Photography by Jeff Hunt
Melan Allen is a third-generation San Franciscan. In this episode, we get to know this born-and-raised food artist whom I met last summer at Fillmore Jazz Festival.
Melan's grandparents moved here in the Sixties and lived in San Francisco until the 2000s. Her mom's mom came to SF from Texas and was part of a mass migration west, when her mom was very young. In our conversation, Melan says that she sometimes wonders what it would have been like if she had grown up in Texas instead of The City.
Her dad was born here and raised in Western Addition/Hayes Valley. Her mom also grew up in that part of town. Perhaps naturally, when the two met and started to raise a family, they stayed in the area. Her family was there until Melan was 16, in fact. Even though she no longer lives there, Melan says that this hood is home, even though it has changed.
"It's like your first love," Melan says of her hometown. "It feels like growing up in Oz." She left The City when she found herself complaining about changes.
Rewinding a bit, Melan shares the story of her family getting evicted from her grandma's house in Ingleside when she was 19. She had wanted to move out on her own anyway, but wasn't sure how. And so, as it turns out, this unfortunate event forced her to become an adult.
She's the middle kid of three, with one older sister and one younger brother. Melan says that she and her siblings are all different, that they did their own things, and that she is the only artist among them. Her dad is a playwright and her mom's a hard-core crafter. Melan says that she has always been creative, that creativity and expression were fostered in their home.
Her mom collected/hoarded things, and Melan thinks that's where she got her own propensity to pick things up off the street. She feels like she can "McGuyver" anything.
We end Part 1 with Melan explaining that she's consistently cookie-decorating at her home in the East Bay. At the time of our recording last December, she was also making fake cookies out of clay. She rattles off some of the other projects she's currently working on, and ends by proclaiming, "I have to have a lot of space."
Part 2 begins with how Melan thinks of herself as an artist. "Art is therapy," she says. It's how she knows herself. "If I cannot create, I cannot be myself."
She's been creative her whole life. She wanted to be a tap dancer early on, pointing to Shirley Temple as inspiration (by the way, Temple was originally from Santa Monica, but died in Woodside). Melan even did drag for a while. But she found painting around four years ago and decided then that she's not doing anything else after that.
She cites her mom's love of cooking and baking shows as another inspiration. Back in the day, before Food Network and competitive cooking shows, it was just PBS. Melan watched a lot of Julia Child, Jacques Pepin, and Yan Can Cook. She says that she watched these shows more than the Saturday morning cartoons most kids her age were glued to. She also loved cookbook illustrations and says they've been a big inspiration for her.
Melan talks about the "Muni Raised Me" show at SomArts last year, which she was part of. In the podcast, she describes her Muni paintings that were part of the SomArts show ... they involved dim sum, burritos, and Irish coffees. Then our conversation evolves into a discussion of Muni and what it can mean to life in The City.
Plans for 2024 include hibernating. She says she needs to paint, that travel in 2023 pulled her away from that. She's looking for new things to paint, so if you've got ideas, drop her a line.
We end the podcast with Melan riffing on our theme: "We're All in It."
Follow Melan on social media: Instagram/TikTok
Visit her website here.
We recorded this podcast in Patricia's Green in Hayes Valley in December 2023.