Food Archivist: Pass the Recipe

writing by Kendra Aronson
photography by
Kendra Aronson


Hailing from San Luis Obispo, Ann-Terese Barket is a modern-day food anthropologist, or as she likes to call it The Food Archivist. “I literally woke up one morning and I heard the words, ‘The Food Archivist', and I wondered what that meant. I stayed open and I connected the dots,” explained Ann-Terese Barket, whose extensive educational background includes a B.A. in Psychology and Human Development with a concentration in Early Childhood Education, a M.A. in School Counseling, and a Ph.D. in Integral and Transpersonal Psychology. Her affinity for food stems from her childhood spent at her family’s restaurant, El Matador in Morro Bay (1969-1989). “After my Dad passed in '89, my sisters and I transcribed the family recipes into a cookbook. Then I realized something was missing—which was the video piece. So I started recording my sisters and their recipes. Then I realized that this was a really cool, creative contribution; so I started to do it for close friends, which eventually turned into The Food Archivist business. All of my research skills are ingrained in me, really this is like collecting data.”

In order to get the full archival experience, I joined Ann-Terese in Cayucos during her documentation process with her dear friend Betsy Bettencourt. I was welcomed with open arms into her cozy colorful, sun-drenched kitchen and offered a cup of hot tea. With her ingredients mise en place, we all sat down at the dining room table to discuss her recipe. “We are going to make my mom's Pasta e Fagioli recipe, it's a soup that makes me think of my mom every time I make it. It tastes of my childhood, and it just brings back all those memories and feelings of home—all the positive things about being nourished and loved by my mom,” reminisces Betsy. Her fridge is covered with photographs of her own children and her walls are adorned with their crayon drawings, it’s clear that she shares the same loving traits as her own mother.  


Ann-Terese steadies her recorder and prompts Betsy to run down the ingredient list and quantities, as well as an explanation of how to prepare the dish. This audio file will later be transcribed and expanded upon after Ann-Terese views the video file of the actual hands-on preparation in the kitchen. “I actually get more information from watching the video and it's a good way for me to add in those subtleties, tips, and hints that may not have been mentioned in the audio [recording]. I weave that into the recipe document,” she explains.

As a repeat client, Betsy values this through documentation in capturing the nuances of her home-cooked, multi-generational recipes. “The way she archives these recipes is so much more helpful than what you will get from photocopying a recipe and giving it to someone. In the video she is able to ask about the particularities that make it different from one cook to the next.”


Next, we move from the dining room into the kitchen. Ann-Terese snaps a few quick photos and starts videotaping the process. Once the camera is rolling Betsy begins boiling the water and giving the oral history behind her mother’s recipe, “I definitely remember watching my mom cook this meal. It was one of my favorites,” She smiles, as she stirs the pasta. “She would often talk about her time in Italy while making this recipe. She would talk about her Italian cooking classes that she took when she lived abroad; she would tell me about her neighbors and her friends that she met while she was living there. It became part of our family story.” In a stock pot she prepares the mirepoix: first by slowly sweating the chopped onion, then softening the chopped carrots, and eventually tossing in the chopped celery. “My mom wanted to make sure that she had me in America so they moved back to the states during her pregnancy. As an adult I look back and realize what a big part of their life living in Italy was—my Dad was stationed over there because he was in the Navy. They had a ship over there, so my mom and sister lived in Naples. These recipes are very special for that reason.”

Recipes are much more than lists and procedures. Recipes are incredibly powerful vessels that are capable of triggering and transferring memories of family, childhood, travel, love, comfort, and community.

“I love archiving because of the stories. Perfect example: the story about being in her mom's womb in Italy! The stories that come up while someone is cooking are incredible; being able to capture that on the video recording—that's what makes it so special for me. It's an opportunity to celebrate your family, the food, and the positive things about your family—ha!—families are dynamic and if you have positive connections that include food then I want to amplify that and help people remember what was good about the people that cared for us, loved us, and fed us,” beams Ann-Terese.


When all is said and done, the recipe document, photo files, and video footage are uploaded to the thumb drive for safekeeping and sharing. This holiday season, consider passing the recipe. “It’s a great gift for your whole family, it's a great gift for future generations, it is a great gift for those coming down the pike—the ones who aren't born yet. For future generations  can see and witness Grandma or Mom cook, it's really a gift come true.”

Contact Ann-Terese Barket, the Food Archivist, by visiting www.passtherecipe.com.

Originally published in Edible San Luis Obispo & Wine Country 
Holidays 201
6 · Issue 16