When I first asked Rachel Cole about her kitchen, her whole face lit up. "I love my kitchen!" she said with a big smile. Rachel has one of the best jobs in San Francisco for anyone interested in food: she's the Program Director for 18 Reasons, a new style of community center created by Bi-Rite Market where people connect around good food and art. She spends her days dreaming up amazing food-related events and classes like Butterfest 2009 and Peanut Butter & the Pen, a food writing workshop for kids.
Rachel has lived in her small, bright North Oakland apartment for just over a year. She took her time in setting up her kitchen, allowing things to evolve organically. "How we set up our space and our lives can be very powerful," she says. "You have to be patient and enjoy the process of assembling your home just the way you like it. For example, I really needed a funnel to fill my spice jars. I could have bought a cheap plastic one from the grocery store but I knew I wanted a vintage, metal funnel. And sure enough, after trolling flea markets for months I found this little one that's perfect. The point is to take your time and enjoy the process!"
Any more kitchen advice? Julia Child didn't learn how to cook until she was in her 30's. It's never too late to learn--the trial and error never ends.
What attracted you to this kitchen? The vintage yellow tiles, lots of natural sunlight, the beautiful Wedgewood stove and the fact that there is room for an eating area.
What is the biggest challenge in your kitchen? I need more counter space, more room to maybe have a toaster oven. Right now I make my toast in the Wedgewood's broiler.
Cooking style? A list of words: intuitive, single busy girl, seasonal. I eat everything, but with a bent towards whole foods and health.
What inspires your kitchen? I come to the kitchen for restoration in every way. This shows in how I designed the space and it is also how I cook. One day it might be quinoa or it might be chocolate cookies, it all depends on what will restore me.
Biggest indulgence? Paying someone to install the cookbook shelves. I spent a lot of time figuring those out--how they were going to bear all that weight. If anyone needs a good handyman they should call me. Also, clearly I'm an earthquake virgin. Who else would put shelves up so high and then load them with heavy books and canned items in glass jars?
Dream tool or splurge? Harsch crock for kraut. A pasta attachment for the Kitchen Aid. A larger Le Creuset dutch oven.
The most whimsical thing in your kitchen? The bookends from Esty. I love supporting people to make beautiful things. I love the human body and celebrating it in all its forms. For me, cooking is very tied to the body. Also, my rubber lace place mats. They look like real lace! And the fortune sticks from Tail of the Yak in Berkeley.
What's always in your pantry? Garlic, olive oil, pastured eggs, nuts, seed, miso, a good homemade vinaigrette, heirloom beans, blackstrap molasses, whole grains. Such a long list!
What's your favorite tool or implement? There are so many. I'll give you my top five: 1) My mini-crockpot that I use to make overnight porridge. I wrote a 9-page manifesto on porridge which I'll publish someday. 2) My collection of small bowls. I love to eat out of small bowls. 3) Vintage baby food jars for spices and their accompanying antique funnel for filling them. The glass milk bottles, too. 4) An unnamed wooden paddle/scraper/stirrer from my parents 5) A small Santoku knife because it fits my hand.
Favorite Ingredient: Massa's brown rice. This rice will convert anyone who thinks they don't like healthfood. It can do anything white rice can do. I'm also excited about my big bag of nettles from Annabel Lenderink's La Tercera farm--they're great with scrambled eggs.
Favorite markets? Before I started working above Bi-Rite, which is basically an indoor farmers' market, I would shop three times a week at the farmers' markets. The Saturday and Tuesday markets in Berkeley and the Sunday in Temescal. I used to call it my church! And nothing beats the bulk section at Rainbow Grocery.
Most memorable meal? Unfair question! There are so many! I come from a family that orients themselves around food so I've been having memorable meals since I started eating. If I had to pick one today, it would be when I spent the summer after my sophomore year in Europe with my sister Rebecca, who is a chef. One of her finest skills is assembling unbelievable picnics. We were in Freiburg, Germany and we ate one of her creations at sunset: the sweetest raspberries, light-as-air Italian ricotta cheesecake from an Italian transplant , a whole range of wursts. All of them little bites of heaven.
Desert Island Cookbook? Can you really have just one? If pressed I would say Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone by Deborah Madison. Followed by the Joy of Cooking and then maybe Bittman's How To Cook Everything Vegetarian. (Look for Rachel's complete list of favorite cookbooks at 101 Cookbooks in the new year--DV)
What are you cooking these days? Something called kitchari, an Indian dal dish from the Ayurvedic system. It's restorative, balancing and delicious. I use mung beans and Massa brown rice. I make up a big pot and can have it for breakfast, lunch or dinner. I'm in the middle of putting together our first annual Butterfest at 18 Reasons so also I'm dreaming up butter-centric dishes!
Resources: I buy my canned fish from Vital Choice because I care a lot about the serious issues around fishing. Sardines! They're delicious, sustainable and so good for you. If I didn't live in the Bay Area: Native Seeds Search for heirloom beans. I also use Rancho Gordo. Graeter's Ice Cream in Cincinanti. They ship and yes, I think they're better than Jeni's.
For recipes I like 101 Cookbooks and epicurious. (RIP Gourmet!) But mostly it's a phone call or email to my mother.
Your culinary childhood? I grew up in Arlington, VA. As I said, my family life revolved around food, eating, cooking. So much of what we ate was homemade: bread, pickles, mac & cheese from scratch with béchamel. We picked berries, canned, had a community garden plot. We would plan trips based on food. My sister cooked from a very young age and that was always her domain growing up. It wasn't until she went away to college that it became my domain, too. For our parent's 25th wedding anniversary, my sister and I wrote the table of contents to the family cookbook. Now we need our mom's help for the recipes!
How has your life changed since you started working at 18 Reasons? I'm much busier, I cook less and I have to be more organized. I often make a big batch of something on Monday and a big batch on Friday. I'm very excited to discover new artisan food products that come through Bi-Rite. I spend a lot of time thinking about the challenge of how to be in the kitchen and connect with people at the table in my own life. We want our members to be inspired and creative in their kitchens. I can't really ask that of them if I can't get into my own kitchen.
What's coming up at 18 Reasons? So much! We just announced a food lit book club and soon a cookbook club in the new year. There's Butterfest in December, of course. I really want to offer classes and events that will help people to use the table to reconnect to the environment, seasons, kitchen, community, themselves, their bodies…all these things we've disconnected from.
Thank you, Rachel!