Very few things excite me more than passionate, determined women. To me, they are more thrilling than any garlicky hummus or oozy egg smothered on toast buttered bread, which is saying a great deal. This new series came about to profile said inspiring women who pave the way in their respected field while displaying a sense of care and strength along the way. It's a privilege to have such powerful females to look up to, route on, and learn from.
First up is Alison Cayne, founder of Haven's Kitchen.
Haven's Kitchen exists in a remodeled carriage house nestled on W 17th street. It is part cooking school, part cafe, and part event space but entirely filled with thoughtful choices and great attention to detail. Alison is witty, and infectiously charming, but was rests behind her cheek to cheek smile is a drive and sense of urgency that propels her business and efforts to help save our deeply troubled food system.
Since its founding in 2012, Haven's Kitchen has supported countless farms and food purveyors, helped educate individuals on seasonality and food community, released a cookbook (which you can purchase here), a line of sauces, and served plates upon plates of beautifully prepared, locally sourced food. Women like Alison help illustrate that the future of a previously male dominated food world is in good hands, and entirely female. To put it simply, Alison gets things done, and she is just getting started.
Can you tell about your efforts to eliminate food waste?
In the United States, 30 to 40% of our national food supply goes to waste on an annual basis. Since Haven’s was founded with the ultimate vision of creating a better food system by creating a more engaged consumer, we felt the need to address the waste issue without haranguing guests. Our food distributor, Baldor, designed a program called SparCs (scraps backwards), which offers trim, tops and peelings for sale. All trim is edible, and is left over from making carrot sticks and dicing onions. We partnered with them to buy the SparCs at a reasonable cost and show our guests what can be done with them. We make stocks and soups, pestos and even a pretty killer carrot cookie. We’re also working on a SparC Sauce to add to our new line of refrigerated sauces (coming soon to a grocer near you, and available on our website)
What was the journey from concept to realization of Haven’s Kitchen like?
Michael Pollan puts it beautifully when he writes that learning to cook is, "the most important thing an ordinary person can do to help reform the American food system, to make it healthier and more sustainable."
When I opened Haven’s, the word was starting to get out about buying local and non-processed food, along with home cooking and all of its benefits. The problem was that even though there was a will, there was very little way: Many people just didn’t know where to begin cooking and what to do with the ingredients they were eager to buy. I wanted to teach as many people as possible how to cook because it brings them together, keeps our communities healthier, and supports our farmers and local economies. My mentor, Joan Gussow, said in a speech once: “the world needs more cooking teachers.” So I became one. Once I found this beautiful carriage house, it didn’t take me long to do the buildout and open the business. I can’t actually believe it myself – it took 13 months – and there are so many facets to it.
What is your vision for your next 5 years of business at Havens?
Right now we’re launching our refrigerated sauces in grocery stores. It’s super exciting because our mission is to support home cooking and these sauces will increase our ability to do that exponentially. We’re also growing our catering and wholesale businesses and building more brand partnerships.
What is your most vivid childhood food memory?
My mom used to make a spaghetti pancake with leftover noodles and cottage cheese. She would melt down the cottage cheese combined with torn little pieces of Swiss, then add in the spaghetti and get it super crispy on the outsides and gooey in the middle. It was 70’s heaven.
What will one find in the Haven’s Kitchen Cookbook?
The cookbook is an extension of the classes we teach in our carriage house. I wanted to help people new to cooking, or those in a cooking rut get back into the swing of being in the kitchen because they enjoy it, not because they feel obligated. We asked thousands of students why they liked or didn’t like cooking and it was super clear that the ones who felt confident in the kitchen enjoyed the process much more. So how can you teach someone confidence? You give them skills that carry through – not just recipes to follow mindlessly. Staying organized, good knife skills, understanding balance, and flavor, and composition – all of those concepts make you a stronger cook. But you need to teach those concepts through recipes or they’re just abstractions. So every recipe in the book is meant to teach something – one of those skills or techniques that will make all of your cooking better and give you confidence. Without confidence, there really can’t be joy. And nobody’s going to choose to cook if its not at least a little joyful.
What is a typical weeknight meal that you prepare at home?
I have a lot of kids, and we’re always inviting friends over, so I tend to make a few different vegetables, a few different ways, some sort of grain, a salad, and usually a “protein” like chicken, fish, tofu or red meat.
What does your typical weekday consist of?
I haven’t had a typical day in 5 years! But I do like to be at Haven’s as much as possible – so while the content may vary day to day – I’m pretty much always at work. I do make sure to have breakfast and dinner with my kids every day…it keeps us connected.
Can you list the 4 most seminal meals you have had thus far?
Rotisserie chicken in Switzerland when I was 10 made me a life long chicken lover.
My friend and I had a white pizza with crispy eggplant after a graduation party in 1990 that I will never forget.
My boyfriend made me a pasta aglio e olio when we were first dating that made me go from like to love.
I had the most buttery, delicious sushi last summer in Tokyo. Spoiled me forever.
Where are your favorite places to eat in New York City?
Anything Einat Admony touches – taim, balaboosta or bar bolonat
I love eating at the bar at I Sodi
The fluke at Loring Place is my new middle of the night craving
I love staff meal at Haven’s the best ☺
Haven's Kitchen is located at 109 W 17th St
Images via Haven's Kitchen