wild mushrooms

How to forage wild oyster mushrooms


Foraging Wild Oyster Mushrooms


If you’re in the California area where wine country tours are extremely common, you should think about taking a day to forage some wild oyster mushrooms. While these mushrooms can run you a pretty penny at a gourmet market, there’s no reason why you can’t just go forage for them yourself. In fact, these delicious mushrooms are some of the only ones that you can find year-round. So, whenever you’re ready to go on some California wine tours, keep a lookout for these delicious mushrooms!


The Appeal of Wild Oyster Mushrooms

When you buy oyster mushrooms, they are most likely cultivated rather than plucked from the wild. As you probably know from other kinds of foods, there’s nothing like the taste of food that has been taken right from the great outdoors. Plus, foraging for them yourself adds another type of appreciation for the taste.


Although you can find these in California during every season, many people believe that oyster mushrooms are most tasty in the fall. Autumn is the perfect time to check out some Napa Valley wine country tours, so this works out great if you want to pair these two activities together. You can also stay in the city and schedule some wine country tours from San Francisco. No matter where you are in California, beautiful rural areas are just a short drive away.


How to Identify Wild Oyster Mushrooms

Of course, whenever it comes to foraging for wild food, it’s important that you know how to identify what’s what. This is especially true with mushrooms. Oyster mushrooms (pleurotus ostreatus) break down dead hardwood. It’s a decomposer mushroom that is commonly found on stumps and dead trees. Next, we’ll offer some information to help you with oyster mushroom identification.


The reason why they are called oyster mushrooms is because they grow together in bunches and look like a bunch of oyster shells stacked up on top of each other. The fact that they grow in bunches makes them a lot more convenient to forage. They are easier to see, and once they are found, you usually have a decent haul right off the bat. Oyster mushrooms are gilled on their undersides as well as part way down their stems. The color of their tops ranges from off-white all the way to brown.


Add Mushroom Foraging to Your Trip’s Itinerary!

Whether you plan on going on a Napa and Sonoma wine country tour or some San Francisco wine tours straight from the city, foraging for wild oyster mushrooms is another activity that we recommend adding to your list. Seriously, these clusters of oyster mushrooms are often found pounds at a time! After you’ve spent a lovely day in the beautiful forests of Northern California foraging for some wild oyster mushrooms, you can sit back and relax, knowing that you have some delicious meals on the way. Their mild flavor is perhaps best enjoyed sautéed in butter and oil or added to some creamy sauces. You can also make “oyster” stew!

Want to learn with us? Check out our wild mushroom classes all around northern CA throughout the winter and spring. Check out all our dates here.


Eat your weeds! Nasturtium Pesto Recipe

People love to eat flowers. It’s a fact. I was talking to a vendor at a farmers market one time, and he told me that the $4 salad mixes he sold could sell for $8 if he put in a couple edible flowers. Nothing fancy, just nasturtiums or wild radish, things he found around the farm. There is something about eating something so beautiful that draws people in. Consuming beauty, rather than just observing it…maybe too deep, but maybe true. Anyway, no need to pay $8 for this recipe, just find a patch of nasturtiums.  The best part about this nasturtium pesto is that you actually use the leaves for the recipe, so you can save the flowers for garnish. Pick leaves that are small and deep green, these have the most intense flavor.


1 cup fresh nasturtium leaves, chopped
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan-Reggiano
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/3 cup pine nuts or walnuts
2 medium sized garlic cloves, minced
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

A lot of people know that nasturtium flowers are edible; a surprise is that the leaves are too. They are amazingly plentiful, and make a great pesto with a mild nasturtium bite.  We made this with fresh gnocchi and wild radish flowers or our last meal, big hit:

1. Pulse the nasturtium leaves in a food processor with an ice cube until well blended (the ice cube helps keep the intense green color. This also works with basil pesto).

2. Add pine nuts and blend. Add the garlic, pulse a few times more.

3. Slowly add the olive oil in a steady stream, with the food processor running. Stop periodically to scrape the sides.  Check for flavor every once in a while. Decide for yourself the consistency you want.   Add the grated cheese and pulse again until blended. Add a pinch of salt and pepper to taste.

That's it! Really delicious on Gnocchi or any fresh pasta. Enjoy!



My adventures with Beekeeping 101

Took a beekeeping class yesterday with The Institute For Urban Homesteading. We want to get bees for the roof at Forage Kitchen, and although I hadn’t planned on taking care of them myself, I wanted to learn a little something about how they work.

Really interesting class! Learned a ton (which was easy considering I knew nothing). I was really struck by a few things. One is just the insane organization of the honey bee colony. At the risk of getting a bit airy, it really does seem magical the way they work. The second they’re born they know everything they need to do (the female worker bees first task is to turn around and clean her own hatching cell, HOW DOES SHE KNOW?!. Alternately the lazy male bees first task is to get fed…).

One bee on its own, while not stupid, doesn’t know how the whole functions functions, but they are born knowing exactly what their purpose is, really fascinating.  A queen bee doesn’t rule, but is just a larger bee fed differently. To make a queen the larvae is simply fed royal jelly for its entire incubation period, and put in a larger cell to grow. That’s the only difference, and somehow by being fed differently it knows that the second it’s born its supposed to kill all competing queens, fly out to mate, then lay thousands of eggs for the rest of her life.

It really does bring to mind the idea of the colony as a superorganism; something I’ve become really interested in lately, and that we discussed in the class. A bee is more like a cell in the body than an individual. A white blood cell doesn’t have a brain, and is never taught what to do, it just does it. It is created with all the information it will ever need, and immediately goes to task.  A thought doesn’t live in a neuron, but billions of neurons together create the experience of being human. The part creates the whole, without the need for individual agency. This is one of those things that if we didn’t see it happening in nature, we would say it was impossible.  Amazing.

The other thing I was really struck by was how little tending bees can live with. This was an alternative hive class, so instead of the standard hive (when you think of a commercial beehive, you’re thinking of a standard hive), we looked at several alternatives. The one that I was most enamored with is the Top Bar Hive. At it’s most basic; it’s a box with a series of 1.25 inch removable slats on top, with a .5 inch vertical piece of wood in each slat. Rather than needing to give the bees a frame to build their combs, they naturally create them on each vertical slat. Some for brood (where the babies are born), which are brown, and some for honey storage.

I originally went to the class really just to have a better understanding of what we were getting into at Forage Kitchen, but now I want my own! If anyone has any tips on where to find some healthy bees send ‘em my way!


a holiday musing on the high church of food...

I hope you’re all having a great holiday. I’m up in northern CA at my dad’s, sitting by a tree cut from the nearby woods. I actually went to church last night for one of the first times (I’m a non-practicing Jew), and was reflecting on how nice it must be to be religious. The foundation that it must give to your life, the calm and reassurance it gives every decision. 

The idea that someone is there looking out for you, but also the way the rituals frame your life that non-religious people search for. What to do and not to do in certain situations. How to treat people and how to solve the problems that come up in every life. I think this is one of the reasons I focus on food. Food, like religion, is a way for people to come together around a common set of ideals; a way to join a community of like-minded individuals that live their lives with common purpose and focus. 

Food has become so much more than just what we put in our bodies. It has become a lens through which we feel we can view and influence every part of our lives, as well as the world. The environment, the economy, health, society, government policy, we can touch all these through the decisions we make with the food we eat. That’s why I’m excited about opening Forage Kitchen. Yes, it will be a place where people can work, but more than that, it will be a place for people with shared ideas can come together. A place to learn, grow, and nurture, not just discrete businesses, but a community of people who share the same ideals about how the world should be. 

Some may say I’m being a bit over the top, but to me food is so much more than what you eat. It’s a daily statement of the direction you want the world to move, and a tangible thing you can hold that expresses what you believe in. 

Forage Kitchen is coming: we’re getting the permits signed, the plans through the planning, and the designs on the paper. I’ll see you all there soon. Hope you’re having a great holiday, and ideally eating far more than you should.



An Incubator Kitchen

On Designing Forage Kitchen

  Lately Ive been seeing design everywhere. From the lampposts to the sewer grates. Look and you'll see it. Everything has craftsmanship. Every peg that is round instead of square, every bench whose arms curve at just the right angle for your arms, every knife handle with just the right weight. Someone sat in a room and designed these.

This of course is not even to mention the obvious work done on the old buildings in the city. Its really amazing if you spend some time looking at them, the level of craftsmanship that goes into every detail. Randomly at the same time I heard about a podcast called 99% invisible, by a guy named Roman Mars, who explores just these kinds of issues. It's amazing, you should definitely listen to it.

I've been on this kick because we've entered into the design stage of Forage Kitchen. Its an interesting challenge, taking what is usually a back of house space (the commercial kitchen), and bringing it front of house (forward facing for the public). Not a lot of thought goes into the physical experience of being in a restaurant kitchen. Fluorescent lights, bad acoustics, hot environment, these are all things that are accepted as fact in most kitchens. They're designed as functional spaces. It's only when the dining room comes into play that designers start to think about the experience of being in a space (and honestly at a lot of restaurants I've gone to I don't think they pay much attention there either).

I want to create a space that feels intimate, but at the same time has functionality. A space that you actually want to spend time in. A space that feels like the home kitchen that people gravitate to. A hearth. A warm space. What is that space? What's the lighting like? How is the equipment arranged? I like timeless design. Large wood beams (I'm thinking about driving to VT to take down my moms falling down barn to use the wood), places that feel like they'll be around forever. Most modern design just makes me uncomfortable. It doesn't seem like it was created with the idea that actual people would inhabit the space

A large part of the users of Forage Kitchen will be non-professionals. People interested in cooking, but who havn't spent time in a commercial kitchen. The truth of the matter is that commercial kitchens are intimidating. To deal with this problem we're going to have separate kitchens for different users, but I also want to create a space where there is osmosis through these spaces. Common spaces where people can interact.

I love the idea of the Makers (non-professional members), staging (helping out) with the business users. Helping them prep, then maybe hiring them for a catering gig. How fun would that be for people, to help make the food being served at their event. Imagine a bride that spent some time in the kitchen making her wedding dinner, it would connect her so much more closely to the food that was being served.

Once we have a couple sketches done, I want to have a roundtable, where I get people who are going to use the space together to let us know what they think. Ive been thinking about the idea of open source design lately. A design that is born through many different opinions coming together. I love that idea. Open source taken into the physical world, to create something that the people involved can actually stand in. Ideas for the space? Want to be part of the discussion? Let me know. Iso


Adventures with a 3 gallon sauerkraut crock





Oh sauerkraut, you most delicious of sandwich additions. I put you on my breakfast sandwich, drop you in my rice, place you delicately in a heap next to my steak. You bring me such joy with your salty crunch, and as a bonus, you're good for me (at least I think you are.) I read a piece a couple months back in Gastronomica about sauerkraut. It went through all the claims that people make about its health benefits, refuting them one by one on the basis that they didn't have scientific backing. But then I heard a story the other day on how probiotics are being discovered to reduce anxiety. My conclusion is that if something has been believed for thousands of years to be good for you, it probably is, plus it's delicious, so why not eat it? Therefore, I’ve embarked on a new adventure. I recently bought a 3 gallon stoneware crock, something I've been wanting for a while, but couldn't get over the sticker shock of spending $250 on a vessel used specifically to ferment cabbage. Luckily, I found a solution. For $35 you can order one from ACE online, and then pick it up at a local store. Feels like I’m pitching you here, but I would be remiss to not tell you about the wonders of this deal.



For my first batch, I wanted to go simple. Just salt, cabbage, and caraway. It's astounding how many recipes there are online, not to mention in one of my favorite books, Wild Fermentation, on how to do this. I’d made it before in small batches, but there is something about filling up a 3 gallon container that makes you want to do some recipe research. I watched a video on youtube put out by the Ag. Council of a nice woman in Alaska, (seeming very 1950's) which gave exact instructions (2.5Tbsp of salt per 5 lbs of cabbage). Then I watched a video of Sandor Katz, the author of Wild Fermentation, who has a more democratic approach (just put salt in until it tastes right).

I settled on 3 Tbsp per 5 lbs of cabbage. Something like 20 lbs of cabbage went into this batch, and the only place in my house to deal with that kind of volume is the sink. After a good scrub, in went the cabbage. First sliced and cored. After all the cabbage was sink-side, in went the salt and caraway seeds. As I said before, exactly 3 Tbsp per 5 lbs. For the caraway I just eyed it, probably about the same ratio though.



Once seasoned, mix. Get all the salt evenly distributed around the cabbage, and then wait 15 minutes. Some folks recommend bashing the cabbage rather than letting it sit, and this is what I've always done in the past As soon as it was cut and salted, I would cram it into jars, awkwardly using a wooden spoon to push it in. It's a hassle. Using this new method, you just leave it for a bit, go drink some coffee, and voila! It's reduced by more than half! You should never use a metal container as your fermenting vessel, but I don't think the 15 minutes in the sink hurts it at all.

Now is the pack, which is made much easier this way. Pack the sauerkraut into your crock (I like to use my hands), and push it down until the liquid (which is naturally being released from the cabbage), is released. The juice (which, when fermented, is the best hangover cure I've found) should be at least an inch above the veggies. Place a plate on top to weigh it down, and wait and wait. The waiting is the hardest part.  As this is a bit of an experiment, I've been taking some out periodically to see how its progressing. Check back here in a few weeks for the finale. Now go buy a crock! It's better than paying $9/jar at rainbow.



I've been taking out samples during the fermentation process, in the guise of experimentation, but really just because I'm too impatient to wait to eat some:



After 8 days the kraut is good, starting to get a fermented flavor, but a little on the mushy side.



On day 12, it's started to firm up a bit, with a good "krauty" flavor.


On management (and the beginnings of a business)

Those of you that subscribe to this blog probably don't do it to hear management tips, but as a business owner its probably the thing I struggle with the most. How to manage people. How to get a group of people, each with their own mind and own personality, to help you create a very personal vision.  When I started my business, I thought the hardest thing would be getting people interested in what I thought was interesting, and yes, get them to buy what I was selling (gotta pay the rent). That was hard. I remember the first time forageSF went public. I had come up with the idea for the CSF (wild food CSA) about 2 weeks earlier, had been spending time deciding how much the boxes were going to cost, what would be in them, where I would forage, and how to get the word out. It was the last day of  Slow Food Nation, and it occurred to me that this was a perfect opportunity to introduce my idea to the masses. Up until this point, forageSF was just an idea in my head. I'd talked to my friends about it, but hadn't really put it out into the world. It's a scary thing, putting yourself out there with an idea thats different. So I rush printed some cards with the logo I'd created, what the boxes were, some info about my philosophy of splitting profit with foragers, rode my bike down to city hall, and staked out a spot with good traffic. That was the first moment. I got some good response. People seemed interested. I got some comments asking if I was collecting from dumspters. Some comments about the ecological impact of what I was doing, but overall, people seemed into it. But I digress.

At that point I didn't give a second thought to managing people, how to navigate the rocky shoals of personality styles. People respond differently to different things. Some people need to be coaxed into getting stuff done, some people appreciate a more direct approach. Some people need to be micromanaged (something that is not in my DNA), some people can take an idea and run with it.

When I think of my ideal company, I think of a group of people, all spending time doing what they love, in pursuit of a common mission.  Collaborating on ideas, lifting each other up with suggestions, and able to work on projects without too much input from me. This is deceptively hard to achieve.  When you are an entrepreneur, you imagine everyone thinks like you. That everyone has a singular vision to create what you want to create, and thinks like you think. The challenge is trying to see your work through the eyes of your employees. What inspires them about the job? What seems like drudgery? Whats going on in their lives outside of work that might be effecting them? Sometimes I feel like a psychologist, trying to peer into their brains to figure out what makes them tick. It's a constant challenge.

Luckily I think Im getting better at it. Or at least Im more aware of the mistakes I've made in the past, and try my best not to make them again. A couple of the lessons I've learned so far are:

Don't yell. Especially in food, high pressure situations are constantly in front of you, and the impulse to tear into someone in public is high, but it doesn't solve the problem, and all you'll get is a disgruntled worker. What I try to do (mostly successfully), is to try to solve the problem directly in front of me, and then make a note to talk about it later. Tensions run high at events, and its always better to sleep on it rather than explode. At the same time, you can't let things slide too much, so even though its uncomfortable, I try my best to bring it up within a couple days. This also gives you time to come up with a solution to keep it from happening again. When I do have a discussion with the person, I try to let them come to the solution on their own rather than giving it to them, I find that works much better.

If someone isn't doing something right, it's probably your fault. This is a philosophy I really try to live by. If you have a skilled, intelligent, inspired person working for you (and there is no reason ever to hire anyone else), they truly do want to do a good job. They also have the capacity to do a good job. So if they aren't, most likely its because they havnt been given the tools to do something the way you want it done. I think business is a lot like making movies. A director has an image in his head of what the movie will be, and he can't create that image alone, so its his job to employ an army of people to help him craft that image.

Its the same when you're starting any business that is crafted around a vision. The people working with you didn't come up with the vision, and they can't see into your head. All they can do is listen to what you tell them, and try their best to help you pull your idea out into the world.  You need to set up the environment that helps them do this.

With some people thats checking in daily on progress. With some people thats leaving them to it, and making sure they know you're there for support if they need it. It's a constant flow, of figuring out what kind of support people need to accomplish tasks. Of course, sometimes you run into people that aren't a good fit, and although its hard, its also your responsibility to deal with that situation rather than let it fester.

I've rambled for long enough. People who know me know that these are issues I struggle with constantly. I really do believe thats its the hardest part of getting a business from a solo enterprise into a larger company. The reality is that you can't do it all alone (at least I can't), so learning these skills is essential.  I havnt found the answers yet, but in the pursuit of trying to help people get to where I'm at without quite so much pain, I thought Id lay out the conclusions I've come to.  There is something that smacks of manipulation in what I've written here as I read it over, but it's really more about helping people to do the best job they can do at what they love in an environment they feel comfortable in. That's all we can really ask for.

Do you run a business? If so, what have you found that works with your employees? Please let me know, I'm always looking to get better at this. Iso

An Incubator Kitchen


   Raising Some Funds for Forage Kitchen

I'm getting really excited about our kickstarter campaign for Forage Kitchen. I think it'll be a great way to not only raise some funds to get the project rolling, but also a way to get the word out on the project. I'm trying to leave nothing to chance, I hate the idea of working so hard on getting a video done, raising some cash, and then losing it because we haven't made the full amount (the way kickstarter works is that you set a goal, and if you don't reach that goal, you don't get any of the donations you've accrued).

This project seems like it will be a popular one, but in the interest of being prepared, this is my plan of action:

1. Make a great video - We've been working for a while on making a great script for the video. One that explains what the project is, why we're doing it, who it will help (both locally and nationally), specifically what we will use the money for (very important this is included), and what I've done in the past as far as community oriented organizing.

I see this project as not only an SF creation, but something that can be used as a model for other cities that have similar needs. I think the spread of The Underground Market has shown that there is a real national movement of people producing food on a small scale, and the bottleneck is a space where they can come together to work on their businesses. We also got a great illustrator to draw some pictures of what the kitchen will be, and we're going to incorporate them into the video.

2. Make a plan - I met up with a guy named Dan Whaley who has recently raised $100K on kickstarter with a project called Hypothesis, to get some advice on the process. It was incredibly illuminating to talk to him. Before we spoke I thought we would make a video, send it out to the email list, and hope for the best. What he taught me is that you really need a coordinated plan. Who you're going to send it out to, and at what time. Most videos experience an initial burst of funding in the first few days, then level off. What he suggested is that you plan for that, and create a 3 section approach. 1. Initial blast to people who will support the project -contacts both personal and professional 2. Contact media to write stories as the project is starting to level out, for a new burst of interest mid-way through 3. A final push in the last couple days of the project, for that final support

I've begun to make a list of people/organizations that I know/think would be interested in supporting the project, and Im excited by how broad they are. Im going to reach out to a pretty diverse list of media, some that I've worked with in the past, some that I'll be cold calling, food orgs, chefs around the country, leaders of other underground markets locally and worldwide. This is really something people can get behind, and its cool to be working on a project that I can feel 100% in saying is being created for all the right reasons.

I've been talking a lot about this project recently, but this will be the first national exposure it will get. Its exciting, and actually pretty terrifying, but calming to think that we've got a lot of support behind something that will be great when its created.

Have you kickstarted? What's your experience? Tips? Things to avoid? Can you suggest organizations/individuals that you know/think would be into giving the project exposure?

Thanks Iso

wild kitchen

A Basque Feast: Recap and photos

The Basque feasts were a great success. We sold out both nights, with around 160 people each night, seated at long communal tables. This was my first foray into serving a family style meal, and I think it went really well. Something I've always liked about The Wild Kitchen is how much people interact with eachother. A lot of the dishes we serve have ingredients they've never had before, so there is almost always a pleasant din of "Is that the miners lettuce?"...."I've never had local uni before"....."I had no idea you could make ice cream with acorn flour".  New friends are always made. We also had the special treat of having hand painted menus by Juniper Harrower. She paints with local wine and ink made from ink cap mushrooms she forages. Pretty amazing stuff. The same thing happened with these past meals. Trays of asparagus with guanciale were passed in exchange for salt code rice with piperade, and a similar din ensued. Thanks to everyone that came out, we'll definitely be doing it again.


photos by Andria Lo

An Incubator Kitchen

An Incubator Kitchen #4: Fundraising

These blog posts are an attempt to chronicle the creation of something that is totally new to me, a large, physical, brick and mortar shared use incubator kitchen. As this process continues I'll be writing here about what stage we're at, what problems we have, and how we solved them. This is all an attempt to help along those who want to create a similar project, while at the same time letting people know where we're at in the process. Money:

The biggest problem with building a 10,000 sq ft incubator kitchen is that it costs lots of money. Money on a scale that I don't generally think in, and to get that kind of money, fundraising is in order. We've decided we're going to do this in three ways:


We are lucky to live in an area with people who have money. It's as simple as that. Silicon valley blesses us daily with filled seats at our events, lines down the block for food trucks, and soon, a great space for small businesses to help get started. So far I've been approached by a couple investors who are interested in being a part of the project, and have started working with an advisor who is big in the angel investor scene.  I've found that whenever I'm starting something new, mentors are essential. There is no point in beating your head against the wall looking info up online, when someone willing and knowledgable is a phone call away. It's amazing just how willing and interested people are in helping out, all you need to do is ask.  We are still a ways off from locking down investment, but I imagine that about 3/4 of the money will come from this avenue. Finding investors is no small feat, but we are talking to people we know first, people who they know second, and people we think might be interested third. Especially in such a food-centric town, you'd be surprised who wants to be involved. My advice for people looking for investors is to make a list of people you think might be interested and get in touch. The worst they can say is no.


We'd be stupid to ignore kickstarter. It's a great platform for people looking to create something. If you're trying to raise money for something that you think people are interested in being a part of, kickstarter is a great avenue.  The secret is a good video. Something that really draws people in, and lets them know how passionate you are about the project.  In kickstarting a business, there is some concern from the crew about projects that are not art-centric.  I've heard that most projects get approved, but pitching it as not just a business, but that you're creating something with some other value can't hurt.  Another note is never use the word "invest" in your video or anywhere in your pitch. The SEC considers what your getting through kickstarter a donation, not an investment, so they're sticklers on that point.  We are currently working on a video that I'm excited about that will hopefully be out mid January.  The rewards we're going to offer are going to be things like classes, kitchen time, boxes of goodies from vendors who are using the kitchen, etc.  I want people who invest to really see the fruit of what they're helping to create.


This project is about creating a space that people use to create something that makes them proud. Simple as that. Whether that's a jar of jam or a jam making business. We want to get this idea out to as many people as possible, while at the same time letting people be involved in a way that's more tactile than donating online. In the next several months we're going to be planning tons of events. Movie nights, dinners, potlucks, scavenger hunts, etc, and partnering with the folks we've grown relationships with over the years throughout the city. We don't want this to be a kitchen that just people who know about forageSF frequent, but folks of all stripes.

We're also interested in having part of the funding come from "community shares". Small(er) sums of money from individuals, that will buy them a small share in the business, akin to Claires. It's a small restaurant in Vermont that was started by getting $1000 investments from members of the town. In exchange they were given a certain amount of meals free when the space opened. I love this concept. That the people who want to use a space help create it.

That's all for now. Basically what I've found is that if you're trying to create something unique, you've got to be creative about where the money comes from. This business will be successful, but because it's unproven, there is no way a bank is going to give us a loan. The great thing is that instead of credit, we have an amazing wealth of folks interested in being involved, which is better I think.

We'll be sending out info about our kickstarter and our events soon. If you're interested in helping us organize an event or have an idea for one you think would be great, we'd love to hear it.


The Omelette Show

I recently downloaded The French Chef. The cooking show Julia Child created.  I know, it’s a bit cliché to talk about Julia Child, but up until this week, I’d never actually seen an episode of one of her shows. I'd seen clips, and the Saturday night live spoof, but never one from beginning to end. They have names like “The Potato Show”, and the “The omelette Show”, where she’ll spend 30 minutes going over 5 or 6 ways to cook something specific. What’s really interesting is that it almost feels like she’s introducing these things for the first time. Which she probably was. Teaching Americans how to cook cook lobster or pan flip eggs.

Beyond the food, the production of the show is also great. No cuts, almost nothing pre-prepared, she just plops the food down on the plate, without much if any concern for presentation.  She drops things, she loses her glasses, says things constantly like “If no one is watching, you can do…..”.  It feels so much more real than an episode of Rachel Ray, and really makes me wish shows were more like that now.  It seems cooking shows now work so hard to be perfect, that it becomes more of a voyeuristic exercise than an educational one. Sure, the food looks good, and they never make any mistakes, but I think people are intimidated by that. Flaws are what connect you to a person, bring them down to earth.  I was going to write out one of her recipes, but it wouldn't do the video justice. Enjoy:

An Incubator Kitchen

An Incubator Kitchen #2: The Membership Model

In the last post, I talked about the process of formulating the idea for our kitchen, what programs we would include and why.  In this post I'm going to talk about the model we're considering for membership. When deciding on the membership model for our kitchen, we tried to address two problems:

1. Money: It’s expensive to build-out a space that serves the needs of professional food makers, and it’s expensive to operate it.  Much like the Underground Market, we want this to be a space that is accessible to as many food producers as possible, while being a sustainable business.  We are going to look for grant funding to ensure we can serve low-income producers, while we build a workable business model that serve the entire Bay Area food community.

2. Access: We didn't want this to be a place only for professional cooks.  The Underground Market has shown that there are thousands of people who want to be involved in other ways than as producers.  There is so much more to do with food than simply have a professional business focused on it.   People want to be part of this, and we’re excited about that.

To solve these two problems we came up with the membership model below.  Rather than sell hourly kitchen rental time, accessible only by professional cooks, we’ve created a new system we’re hoping resonates with the public.  Our membership will be tiered to interest for professionals and non-professionals.  If you're interested in using the kitchen 5 days a week, 8 hours a day, there is a level for you.  If you're interested in using a professional kitchen to can the tomatoes from your backyard a couple hours a month, there's a level for you.

If you're really just interested in staying involved, taking classes, coming to parties, watching movies on the rooftop, there's a level for you. In this way, we can have a lot of really interesting stuff going on, allow people who are interested in being involved a road to entry, while generating income to allow us to offer kitchen rental to beginning entrepreneurs at a reasonable rate.  The levels listed below are still up for revision, but that is the general outline of how the space will be run.  If you have any feedback on this model, please let us know. It’s not set in stone, so if there is anything you would like to see in the space when it opens, we’d definitely like to hear it. Please feel free to comment on this post, or fill out this short survey.

Community membership

• First dibs on classes, events, talks, community events, – 2 days prior to public notice the members will receive an exclusive newsletter allowing them to be the first group to access these offerings

• Allows entrance to the Underground Market (which charges a fee for entry)

Community kitchen-users

• 4 hours month of shared kitchen time included 1-2 designated days a week (Sunday and Wednesday 6-10pm – timeframes pending)

• Additional 10 hours month of kitchen rental at a reduced rate

• 10% off all classes and events

• Will also encompass above community member services

Community kitchen-devotees

• 10 hours month included

1-2 designated days a week (Sunday and Wednesday 6-10pm)

• Additional 10 hours month at a reduced rate

• 20% off classes

• All above community kitchen-users services


• Start-up/concept development/low-income program participants

• Still testing the market, making less than $500/month, or not yet generating sales

• One to two people on crew, allowed in the kitchen

• 10-25 hours a month of kitchen time

• Subsidized hourly kitchen rates

• One day a week for kitchen time (8 hours)

• Consulting services built-in through programs/grants

Start-up/concept development/moderate-income program participants

• Testing market, making less than $500/month, or not yet generating sales

• One to two people on crew in kitchen

• 10-25 hours a month

• Subsidized hourly kitchen rates

• Will use the kitchen approximately one-two days per week (8-16 days per week)

• Consulting services built-in through programs/grants

Start-up/production development

• Vetted concept, generating consistent sales

• 4 shifts per week or approximately 32 hours a week of kitchen time

• Two to four person crew per shift

• Consulting services built-in through programs/grants

Graduates/Long-term fixed

• Vetted concept, generating consistent sales and growing rapidly

• 4-6 shifts per week or approximately 40 hours a week of kitchen time

• Tenant may sign 6-24 month lease

• Cost/month fixed - 40 hours per week

SF Underground Market

Creating an incubator kitchen : A rough guide #1

As you may have heard, we have embarked upon an adventure to start a forageSF incubator kitchen.  This yet to be named space will most likely be in Soma, and if all goes to plan, will open within the year. Someone recently suggested that I start blogging about our process, as a resource for others that are thinking of starting similar projects around the country, so as we work on getting the space open, Ill be talking here about what we’re up to. Everything from what kind of contractors we hire, to licensing, to more interesting fare, like what classes we’re organizing and what the first months rooftop movie programming will be.

My hope is that these posts will serve as a rough guide to others working on similar projects around the country.   I am by no means an expert in the construction of a million dollar shared use kitchen, but if you have questions please ask them here, and I will do my best to answer them.

The idea process:

Opening this kitchen has been something we’ve been thinking about for a while now. The popularity of the underground market definitely shows a need for this kind of space. There is a surging community of would be good makers in this city that the just need the chance to start their businesses. They are searching for help, financial certainly, but also emotional. They need to be shown they can, not only by being given a space to work, but by being provided a road map, and support along the way.

In addition to hard core producers, I also saw a real need on the non-professional/eater side.  People don’t wait in those lines the The Underground Market just to eat, but also to be a part of something. They want to connect with the people cooking their food.  In a food centered town, where going to the next new restaurant means you may glance the chef through a swinging kitchen door, talking to the person who cooked your food, and seeing how excited they are to make it, is a revelation. When conceiving our kitchen, I had both of these group in mind.  So how to create a space that engaged both of these groups, without losing focus of our core mission?

A straight rental kitchen wouldn’t do it. We needed to bring in more than just people starting businesses, especially if we wanted to offer reduced rates to producers, we would need several income streams. That is how we arrived at the model of having several different arms simultaneously of the same business.

Next post : Deciding what to include in the kitchen

SF Underground Market

Our Vendors #2 - Sidesaddle Kitchen and Ahram Namu Kimchi

I feel that too much of the discussion about the market hiatus has been about the Health Department. Why they closed us down, when they’ll let us re-open.  While I understand and appreciate the concern for safety, I feel that the real focus of the market, the vendors, has been ignored. Public health is a something we take very seriously, but it is my sincere belief that it is less the stainless steel countertops and three-compartment sinks that makes food safe, but the care and attention of the producer. These small batch producers all have a deep care for what they are doing, and it shows in their products.

What we should be focusing on are the people who create this food, how they have started, and where they are now. The market has enabled them to start a business that they wouldn’t have otherwise started, and many have gone on to become legitimate business owners. We need to expand the ways that these small producers can get their products out to the public. I’ve asked vendors to respond to a few questions about how the market has affected their business, and over the next few weeks I’ll be sharing some of the vendor stories:

Sidesaddle Kitchen - Laura Miller

I feel enormously lucky that I found the Underground Market just as I was starting to get serious about Sidesaddle. Being able to meet other vendors, testing out products, and getting exposure to thousands of people every month was incredibly valuable. I never saw the market as a subversive endeavor, but instead as an opportunity that offered a sense of community and support that I couldn't find anywhere else. Aside from the obvious financial challenge of starting a food business, the process can be difficult and discouraging - I may have given up by this point had I not found the market. With contacts made at these events, I have finally gotten into a commercial kitchen and taken the steps to become a licensed operation. Forage successfully organized a logistical framework that is supporting a cultural movement at a grassroots level.

Ahram Namu Kimchi - Ahram Kim

When I first heard about The Underground Market, I didn't know whether or not I had a viable product.  I had a homemade organic kimchi that I was sharing with friends and co-workers.  Many were encouraging me to turn it into a business, but I didn't know the first thing about starting one.  Nearly selling out of all the jars I'd prepared for my first market, made me realize that there was a demand for my product.  It encouraged me to pursue something I have always been passionate about, but never dreamed that I could make a living from.  That first market was a little over a year ago, and now I'm working out of a commercial kitchen and selling my product in three stores in The Bay Area. The Underground Market means the world to me.  Without it, I wouldn't have my own business which has gone from a hobby to my major source of income.  The market provided me with huge motivation to continue to pursue my business.  I went "above ground" 10 months ago, but I still participate in The Underground Market because I love interacting with the public and getting their direct feedback.  I also love the sense of community amongst the vendors.  I've gotten so much good advice from other vendors, and always look forward to trading items and discovering the next big food idea.

San Francisco is a notoriously expensive city and the start-up costs of a business here seem really prohibitive.  The pop-up restaurants, food trucks and The underground market are a reflection of our economic times and the high cost of rent here.  Few people have the capital to rent a commercial space.  When I first started out, I had nothing. The underground market helped me get to where I am now.  It really is a food incubator for those like me who have an idea, but not the means to start a business.  To even get to a point where you want to invest the time and money into starting a business, you need to first figure out whether there is a demand for your product, and the markets help you determine that before you've invested all your savings or quit your day job.  In a city that's known for innovation and progressive ideas, it would be a shame to stifle something that has been so positive for not only the vendor's but also for the public.  Please let the market continue to make a difference to budding entrepreneurs.  Don't makes us take our dreams to Portland!  WE LOVE SAN FRANCISCO!

SF Underground Market

Our vendors

I feel that too much of the discussion about the market hiatus has been about the Health Department. Why they closed us down, when they'll let us re-open.  While I understand and appreciate the concern for safety, I feel that the real focus of the market, the vendors, has been ignored. Public health is a something we take very seriously, but it is my sincere belief that it is less the stainless steel countertops and three-compartment sinks that makes food safe, but the care and attention of the producer. These small batch producers all have a deep care for what they are doing, and it shows in their products.

What we should be focusing on are the people who create this food, how they have started, and where they are now. The market has enabled them to start a business that they wouldn’t have otherwise started, and many have gone on to become legitimate business owners. We need to expand the ways that these small producers can get their products out to the public. I’ve asked vendors to respond to a few questions about how the market has affected their business, and over the next few weeks I’ll be sharing some of the vendor stories:

Randall Hughes: Oaktown Jerk It was forageSF where my business made its debut with the public. The forageSF market place allows me to get great and very useful feedback from the public. With every market comes a wealth of networking opportunity and I always managed to network with people who in one way or another have helped me launch my business. Now I work out of a commercial kitchen, which has allowed me to get my product to even more venues. I wasn't certain that I could justify investing the money ($10,000 in equipment alone) it cost to establish a legit food company. But after vending at several forageSF markets I felt confident that I was producing something that was worth taking to the next level.

Thanks Iso! You've helped me with my business more than you can imagine! Now I am at the Farmers' Market : I am scheduling to do many venues in and around Oakland in 2011: And I am also still at forageSF because I really like the market and what it stands for.

I started making beef jerky in my kitchen and would share it with my coworkers. This was my market analysis. I started with coworkers and friends but then knew that I needed the feedback from absolute strangers. That's where forageSF became a very key resource in the success of my company. I think forageSF should stay open because it is the birthplace for so many great artisan companies. This market is a serious springboard for so many folks who are trying something new for various reasons. For me and so many others it has been a place to explore the talents that we have decided to tap into for reasons due to the economic downturn. It's truly amazing to see and feel the energy at the market. forageSF is helping to develop small business ownership. We should be embracing the people who provide such a wonderful venue, which allows us to showcase our wares. What a great thing!

Kai Kronfield: Nosh This

The Underground Market has been invaluable to me and a host of other small-scale producers. It has provided me a venue and a "customer base" if you will, to explore different ideas and to do real-time market research into what products have traction as I build a business from scratch. Aside from the opportunity to sell my wares, the Underground Market embodies a community of vendors/producers who feed off each other and raise each other up. There is no "competition" amongst vendors. We assist each other in terms of honest, knowledgeable feedback about ingredients/flavors/techniques and are a source of encouragement for each other. Not having such a venue would re-establish a great obstacle on the path to legitimacy for a lot of people.

Further to that excerpt, the UM provided me with exposure to dedicated foodie customers who were eager to give feedback and when warranted, praise. It has helped to raise my profile from "a guy on a street with a few candies" to a recognizable and trusted producer of fine artisan chocolates. I'm confident I would have gotten to this point eventually, but this market streamlined that process. I am now cooking out of a commercial kitchen and starting to look at wholesaling and online sales.

Of course I believe the market should stay open. I'm thinking mainly about the people who are just starting out and I think it would be such a shame if they didn't have the same opportunities that I and many of the other current vendors had. Sadly, they may opt not to start a business which would be a shame for them and for the San Francisco food community which has always had a bit of an experimental streak.

Ina Golad: Ina’s Kitchen

Ina's Kitchen was organized to raise funds for a non-profit education foundation that helps underprivileged children to advance their skills in athletics and technology. The underground market provided an incredible forum for Ina's Kitchen to sell its food products. Prior to finding the underground market and meeting Iso, the devoted and energetic organizer, Ina's Kitchen faced many challenges. These challenges included costs of setting up fundraising events, finding space and volunteers to run the events, and advertising. The underground market that Iso has organized takes care of all of these challenges and provides an amazing opportunity for Ina's Kitchen to raise money on behalf of the non-profit education foundation. Ina's Kitchen sincerely hopes that this market remains open so that it and other vendors with charitable goals can enjoy the convenience of this perfectly organized market.

SF Underground Market

The Kitchen (first steps)

I have a post I'm going to put up soon about The Underground Market (we're working on a way to get it reopened, and I'm confident we'll find a solution), but something else I'm really excited about right now is how this kitchen project is moving along. We found a space! It's still in the beginning stages, so not certain, but it's looking good. The space is 10,000 sq feet of wonderful high ceiling'd bliss (with the possibility of having an acre of rooftop farm up top. I'm thinking chickens, goats, veggies for people to use in the kitchen, rooftop movies, rooftop dinner, bees....). This space won't be just a kitchen rental, but a dynamic space with (and these are first thoughts), kitchen rental for vendors, classes in food business 101, web design, menu creation, pickling, butchery, possible shared beer brewing equipment, a retail space in the front where people using the kitchen can sell their products, farming classes for kids, farming classes for grown ups, and a CSA of the products being produced in the kitchen. There is also a cool crossroads alley/road behind the space that would be perfect for closing down and having markets/dinners/good times of all sorts.

Since I sent that email out I've been getting approached by investors who are interested in being involved, and it looks like its really on its way. So, not a ton of info at the moment, other than I'm excited to finally have a space that can be the center of forageSF. A hub for people who want to be involved, people with some/lots/no experience in cooking to start their businesses/learn about food/ eat food/ take classes/ brew beer/ drink beer....the options are endless. If you have ideas/desires for this space, let me know. Ideas you give could be a reality very soon. Iso

SF Underground Market

and it was good.

Our very special Easter/Passover Underground Market is over (to be honest it had nothing to do with either of those holidays, but glad people could take a break from feasting to come by). It was quite a success.  We had over 40 vendors, 3200 eaters (a new record), a food truck (a first), and a line down the block.  We were much more careful about capacity this time, stopping entrance at 580 (after which we only let people in when others left), and it made for a much more manageable vibe. We also set up seating outside, so people had a place to sit down and eat. I've felt bad ever since we started having the market at Public Works about the over 21 policy (this is necessary because of the kind of license Public Works has), so we set up an area outside where kids could hang out and eat without actually going into the space. We had about 10 people take advantage of it, which isn't a lot, but a start.  We lowered the number of vendors inside this time around, so people would have more space to walk, and that also improved the overall feel I thought. Overall I (in my humble opinion), thought it was a really great market.

I had a great time, and I hope you did too. I've been looking at some other spaces, and recently sent an email to the armory folks (on 14th/mission, owned by Apparently they have a huge space, and maybe they would let us give tours....Thanks to everyone who came out and ate, thanks to all the vendors that made delicious food, it was a good night. Here are a couple pics from the market, in case you didn't get to come. If you are interested in being a vendor at next months market, look here for info on the next sample day. If you're not on our list yet, and want to get a note about the next market, please sign up to be a member here. See you next month!