ARTIST INTERVIEW: Yo También
EPCF welcomes Yo También, makers of delicious Venezuelan arepas, to the Holiday Fair! We spoke to co-founders Isabella Bertorelli & Kenzie Benesh about the philosophy behind their joyful, intentional cooking.
Describe the path that led you to the work you do now.
It started in San Francisco in 2015. After meeting through mutual friends, our passion for cooking, sharing food (and mezcal) and being outdoors soon brought us closer together. Our curiosity for different cultures and ingredients resulted in an unexpected yet successful partnership, coordinating dinner parties and hosting food events by the ocean. Yo También (translating to “Me Too” in Spanish) is a response/feeling/ statement that is always present in what we do and the way we share with other people and each other. Yo También! is one of our main ventures as both business and life partners. The food we make combines traditional flavors of Venezuelan and tropical cuisine by using seasonal California produce.
Sourcing our ingredients from Full Belly Farm in Guinda, CA as well as working alongside their great community has definitely been both a privilege and an immense inspiration for our recipes and preparations. During the past few months, we have been traveling throughout Europe with the purpose of learning more about local flavors and incorporating them into our own recipes. Yo También has been hosting dinner events in each country we visit.
What are your most important artistic tools?
– Opinel knife
– kitchen mandolin
– tamagoyaki pan (traditional square, non-stick pan used in Japan for making tamago)
– Dansko Clogs
– 5 panel hats (b/c hair nets are the worst, right?!)
– music in the kitchen
– the Farmer’s Market AND the local fishmonger
How is your work inspired by or influenced by nature and your surroundings?
Our work comes directly from nature. California is so rich in so many ways. We’re lucky to live in a place that has one of the most diverse geographies in the world, which allows for amazing produce to grow and be available for us to use in our recipes. The ingredients in the menus we create are 100% influenced by one big factor – SEASONALITY. There is nothing that compares to a fruit, vegetable, or grain that is in season, and this influences us dramatically. We are inspired by what our local farmers are growing; it creates a canvas for us to work with and keep creating.
Few people realize how much effort and dedication it requires to grow really good quality produce and ingredients. We feel really lucky to be involved in so many aspects of the farming industry; we are the grower at times, the kitchen cook, and the person behind the farmers market stand. Being back and forth between all sides has really enriched our experience as both Yo También founders and people who grow the food they want to eat. For this reason, the commitment we put towards a recipe or when we cook with these ingredients is strong; we want to create not only something that is at least equally as good as what we’re getting, but also enhance and properly bring together the flavors of what naturally tastes amazing.
Who are some current artists, creators, or people working in other fields whose work you admire?
We love and look up to numerous female chefs and entrepreneurs making profound impact in their field today. For example, Dominica is the chef and founder of Cosecha in Oakland – her energy and attitude is something we admire and were so fortunate to be alongside in past events. Other solid examples are Dru Rivers and Judith Redmond – original founders and partners at Full Belly Farm. These two women are leading in their fields which are widely seen as male oriented. Full Belly Farm would not be where it is today without the manual labor, organizational work, and overall positive outlook that these two compose.
Outside the culinary world we find countless examples of inspiration. Isa’s background in Landscape Architecture provides skills and ideas for layout/plating and attention to detail. “Growing things” is something we both have in common and gravitate towards … this refers to not only food but also vegetation and necessary green space in our world today. The works of Roberto Burle Marx (a Brazilian landscape architect) and aesthetic principles of certain architects/designers such as Luis Barragan, Venezuelan-French architect and designer Carlos Raúl Villanueva, or the Eames are also inspirational to us in many creative aspects of our business.
Overall, people who take the time to make things from scratch are LEGENDS. We get so excited to see people following an idea through and making something in such a simplistic way that is beautiful, and is contributing to society (whether it be known to a wider audience or not).
Do you see your work as part of an artistic tradition? Where does your work depart from artistic tradition and move into new territory?
FOR SURE. Creating and then sharing a meal/food together is one of the most important and oldest traditions. Communities have formed because of this, and will continue to do so. Eating is essential, and the social aspect of it is equally as important. If you look at generations and longevity and the correlations between the two you’ll find that having a sense of community and feelings of belonging/ contributing are vital! Eating (and sharing) good food that is local and seasonal is also important. WE LOVE this equation and how it directly impacts and inspires what we do on a daily basis. As for moving into new territory, we find juxtaposition is key. Doing things “the old way” is in many aspects essential to understanding the origin, process and outcome of whatever it is you are doing. Naturally, it also translates to gastronomy/cooking. The fact that we are still using some of our great grandmother’s recipes yet giving them moderns twists, or creating new recipes from scratch but incorporating older techniques in its execution, is one of the great examples of this beautiful relationship and contrast between tradition and innovation. And this is exactly what we try to accomplish at Yo También. We take something as traditional as an arepa (which is for Venezuelans what bread is to many cultures) and mix in nontraditional ingredients or even techniques into the composition of the dish, making it innovating and contemporary, while also paying tribute to its cultural importance and history.
Do you have any objects you like to keep around you as inspiration? What are they?
Well, ROCKS. We have a crazy rock collection and before starting Yo También we were even thinking about founding a rock-swapping social club in our neighborhood. When Kenzie moved in with Isa, more than half of her luggage was rocks.
What is so special about making art NOW, in our hectic digital age?