Simmering up a cookbook
by Peter Burke | Press Banner |
Jan 04, 2008 | 135 views | 0 0 comments | 1 1 recommendations | email to a friend | print

Karla Oliveira is a nutritionist and private chef, but she’s got a flair for the unusual that has brought her success as an author with her first book,  “Tassajara Cookbook: Lunches, Picnics and Appetizers.”

“I sold 112 copies at Bookshop Santa Cruz a few days ago,” Oliveira said with a sheepish grin.

Oliveira was commissioned by the San Francisco Zen Center to assemble a collection of vegetarian “bag lunch” recipes.   

“Tassajara bag lunches have been famous for 25 years,” Oliveira said, “and the No. 1 reason is the food.”

Visitors to Tassajara, the Carmel outpost of the widely known Zen Center, can choose to eat at the dining hall or pack a bag lunch. Many choose the bag lunch option because of the cornucopia of choices to make a lunch.

Oliveira, a member of the Zen Center, estimated there are more than 100 vegetarian items to choose from every day, making every bag lunch one of a kind.  

While pitching another cookbook idea to the Zen Center, Oliveira, who lives in Felton, was asked to write a collection of the recipes the Tassajara kitchen has used in bag lunches for the past 25 years.

The result, one year later, is 240 color pages of exotic pictures and recipes detailing how to make various spreads, pates, cookies, sandwich fillings, chutneys and marinades.

The book was released in September and sells at a rate of 50 copies a day.    

Writing, however, is not Oliveira’s love. Time spent cooking is.

Oliveira owns her own personal chef business, Conscious Eating Cuisine. She prepares vegetarian foods from around the world for her clients.

“I make tons of dishes,” said Oliveira, who tailors every meal to the individual client and prepares everything from scratch. As a registered dietician, she takes into consideration the health needs of her clients and designs meals that best suit their needs.

She’s prepared meals from Thailand, Greece, Mexico, Italy, the Middle East and Ethiopia, among others.   

Her specialty however, is Indian food. Last year, she even spent a week traveling in India finding new recipes and learning new techniques.

“I love the colors and the spices — It’s really exotic,” Oliveira said.  One of her specialties is panak paneer, a fragrant spinach sauce full of fresh cheese cubes called paneer.

“I cook food that people don’t cook (at home),” Oliveira said.

Oliveira has three clients to whom she delivers five entrees weekly. She prefers, however, to work in her clients’ kitchens, allowing the spicy aromas to fill the home she is working in.

Experimentation and trying new ingredients and recipes spurs Oliveira’s passion for cooking.

“Oh yeah, that’s the key,” she said about experimenting with recipes. “Let the recipes follow you. Take the risk.”

To comment on this story, e-mail reporter Peter Burke at, call 438-2500 or post a comment at

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