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This week, we’re bringing you some of our favorite stories from the award-winning series California Foodways. Since 2014, Lisa Morehouse has reported about the unexpected ways food plays a role in our lives, and in the history of California.  

We’re headed to the Imperial Valley, on both sides of the US/Mexico border. If you ask people in the city of Mexicali, Mexico about their most notable regional cuisine, they won’t say street tacos or mole, They’ll say Chinese food.  Above the border, the population’s mostly Latino, but Chinese restaurants are super popular, too. And that’s where you’ll eat some dishes you won’t find anywhere else.

What do E-40,  Saweetie and Kenny Rogers have in common?  They’ve all parlayed their fame to sell food, in restaurants and chains.  Now, how many celebrity restaurateurs can actually cook? That’s another story. Lisa Morehouse takes us to Orange County, where there’s a sandwich shop run by a pop star who’s as comfortable behind the stove as she is behind the mic.  

You might expect the winners of a California high school culinary competition to come from one of the state’s restaurant destinations: Los Angeles, San Francisco, Sonoma County. But in 2017, top prize went to tiny Greenville High School in Plumas County. Lisa visited the team as they prepared for the national competition. 

 “Hard work, low pay, miserable conditions, and more!” That’s the actual motto for the California Conservation Corps, the state program that puts young adults to work outdoors.  In Marin County, they have the tough job of building and maintaining world-class trails. But food plays a huge role for a crew of young people burning thousands of calories a day. The folks on Kitchen Patrol — the menu has barely changed since the 1930s — say they’re the batteries keeping the machine running.

For these stories, California Foodways received support from Cal Humanities, KCRW’s Independent Producers Project, and the Hedgebrook writing residency. Vickie Ly contributed reporting.

To learn more about the series, visit California Foodways. If you have story ideas, get in touch at [email protected]