Name to know: Dominica Rice-Cisneros (chef-owner)
When Chez Panisse vet and Los Angeles native Dominica Rice-Cisneros first moved to San Francisco in 1993, she relished that women chef-owners—of seminal spots like Nancy Oakes’s Boulevard and the late Judy Rodgers’s Zuni Cafe—ruled the dining scene. After stints at Daniel in New York City and working for chef Antonio Rivera in Mexico City, this second-generation Mexican American returned to take up that baton in 2008, debuting Cosecha (meaning “harvest”) in the century-old Swan’s Market. Her mission? To reconnect Oakland to the Mexican and Indigenous cooking influences that form its bedrock, paying homage to the historically women-run mercados all over Mexico that hearken to her family origins in Chihuahua, Mexico. “I always knew I wanted to create a new dialogue for Mexican cooking,” Rice-Cisneros says. “California cooking and California cuisine is Mexican and Chicano culture.”
She prioritized hiring women from underserved neighborhoods, bringing younger generations together with older often mothers and grandmothers wielding decades of expertise cooking for large families. “In the Mexican-American community, we have women who are not classically trained chefs, but they work their whole lives inside and outside the home.” She designed the restaurant to showcase the tortilla-making station and fought doggedly to change their designation to the now-standard Tortilla Masters. In 2019, she was nominated for a James Beard Award for Best Chef West.
Cosecha remains open for carryout but will close this spring as Rice-Cisneros readies her finer-dining sophomore restaurant, Bombera Bar & Grill for the end of April. Mentorship and tradition will factor heavily here, too, as the Tortilla Masters continue to pass on their expertise, while the front of house allows the next generation of Chicano maitre’ds and sommeliers to shine. “How many voices do we have that are Chicano somms, for example?” Rice-Cisneros says. “I want people to know their names.”