The Indigenous Roast Potato Technique That's Hundreds Of Years Old

At Cafe Ohlone in Berkley, California, historical tribal recipes of the Ohlone people are lovingly and thoughtfully brought back to life. Like other indigenous tribes, Ohlone cuisine is a celebration of what the land and sea can naturally give its people. This is reflected in the simple dishes of Ohlone salad, where foraged greens, nuts, and fruits are all bound together and the Ohlone roast potatoes, a delicacy that combines jewels of the land (Brodiaea potatoes) with treasures of the sea (East Bay sea salt). In fact, this roasted potato recipe can trace its origin back hundreds of years and is worth an in-depth review.  

As described by Vincent Medina and Louis Trevino, co-founders of Cafe Ohlone and members of the Ohlone tribe, this method for potatoes involves roasting them in a winnowing basket until they develop that heavenly crunchy outside and tender middle, the gold standard for roast potatoes. After roasting, the Ohlone would dip their fire-roasted vegetables in shimmery Abalone shells laden with bay-sourced salt. Interestingly enough, the tribe's potato of choice, the Brodiaea potato, isn't actually a potato. Though called Brodiaea or Indian potatoes, they're actually minuscule edible corms or bulb of the purple Harvest Brodiaea wildflower that grows in northwest California.

But how does Cafe Ohlone recreate this ancient recipe in a modern restaurant? 

How the Ohlone Cafe makes their potatoes today

As with other Ohlone recipes, Cafe Ohlone has worked diligently to bring this specific recipe to the modern era. Naturally, this requires a bit of adaptation. While Medina and Trevino are committed to using ingredients that were used by their ancestors more than 200 years ago, the prized Brodiaea potato is currently endangered, so they use an heirloom variety with comparable texture and flavor, the Russian banana fingerling potatoes for sustainability. Because they swap out the Brodiaeas with the fingerlings or "faux-diaeas," as they call them, the dish is the restaurant's best attempt to maintain the integrity of the traditional recipe.

Like the recipe of old, the restaurant uses local ingredients to season the potatoes, like East Bay salt, Indian onion, and California bay laurel leaves. The modern cooking method is also meant to replicate the gentle yet flavorful indirect roasting method originally used. First, they boil the potatoes in seasoned water to get them tender, then they generously coat them in rich duck fat, smoked walnut oil, or sunflower oil before roasting them with the onions in a piping-hot oven. The result is a potato that is both epically crispy and melt-in-your-mouth tender, just like the Ohlone ancestors intended them to be.