The Town Council appointed Ms. Mah Johnson on a 5-1 vote at its March 14 meeting, with Councilwoman Anne Kasten absent and Mayor Dave Tanner giving his vote and his encouragement to the other applicant, commercial real estate agent Gary Willard.
"I really want you to apply for more things in town," Mr. Tanner said to Mr. Willard, who responded to the council's decision with a smile and congratulated Ms. Mah Johnson.
"I really didn't want to see him get discouraged," Mr. Tanner said later when asked about his vote. "He has a lot of talent."
Ms. Mah Johnson lives in the Emerald Hills neighborhood with her husband Tom, two horses and two dogs, and will serve the remaining year in the four-year term of Martha Putnam, who left the ASRB in December. The seven-member panel reviews construction and design plans for new homes and major remodeling projects before they go on to the Planning Commission.
"My reason for applying is because I care very much about this town," Ms. Mah Johnson told the council.
Councilwoman Deborah Gordon noted that people have "interesting ways" of skirting square-footage limits in planning their homes, and asked Ms. Mah Johnson for her comment. The plans, Ms. Gordon said, "may be legal and fit all the (design) guidelines, but they certainly won't be what (the town) had in mind" when it set the limits.
Ms. Mah Johnson recommended starting a dialog with the applicant as early as possible, adding that she would look for a collaborative solution that both the ASRB and the applicant could accept.
"Obstacles often provide the grounds for coming up with creative solutions that help avoid conflict," she said. "In a perfect world, architects would come and look at the design guidelines of the town that (the client) purchased the property in."
What if there were a disagreement over how to interpret a guideline? Ms. Mah Johnson replied to that question that she would take a quality-of-life perspective. "A big part of this has to do with stepping back and looking at the larger picture."
Cooking with Julia
Ms. Mah Johnson, who has contributed articles to the Almanac, is a food industry consultant, and the larger picture of her career encompasses many celebrities in the field of food preparation.
She assisted TV cooking show pioneer Julia Child from 1975 to 2004. "I had a long, close relationship with Julia over the course of 30-plus years," Ms. Mah Johnson wrote in an email. "We did a lot of things together both personally and professionally. On my first trip to France, I stayed with Julia and Paul (Ms. Child's husband) at their place in Provence — quite an introduction."
At the Great Chefs cooking school at the Robert Mondavi winery in Napa County, Ms. Mah Johnson said she helped Ms. Child with kitchen prep work, and rehearsed recipes with her before class. "During the actual class, I made sure she had the exact amount of each ingredient and specific piece of equipment right when she needed it," Ms. Mah Johnson said. "Meanwhile, there were usually items set to cook or bake during class that had to be watched, which was also part of what I did."
Ms. Mah Johnson studied under many notable chefs, she said, including cooking show stars James Beard and Jacques Pepin. "I learned a lot from both of them, although what I remember most from Beard was learning to trust my own judgment," she wrote. "Jacques Pepin is a wonderful teacher and just as charming as he seems on TV. He is a master, and things seem to fall from his hands perfectly formed while he speaks."
Among the commercial products from Ms. Mah Johnson's imagination as a food consultant: the Frappuccino at Starbuck's Coffee, Pom pomegranate juice, and Boca Burgers, she wrote.
Ms. Mah Johnson has a bachelor's degree in German literature and art history from the University of California at Berkeley. Her professional affiliations include membership in Les Dames d'Escoffiers, a philanthropic society for women involved in the food, beverage and hospitality business.
She is past president of the San Francisco Professional Food Society and a member of Resetting the American Table Summit, an "incredible effort to create a new 'sustainable' model that embraced taste and enjoyment as part of a healthy lifestyle," she said.