such as cardamom and saffron, and Darjeeling tea.
Anand, 37, lives in the Thousand Oaks neighborhood, with his wife Radha Seshagiri, and their two young children. His chocolates can be ordered online.
1. Can you name a family-friendly restaurant that you like in the area?
When we eat out with the kids, we often go to Cactus Taqueria. They serve good quality food, bean burritos are a big hit with my vegetarian girls, and it’s hyper-local for us, we can literally walk around the corner.
2. Do you have a favorite local spot to dine out on a date with your wife?
We enjoy Vanessa’s Bistro. The restaurant serves Vietnamese tapas with a French twist and a nod to California cuisine. It sounds like a lot but they make a few key ingredients sing on their small plates. As the only omnivore in the house I particularly enjoy their shaking beef salad. The ambience is casual and on a warm night you can sit out front and watch people walk by on Solano Avenue.
3. What foods do you miss when you’re away from Berkeley?
Cheeseboard Pizza. Their sourdough crust is exemplary. They use really interesting and exquisite cheeses. And they top it with fresh local produce and herbs. It leave a wonderful taste in your mouth.
4. Do you have a local food hero?
Alice Waters. She constantly reminds me that some of the best food involves really high-quality, local ingredients simply prepared. Her leadership in bringing better food to Berkeley public schools, which my older daughter attends, is also inspiring.
5. Is there a cookbook author in town who’s work you admire?
Alice Medrich, who has written several award-winning cookbooks, including Cocolat: Extraordinary Chocolate Desserts, Bittersweet: Recipes and Tales from a Life in Chocolate, and Pure Dessert. Her recipes can have many steps but they’re easy to follow. Bittersweet is one of my go-to books for desserts. The recipes are very replicable. My all-time favorite is her Tribute Cake. It has three different layers and it’s finished with ganache. It’s a special occasion chocolate cake and it’s always a success.
Sarah Henry is a freelance writer whose stories have appeared in the Los Angeles Times Magazine, The Washington Post and San Francisco Magazine. A contributor to the food policy blog Civil Eats, she muses about food, family and growing greens on her blog lettuce eat kale.
[Photo of Anand Chokkalingam: Radha Seshagiri. Photo of Anand Confections: Guy Poole.]