Some of Assaggiare Mendocino’s most popular cooking classes involve learning new ways to prepare old fashioned food. Healthy eating is also highlighted, with classes on vegetable cookery and local seafood. One of Julia’s favorite assignments is an annual cooking class for the Fort Bragg Brownie Scouts. Some of the themes featured have been personal pizza and fresh individual apple pies. She especially enjoys teaching children to cook, carrying on the tradition handed down from her grandmother those many years ago. During her stint as a cheese monger for several Northern California specialty stores, Julia discovered and developed her expertise in the fine art of food and wine pairing, and as a result, is sought after as a speaker and instructor at local wineries and tasting events. Continued studies at the Culinary Institute of America at Graystone have provided the opportunity to collaborate with chefs on the forefront of wine country cooking and the developing science of taste. In fact, Julia’s idea of a vacation is to travel to the Napa Valley and take a week long intensive class there, continuing to challenge her ever-evolving expertise. She also reads cookbooks as if they were literature, the latest endeavor being Clifford A. Wright’s “A Mediterranean Feast, the Story of the Birth of the Celebrated Cuisines of the Mediterranean, From the Merchants of Venice to the Barbary Coast…” a James Beard Award-winning textbook on the effects of food on culture in the cradle of civilization. When asked what she would study if she ever returned to the university, Julia noted that “…(she) would study Sociology and Cultural Anthropology, perhaps preparing a thesis on how food effects culture and vice versa.” Instead, however, she plans to continue to teach and cook, allowing her to spread the word organically, rather than as an academic subject. One of Slow Food’s precepts is, in simple terms, “Farmers equal Freedom” and this is illustrated on the button seen on Julia’s jacket, with an outline of a farmer juxtaposed with an outline of the Statue of Liberty. This simple phrase sums up her philosophy. “It’s all about the farmers,” says Julia, “the work of their hands puts the food in our mouths. We should never forget our connections with these people and the land. Once we lose that, we can never go back.” Citing a middle school nephew from the city who would not drink milk after finding out it came from “under a cow,” she notes that it is the responsibility of our generation to pass on the traditions that we often take for granted. “Food in a supermarket is often so removed from its origins, it is unrecognizable. Each one of us should take the time to encounter our food in its original state at least once, so that we can develop a reverence for the natural and human capital required to feed us. Then, perhaps we will stop wasting as much as we do. I teach in order to learn, and to pass on the love and respect for our abundant and diverse heritage that was given to me by my ancestors.” The growing suburban sprawl across California’s agricultural lands is particularly troubling to Conway. “Immigrants to our area from the old country settled here because it reminded them of home, and it was a way they could provide a livelihood for future generations. Once the land is gone, there is nothing left to tie us to that rich birthright.” She continues to be active in land use and agriculture politics, both locally and through Slow Food and a sister organization called Roots of Change (www.rocfund.org), which is endeavoring to revamp the food production and distribution system in California by 2030.

Dubbed “an itinerant foodie” by her husband of over twenty years, Julia’s passion for the culinary arts is interspersed through all aspects of her life today. Whether she is on the road for Stella Cadente or promoting Mendocino County in her role as At-Large Commissioner for the Mendocino Winegrape and Wine Commission, she is untiring in her quest to share the joys of the table with others. Her teaching kitchen in her home on the Mendocino coast features all the amenities of a commercial kitchen, plus a Tuscan wood-fired oven and a view of the surrounding redwoods from the bright and cheerful sunroom. Her annual New Year’s Day party is regarded as the highlight of the holiday season, with a come-one, come-all open house and make-your-own pizza event. Surrounded by her friends and colleagues, their children, parents and dogs, she is the most at ease. The convivial chaos is heartening, as guests gather from miles around to share the joys of the table together. “It is almost impossible to hate someone you break bread with,” Julia notes. We can all learn a little something every time we come to the table.

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 Vineyards of Anderson Valley