Solana Diaz, Director of Food Services, is the driving force behind the inspired, delicious, California fusion cuisine offered by the Lick-Wilmerding café. Diaz began working in the food industry at the age of 15 at a deli-counter, then worked at local restaurants: Mecca, The Slow Club, and 42 Degrees. Next, she became a private chef. For the past fifteen years, Diaz has worked as the Director of Food Services at Lick-Wilmerding. Diaz says, “I feel at home when I’m cooking and I definitely feel most comfortable when I’m in the kitchen.”
Solana says that her job at Lick is the perfect fit for her. It gives her the creative freedom to try new recipes and methods as well as be a part of the community. While Diaz thoroughly enjoyed her work in restaurants, here she feels lucky to know her customers – she now serves the same people on a day-to-day basis, which makes the cooking more personal.
Diaz wants to make healthy and delicious food a fundamental part of Lick-Wilmerding. Our café, always bustling with well-fed members of the community, has become a vital center where we share, talk, work, and eat.
Shadow visitors are always intrigued by the range of food, from the Thai chicken with jasmine rice and cucumber salad to beef or tofu (there’s always vegetarian and vegan options available) chili verde with homemade cornbread. This range of food speaks to the diversity present within the Lick community — the kitchen staff cooks food from the many cultures of the world that are represented in our community’s roots. Diaz states that she hopes to introduce new foods to Lick students in their four years, whether it be a fresh arugula salad or butternut squash and coconut milk soup.
One of Diaz’s favorite aspects of her job is gathering inspiration for the lunch menu. Her favorite meal, pork pozole verde with blue corn tortilla chips and cabbage-cilantro salad, is inspired by her Mexican-American heritage. She loves the feeling of making a meal from start to finish; for this dish, the kitchen staff grills green chiles and toasts and grinds pumpkin seeds for the garnish.
Another source of inspiration is Diaz’s wall of cookbooks. If you’ve ever visited her office, you’ll know she has a floor to ceiling wall filled with every imaginable cookbook – including Near & Far by Heidi Swanson, a local cookbook writer and shop owner, a series of cookbooks on Jerusalem, and numerous guides to the craft of cupcake baking. She loves reading cookbooks from different cultures, since they open her eyes to different foods and flavors.
Now that recipes are readily available online, Diaz also gathers inspiration from food blogs and Instagram accounts. One of her favorites, Green Kitchen Stories, is written by a couple from Stockholm that specializes in vegetarian cuisine. A more local blog, written by David Lebovitz, tracks his journey from a pastry chef in San Francisco to cooking in Paris.
Diaz’s childhood in the Bay Area has lead to a strong commitment to using local produce in the kitchen. She works closely with Green Leaf Produce, a company “on the forefront of the Bay Area’s local food movement,” which allows her to have a green kitchen. She aims to support local and organic farms, but it has been difficult because of the California drought. Currently, the kitchen is minimizing the use of water-intensive ingredients, like oranges and basil.
Aside from cooking her famous soups and stews for family, friends, and the Lick community, Diaz loves to try new restaurants around the Bay Area. A few of her notable favorites are Tadich Grill, because it’s an “old time San Francisco institution,” Ramen Shop in Oakland (she recommends the black sesame ice cream sandwiches), and the Marshall Store, “a magical spot in Big Sur” that serves barbecued oysters and has a huge wall of cozy blankets to wrap in when you eat on cold nights.
Solana’s Famous Granola Recipe:
8 cups of oats