Potrero Hill resident Andrea Laudate, 70, isn’t shy. She recently massaged talk show host James Corden’s butt on air when he passed her walking down an aisle during a taping of “The Late Late Show with James Corden”. And she has a bit of a purple obsession.
“My clothes are purple, my kitchen is purple, even the garden – 90 percent of it – is purple,” she said. “I love purple. That comes from my daughter, who, when she was a teenager and my gray hairs came in, she said, ‘Oooh, mom, we have to color these,’ so I colored them purple.”
Born and raised in Connecticut, Laudate got a degree in finance from the University of Connecticut, which she put to use in New York as an auditor. She then she acquired a master’s degree in finance with a minor in law at Golden Gate University, became a financial planner, and, eventually, a chef.
“When I worked for a CPA firm in New York they gave me the crappy accounts because I was a woman,” she said. “They gave me all the restaurants in New York as they transitioned from manual records to computerized ones. I loved it; I got to know the chefs, I would go in the back, learn recipes, learn how to do things, and so when I became a financial planner, I had a lot of clients who were chefs and thought, ‘This is fun. I think I’ll do it too.’”
She was already middle-aged when she tried her hand at professional cooking in 1990. But it didn’t pan out. “I was too slow. They made fun of me, but then I started doing chocolate work and loved it,” she said. “But the pay was terrible. I was used to making $125 an hour being a financial planner, and in restaurants the pay is $12.50.”
Now semi-retired, she gave up her business, Financial Esteem for Artists and Entrepreneurs, and works about 20 hours a week for nonprofits. She continues to make chocolate in all forms – pies; lava cakes – sharing it with friends. Every six to eight weeks she flies to Los Angeles to cook for the United Service Organizations, which provides assistance to U.S. military personnel and their families. “It’s fun. When I first started, I used to do gourmet things,” she said. “Most of the guys are from the Midwest, though. They want macaroni and meatballs; they don’t want gourmet. So now I’ll make mac and cheese with something in it and they love it. It gives me a great deal of joy.”
The desire to help others animates much of Laudate’s and her husband’s, John deCastro – a longtime Potrero Boosters member and officer – activities. Laudate and deCastro met in the 1970s when she moved to San Diego to join the Junior Chamber of Commerce, one of the first five women invited to do so. “There was a plethora of men around,” she said. “I wanted to see if I could find someone who could fit my requirements: a man who doesn’t exist for himself, who helps out others, who’s not greedy, and a nice guy. I found one and I married him.”
She and deCastro sold their San Diego condominiums and bought a duplex Victorian on Missouri Street in 1979, where they’ve been ever since. “We both like to fight injustice and San Francisco was a perfect place for that,” she said, on the decision to move to the City. “There are so many things that go on here. I could pick and choose what nonprofits to work for and the American Association of University Women was the one for me.”
Founded in 1881, AAUW promotes equity and education for women and girls. Laudate is co-president of the City’s branch. “I will stay with the organization until the day I die, or until women make as much as men,” she said. “I don’t know if I’ll see that in my lifetime, but that would be one of my goals: to help women attain equality.”
From 2000 to 2010, Laudate and her daughter, Alicia, ran “Sister-To-Sister,” in which girls from Bayview participated in programs held at the Potrero Hill Neighborhood House or what’s now International High School to help build self-esteem, through training in self-defense, mentoring, cooking, money management, and health issues. As a result of their efforts, Laudate and Alicia won the California Lottery’s “Hero in Education” award, and AAUW recognition. They presented the program to Gloria Steinem and the International Federation of Women.
Laudate recently raised funds to send 15 seventh graders from AP Giannini and Presidio middle schools, among other campuses, to Stanford University for a week of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math classes, under the Tech Trek program. “I like that helping out other people you can see the results,” Laudate said. “There’s not a time I don’t see a young person, and a lot of girls I’ve mentored still keep in contact with me.”
Laudate counsels one or two girls a year. “I like mentoring, I like helping people out,” she said. “It’s always girls because boys already get a fair shake; most girls don’t.”
“Wild, amazing, giving, and generous,” said Hill resident Audrey Cole, of her friend, Laudate. “She sponsors people and basically helps everyone around her to have a better life. You’ll see her around the neighborhood. She’s just amazing and fabulous and loves dogs and kids. She’s more ‘behind the scenes’ in terms of getting involved in the neighborhood and that’s why most people don’t know about her.”