November 23rd, 2018
The Faces of Thistle
Coming together to unite a vision of sustainable food.
Thistle exists somewhere between a start-up and a farm-to-table joint: we are constantly iterating on delicious meals and innovating the experience customers have enjoying our creative plant-based meals, building a diet that can redefine how delicious it can be to eat sustainably. Each day a mélange of ingredients are brought together to form the meals we believe to be both culinary and nutritious. So, similarly, it takes a mélange of individuals, working toward in synchrony, to make that happen. Let us take you through a Thistle meal from conception to your doorstep, through the perspectives of the incredibly dedicated individuals keeping the vision alive.
Christina Gutierrez started cooking for her family at age six and in a restaurant at fifteen. She threw herself into the world of food justice after reading Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, Barbara Kingsolver’s 2007 narrative recounting her family’s journey to eat only locally sourced food for a year. The novel decries the ecological and human toll of industrial farming and chemical preservatives needed to finance the modern food system. Gutierrez leads Culinary Development at Thistle as a direct counterargument to the long-practiced American thesis that accessible, convenient food need also be reliant on the cheap exports of factory farms. She’s been able to apply her studies in food and sustainability at the University of Gastronomic Sciences in Pollenza, Italy, the birthplace of the Slow Food movement, to Thistle’s seasonal menu by imbuing undeniable deliciousness with the concomitant vision of sustainability. This strategy leads naturally to flavor because, as it turns out, the two go hand in hand. “We’re first and foremost thinking about seasonability. By thinking of the types of ingredients at peak taste and flavor. What would we want to eat? We cater to tastes everyone will enjoy.” In the test kitchen, health, taste, and sustainability exist interchangeably; “I hope the modern eater keep all three in mind.”
“Within the realm of nutrition, we are the tastiest option,” says Gutierrez, who is immensely proud of her team and the work they’ve done developing scalable vegan and gluten-free recipes. Naiha Falkner, who has worked in Bay Area restaurants since the age of 18, has spent considerable time at Thistle experimenting with gluten-free baking recipes. “You’d think it would be constraining,” Falkner says in regards to Thistle’s move away from traditional gluten-rich wheat flour, “but I’ve learned about ten new types of flour – plant based foods in such a new and un-embarked world in the culinary profession.” Rachel Barron, also of the Culinary R&D team cites the creamy white bean ricotta as being another successful creative endeavor in vegan sauces.
From the test kitchen, recipes are scaled and ingredients are prepared in a production kitchen. The key is creating the consistency needed to ensure that the first batch of beans taste just like the last. Since Thistle uses local, seasonal ingredients, preserving fresh produce is a huge priority. Ashley Lowe is the Operations Manager at Thistle’s Oakland facility. Lowe is a registered dietician and committed to elevating the culinary end of the Thistle dining experience. She works tirelessly to make sure her crew has the tools and specifications to produce the most consistent product. Banesa Lima is a part of that crew. She joined after a recommendation her father, Luciano Carranza, who is a driver for the company. “I feel like I have potential here,” Lima says of her team at the production kitchen. After being at Thistle for a year and four months, she moved from a prep cook role to culinary lead, lending a valuable perspective as an HR assistant due to her fluency of both Spanish and English.
Once the food is prepped, the Thistle kitchen sets up mise en place on a grand scale: large containers filled with delicate lime slices, pickled red onions, tempeh, tofu scramble, freshly cut cucumbers populate the plating area on any given day. A particular dish will go through six or seven stations, with flourishes of micro-greens or pea sprouts gently garnished at the very end. Erlinda Solis and Jose Verastegui supervise this step of the process, managing a whole team of platers. For Solis and Verastegui, beyond ensuring a standard of quality, a crucial part of their jobs is to create a trusting environment of camaraderie, and this is something they themselves feel adamantly about. “We want our team to feel welcome. We recognize everyone, and make sure they’re okay individually,” says Jose. Recently Solis and others at the pack team organized a festive Filipino style Kamayan feast, in time for the holidays, to celebrate the team and partake in a one-of-a-kind cultural experience. Speaking fondly of Solis, Jose jokes that “she’s the mom and we’re the kids.”
Dehmetris Bailey echoes this sentiment. Already a year and some change into his tenure at Thistle, he’s moved from a starting role as a porter in the packing facility to a supervisor position. New to the leadership role and initially apprehensive, Bailey learned quickly. “I was nervous about the social side of being a supervisor. It was my first time ever running a team… but eventually I overcame it and from there it came natural. It’s the people. They make you feel welcome.”
After Bailey and his team packs each individual order, drivers complete the last-mile delivery in time for Thistle to arrive at your doorstep. Lee Barkin is a retired chef and delivers two days a week for Thistle. Worn from decades in the kitchens, Barkin likes working for Thistle due to the flexibility of the hours. On any given week he can pick up a few hours here and there. It’s an ongoing commitment that doesn’t take a toll on his body. He likens the customer interactions he’ll have meeting Thistle customers to his days working in fine dining. He’s able to effortlessly breeze a charming morning greeting to passing neighbors while striding through the neighborhood with bulging Thistle totes in hand.
Here at Thistle, our mission is to make eating healthy foods convenient and accessible. Check out our menu to see what's coming up this week.
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