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Culture kitchen: Empowering community through food

Image via Culture Kitchen SFImage via Culture Kitchen SFThe best thing about good food, aside from the wonderful taste, is the experience of making and enjoying it with other people. 

Food nourishes our bodies, but learning to prepare a new dish from a loved one or neighbor, nourishes our need for connection and community.

Culture Kitchen is a San Francisco start-up on a unique mission to connect local experts at ethnic home cooking with food lovers who are interested in the people and the stories behind the food.

This savory adventure is the brainchild of fellow Stanford alumnus, Abby Sturges and Jennifer Lopez, whose appetite for world travel brought them together as social entrepreneurs.

"As a designer you are taught how to follow the design process and be able to apply that process, focused on collaboration and continually iteration, to whatever you do, both professionally and personally," said Sturges. "The most inspiring parts of our international travels were the incredible women we met there and the food we shared with them when welcomed into their homes. Jennifer and I have both always been incredibly interested and excited by food. So, a project focused on spreading culture through food had us both passionate and engaged from the beginning."

Culture Kitchen hosts cooking classes taught by immigrant women who have mastered cooking authentic, ethnic cuisines by cooking for their families. The classes take place in community kitchens, restaurants in off hours and private homes throughout the San Francisco Bay area. 

Both Sturges and Lopez agree that the most exciting part of seeing their idea come to fruition isn't the tasty food (although there's a lot of that), it's giving self-taught women the platform to be the chefs and teachers they naturally are, creating a community that empowers them inside and outside the kitchen.

This is what sets Culture Kitchen apart from those shows on Food Network, or the cooking classes at your local Whole Foods.

"We use the phrase, 'Authentic ethnic cooking from the grandmas you wish you had,' to help explain the type of experience Culture Kitchen offers," said Sturges. "Our chefs know how to make incredible food and use recipes from memory that have been passed down for generations and generations. Our classes focus on in depth explanation of the ingredients because we know most students aren't familiar with the ethnic ingredients our chefs use. We reserve the last 30 minutes of every class to sit down as a group and enjoy the meal together, and we intentionally keep classes small to uphold the intimate experience."

This communal style of learning to cook and sharing food has been tranformative in the  lives of the Culture Kitchen chefs.

"We also like to work with women who might not realize that their cooking talent is tremendous, meaningful and a unique skill that others are excited to learn," said Sturges. "We want to elevate home taught chefs to a position of leadership to help them realize the value that they bring to world. For us seeing our chefs get excited to teach a class or take ownership in the classroom is magical and we are excited to give them the opportunity to share something so personal with the world."

Over the past few months, Culture Kitchen has held Ukrainian, Nicaraguan, Mexican, and Thai cooking classes in Palo Alto and Menlo Park.

The team also recently won $10,000 in prize money taking second place in the Stanford BASES Social Entrepreneurship Competition and has initial capital investment as one of the first two teams to receive funding through The Designer's Fund with Dave McClure of 500 Startups, a new fund specifically supporting design founders working to build meaningful and sustainable businesses. 

The Culture Kitchen team will launch a brand new website during the first week of October, but in the mean time, you can keep up with the latest classes on their Facebook page and by following @CultureKitchSF on Twitter.

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