In 2013, Californians got their first taste of what Preeti Mistry had cooking after the 2009 Top Chef contestant followed up her reality TV stint with Juhu Beach Club across the bay from San Francisco in trendy Oakland. Aimed at melding sharp Indian flavors and traditional dishes with contemporary American fare, Juhu has fast become a local hotspot. Today, Mistry is newly married to Ann Nadeau, her partner of 19 years, reveling in the joys of entrepreneurship, and generally infusing herself into the Bay Area restaurant scene. We caught up with her to find out her favorite hangouts near home and why she likes hitting the food scene in New Orleans as well.
What is your favorite thing to splurge on?
Food and drink, of course. I’m always looking for that awesome experience, wherever or whatever it is. I don’t like going to restaurants that are beyond my means and thinking, Let’s only get this and not get that. I figure, if we’re going to go, let’s really do it.
In fact, one of my favorite trip ideas is to go to a wine region, because generally I wine regions tend to have good restaurants, too. And it’s a great way to get to know people and get to know the local culture especially family wineries where you actually get to talk to the winemaker. Whether it’s Australia or Sonoma or Willamette Washington, or South Africa—the idea is to take trips that we can build entirely around the wine.
When traveling, what do you never leave home without?
A sense of no agenda. It’s hard for me traveling with people who prefer to have set plans, like: "We have to see this or we have to do that.’ I’m all about no agenda. I don’t like to think I’ll never make it back to a place, so I can just go with the flow. For me it’s more of having a sense of living like the locals do, to really absorb a place. I don’t have to see every piece of art, or every architectural detail, I just really want to absorb the culture. To sit in the café and have what the person next to me is having and get to know the local perspective.
Where is your all-time favorite travel destination?
Honestly, the place I would always go back to is New Orleans. I’ve been there many times because one of my best friends lived there for years, and we used to visit at least once a year. Sadly, I’ve only been back once since Katrina, but it’s on my agenda to get back there soon. I love the music, the architecture, the food. You get there and you’re all tightly wound from wherever you’re from, and within 20 minutes, you’re totally relaxed. People in New Orleans are so friendly, and their attitudes are so different. I’ve had the fortunate experience of being able to stay with a friend, rather than in the bustle of the Bourbon Street tourist area. So I always enjoy hearing the perspectives of people who live there, with lives that are so different. It’s sort of like the '90s are still alive New Orleans—you can still just work in a coffee shop and still live a pretty decent life. And they don’t care about the heat. I asked a friend, “How do you deal when it’s so hot in August?” And my friend said, “Just sit still.”
What is your most cherished possession?
I would never want that to be a material thing. My most cherished possession is the love and support I have in my chosen family and my community, and my wife. Our partnership is everything. I feel really blessed and lucky to have so many amazing people in my life.
Describe the perfect weekend in Oakland.
It would definitely involve some kind of a bike ride or hike, whether it’s around the Lake Merritt or the Joaquin Miller Park—which is an amazingly huge park, and you can find yourself thinking, "Am I really still in the city of Oakland?"
Then head down to Jack London Square where there so much happening, including a few new wineries, like Rosenblum Cellars, which has a tasting room. Picnicking at one of the parks is fun, or joining a backyard barbecue in the afternoon, especially after a boozy brunch. It’s great to end up in backyard with a nice rose, maybe joined by friends.
Then going out somewhere later, maybe dancing Uptown or in Old Oakland. There’s a queer women’s party every Sunday night at a club called 811 Parliament in Old Oakland, called the Social Life. They just had their one year anniversary, I’ve been a few times, and it’s pretty awesome.
I was surprised that when we moved to Oakland our social life kind of blew up, then I realized that our friends just weren’t inviting us since we lived in San Francisco. They figured we wouldn’t come! But everyone we knew moved to Oakland and now we have a great social life.
What is your favorite neighborhood or street in Oakland?
That’s pretty hard, because Oakland is pretty spread out and there are a lot of pockets of cool areas. But as far as best street, I would have to say Telegraph, because you can get a whole gamut of good stuff. Juhu is up at Temescal in North Oakland, which is getting sort of gentrified and hipstery. Then you go down Telegraph and it turns into what seems like a ghost town, then Koreatown, where there are lots of art galleries and punk-rock kids. And you keep going down and you get to Uptown, where you have to lots of bars and restaurants and the Fox Theater. Telegraph is really the heart of the city.
If you had to give a visitor one keepsake from Oakland, what would it be?
Go to Oaklandish—any Oaklandish swag will do. I pretty much live off of it. The essential would be the hoodie, of course. I feel like three-quarters of my wardrobe is Oaklandish. I have a T-shirt on right now that’s black and silver that says “Oakland Hustlin.’” They have new ones each season. They have vintage designs and have done a lot of variations and original prints. And they have all kinds of merchadise: hats, T-shirts, kids’ clothes. My best friend just had a baby, and she’s sort of butch, and was joking about how her and her son can now have matching Oaklandish Oakland A’s onesies and t-shirt.
Alive, dead or fictional: Who is your favorite local?
Gertrude Stein. She has an interesting quote about Oakland: “There is no there there.” Some people think that somehow she was dissing on this city where she’s from. They’ve taken it out of context and thought she was expressing her disdain for the city. But really, she had left for all those years, and when she came back, Oakland was really different. And I think maybe her old house was no longer there, and her parents were no longer there—so she had that feeling of her hometown not being there anymore.
What makes someone a local in Oakland?
I’ve only lived here since 2011, and because of the restaurant I get asked a lot of questions about Oakland. And I’m think, ‘Oh my God I better represent it right.’ I’m worried that people who’ve lived here their whole lives are going to be like, “What the fuck did you just say?” But we joke around, and I remind my friends that I’m a job creator!
To be a real local, I think it’s ultimately about having an investment in the community. If somebody lives here but commutes to San Francisco every day, maybe I wouldn’t consider them a local because they’re not necessarily investing in the community. But getting to know your neighbors and getting involved in the community is really what Oakland is about. When I first moved here, I was surprised at how up in everybody’s business people are—in a good way! In San Francisco people just get on their cars and rush around and don’t necessarily talk to their neighbors. But here but here your neighbors will chat with you or bring you fruit grown their backyard. And that’s the way to be. People are organized as a community to take care of each other, and that includes understanding which businesses take care of their community or not. People might see us [at Juhu] as "gentrifiers," but we try to be involved in our community.