Meet Janet Hankinson

Location: San Francisco, CA
Age: Over 50
Marital Status: Married
Education: Masters Degree in Landscape Architecture from UC Berkeley

Janet Hankinson can hardly remember when her love affair with food began. But her passion has set the tone for an extraordinary life. As a young girl growing up in London, Janet loved cooking “little cakes” for exams in domestic science at what was considered a “proper girls school.” At home, she didn’t have a refrigerator; instead, her mother had a north facing pantry, for vegetables, butter and cheese and often sent Janet to search the abandoned bomb-sites of the city, telling her, “go find some blackberries.”

In her 20’s, in the 1970s, Janet’s passion took on a political flavor: “My friends and I were in a food co-op so we bought bulk food—bags of brown rice and flour in sacks. We were pretty radical and anti-consumerism. We were concerned about the waste of packaging. We had an organic farm where we grew vegetables.”

Not surprisingly, once she moved to the United States, she settled in Berkeley, enrolled in UC Berkeley’s School of Environmental Design, and began waitressing at Chez Panisse to pay her tuition. Eventually she built her life there—marrying a chef, having one son, and becoming dining room manager of the legendary restaurant. She graduated in 1984 with a masters in Landscape Architecture.

These days she’s launching a new business that combines her love of gardening and food with her keen aesthetic sense: Her first project was designing Alice Waters’s home garden. Not bad, considering Waters helped the Obamas with their garden.

How do you define your style?

Tailored but athletic. The emphasis is on rich colors and quality fabrics.

Has your style evolved over the years?

I have a photograph of myself when I was traveling through Spain with my father at fifteen. I’m wearing a beautiful skirt with a Liberty print—you know, the Liberty store in London—a plain white top, a large bangle on my wrist and Ray Bans. My style hasn’t really changed since then. I still like bright patterns mixed with solid colors. I’m not particularly feminine, rather, kind of bold and sort of striking.

What influenced your style most?

Growing up in London in the swinging 60s. The style was Mary Quant, Twiggy, Jean Shrimpton. The classic British thing is a Harris Tweed skirt, a twinset, cashmere and pearls. But because of my art background and age, I’ve made it more contemporary. I’ll wear Converse sneakers or Repetto ballet shoes rather than “sensible” shoes.

Why do you love Erica Tanov?

She has her own unique style that mixes antique and modern looks. I don’t like to take anything to the dry cleaner, and her fabrics are fabulous for that. You can wash everything. I love her coats, because she uses the most beautiful linings and vintage buttons. You can be really casual with her clothes, or you can dress them up.

Do you have a signature item?

A shoulder bag that I got a few years ago at Infinity Firenze in Florence. It’s olive green and made of that fabulous Italian leather by an American woman and an Italian man.

What about a favorite restaurant?

That’s really difficult, because of course I love going to Chez Panisse and I consider them part of my family. But I do love Delfina in San Francisco because you can eat so casually. You can feast on little plates, have a salad and a pasta, or just a couple of glasses of wine. It’s in the Mission, it’s lively, and there are lots of interesting people to look at.

Do you have a favorite wine?

Reuilly Les Pierres Plates 2007. I like the sauvignon blanc grape grown in the Loire and not aged in oak. This wine is made by one of my favorite producers, Denis Jamain. He tends his wines in the traditional way. His wine is imported to the US by the wine merchant Kermit Lynch.

What’s your beauty routine?

I use Jurlique from Australia. They grow the ingredients on their own farm and use no parabens or anything like that. I use their Foaming Cleanser. I use the Biodynamic Refining Treatment twice a week for exfoliation, because when your skin is older it doesn’t exfoliate as quickly. The Herbal Recovery Gel brings the moisture out in my skin and Wrinkle Softening Cream is a daily moisturizer. And once a week I use the Rescue Mask by Eve Lom that I buy at Space.NK Apothecary in London.

Is that a favorite spa?

Yes! There are four in London. It’s nice low lighting. They pamper you. They offer you herbal tea and water. They have beautiful rooms where you can have your treatments. The beauticians are very experienced. It’s in the middle of London, so you can pop in if you’re shopping or going somewhere.

Who inspires you?

Marion Cunningham, the cookbook author, who revised The Fanny Farmer Cookbook. She is one of the most beautiful women in the world, and she hardly wears any makeup. She let her hair go grey and wears it backs in a ponytail. She is a down-to-earth, well-traveled, wonderful woman with great style.

Signature perfume?

Piper Nigrum—which means “black pepper”—by a Florentine perfumer named Lorenzo Villoresi. You can wear it around food, because it’s not floral. I went to his address in Florence; it’s by appointment only. He makes perfume for people like Madonna.

Great book?

Farm City: The Education of an Urban Farmer by Novella Carpenter. It’s about dumpster diving to feed her pigs; about living resourcefully in an urban environment; about all kinds of crazy things. Michael Pollan was her mentor. it’s just a funny, down to earth, very real book.

Secret favorite spot in Berkeley?

Tilden Park in the Berkeley Hills. I hike the Sea View trail there because, from the top, it has a view of San Francisco, the bay, Contra Costa County, and the Sacramento Delta.

How do you rejuvenate?

Pilates two or three times a week at Real People Pilates. My instructor is Christine Collins.

Your passion project?

Designing gardens. When I do a garden for someone, it really becomes my own. My own big garden is very funky and imperfect, but I love it, as I can experiment with different plantings. I see it as an ongoing, living project.

Any great gardening tip?

Plant something you can smell and eat. I love to grow sweet peas and old-fashioned roses because they smell so wonderful. I’ve just harvested garlic and purple artichokes. A friend of mine gave me some Portuguese kale that grew as big as a tobacco plant, and it was fabulous. I mean, I just think growing things that you can eat… is there a more wonderful satisfying, surprise?

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