A Wild Kitchen Fishing Trip

•July 30, 2011 • 1 Comment

This past weekend we did something a bit different for The Wild Kitchen. We usually collect all the food, cook it up, and tell diners about how we did it. This time we got some eaters in on the adventure, with a fishing trip in Half Moon Bay.

With guest chef Hank Shaw, we took 21 folks down to half moon bay for a day of fishing on a boat called the Huli Cat. Was a good day. Ocean fishing is something I don’t actually have that much experience with, but with Hank on board (a seasoned fisherman), we got along fine. We caught over 200 fish, most of which we cooked up for the next days Wild Kitchen. It was mostly a rock cod day (we made a rock cod bisque as well as as oil poached cod with corn and heirlooms), but we did hit a school of mackeral (which we filleted and pickled for some Saba), and a lucky few caught ling cod (I was one of the lucky ones, with a 12 lb ling cod). Overall it was a good and exhausting day, followed by several hours cleaning the fish we caught (not the best plan after waking up at 4:30am and fishing all day).  The dinners went great, and it was fun to have a guest chef in the mix to change things up a bit. Check out the pics below, and hope to see you all at the next Wild Kitchen.

Thanks

Iso

photos by Andria Lo and Ramin Rahimian

Our Vendors # 2: Sidesaddle Kitchen and Ahram Namu Kimchi

•July 6, 2011 • Leave a Comment

Note: We usually post at foragesf.com/blog, so to see all our posts, follow us there as well. Thanks.

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!

A forageSF Kitchen : First Steps

•June 29, 2011 • 3 Comments

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 ally/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

Lessons Learned from A Year of Underground Markets

•January 2, 2011 • 3 Comments

 

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A year has passed since the first SF Underground Market.  In one year we moved from a small house in the Mission to various warehouses, and eventually to a 17,000 sq ft. event space called SomArts.  We started out with a list of 7 vendors to over 500, from attendance of 150 to well over 2,500.  The idea has spread, and now there are markets in Boise Idaho, Amsterdam, London, Colorado, Marin, and right here in SF.  Many of our vendors have gone from being people with passion, cooking for their friends on the weekends, to full time Artisan producers, selling at stores and farmers markets throughout the area.  The market has morphed from a one off event into a semi-monthly vendor incubator.

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One year ago we threw the first SF Underground Market, in a small house on Bryant St.  Despite being paid a visit by the health department, the market was a success (read my post about that here).  Throughout the year I’ve found that there are an abundance of home cooks out there producing amazing food.  People with the skills to go pro, the problem is a lot of people don’t think they can. For whatever reason; financial, emotional, they don’t do it.   There are many hurdles to getting into traditional markets. Putting yourself on a waiting list for a vendor spot at a farmers market (often a year waiting list, and you need to already be producing to get on the waiting list), then investing $2,000 to make a batch of jam that you’re not sure will sell, and then trying to make a profit, all the while using organic ingredients, and this all on a salary that is probably just covering your expenses while working a full time job, makes this a tough proposition.  Again, a lot of people do it.  But I believe it doesn’t have to be that way, and it seems others agree.

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We certainly hit a vein of some sort.  People love making stuff; be it “Bacon Chocolate Crack” (Nosh This), Vietnamese Crepes (Little Knock), or Jalapeno Jam (Inna Jam).  And perhaps just as important, people like to eat what their neighbors are making. Instead of picking it up at Whole Foods, you get to talk to the producer, and learn through them how your food was produced.100807a_001.jpg

What is most interesting about the wares at the market is not so much what they are, but how they were made. They were created by a person, rather then a machine-assisted assembly line.  This is often a single person that decided that instead of having a Desperate Housewives marathon, they would get off the couch and make the thing they have been wanting to make for years. The market is a room full of inspiration.  Many of the vendors we have were first attendees who were then inspired by what they saw and decided they could do it too. This is the point of the market. The sales are good. People need to pay the rent, but more importantly, people need to be shown that they can do the thing they’ve always wanted to do. Be it making pickles, roasting whole pigs, making homemade kimchi hotdogs, or Vietnamese crepes.  It is most inspiring to see such a wide range of people become vendors.

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The past year has been full of lessons, such as the finer points of room capacity, how to deal with long lines, trash separation, and what pulling 100,000 watts of electricity looks like.  I have learned that you can in fact have too many cupcakes, and that pork belly buns, although delicious and popular, don’t turn a profit.  I have learned that people don’t really want to carry home bags full of jam while drinking at 10pm (hence the day market), and that if you roast a whole pig, people will come.

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It has been a surprisingly good year.  We grew something out of nothing. In the next year we will be focusing more on the incubator aspect of the market. We are working on providing more vendor support, by organizing a group of professionals that will help the vendors figure out what it means to really be in business; from logo and website design to legal and financial help.

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The market is not a destination for an established business, but a stepping stone to realizing one’s passions and potentials, while providing the opportunities and tools to do it.  I’ve recently realized that up until now, most vendors have had to figure out what it means to start a food business from the ground up on their own, and I would like to change that.  Most businesses are started without the support they need to succeed.  What the Underground Market means to be is a community of people helping each other to change that.

If you’re reading this, you are probably involved in the market in some way, as a customer or a vendor. We’d love to hear about your experiences with the market. What’s good about the market and what would you like to see happen?

Iso Rabins 1/1/2011

photos by Robin Jolin

Wild Nori Aioli and Cezanne

•December 21, 2010 • 2 Comments


My girlfriend Valerie and I just got back from a month long trip to Europe – a land of delicious cheese and keyboards that make typing an inconceivable chore (I mean really, who would design a keyboard where you have to hit alt, command, shift, and 4 to get an @ symbol?).  But, despite their lack of tech design genius (or perhaps in spite of it), I had a great time.

  • Climbed Sainte-Victoire, the 3,000 ft. mountain that inspired Cezanne for three hours hours one foggy night. White glistening rocks, 500 ft. drop-offs, and heavy packs illuminated by head lamps.  At one point we tied ourselves together with a scarf just in case one of us was to fall.  It was worth it to camp in a church at the top of the mountain;  to drink, play music, and cook raclette in the fireplace.
  • Rented the most French apartment I’ve ever seen, complete with a tiny kitchen and the full works of Edith Piaf.
  • Ran from tear gas in Lyon as French students fought with the riot police.  It exposed us to the French peoples’ distaste for work (the retirement age was recently pushed from 60 to 62, spurring riots that shut down highways, gas stations, airports, and trains).
  • Slept in the 2 ft.wide-wide hallway of an overnight train to Alba, Italy, waking up alternately by gesticulating Genovese and grandmothers that seemed to have packed for the apocalypse.
  • Bought our first true European truffle, and tried it on everything from mac and cheese to pizza to omelettes to pasta with béchamel (which I liked so much that I made it at the last Underground Market).
  • Stood under the Eiffel Tower as it began to flash, and realized how much it seems like a spaceship from that angle.
  • Harvested olives in Tuscany until I caught the flu, and walked leisurely like old people through the streets of Tarquenia, stopping at each shop to admire the full legs of procuitto.  It was amazing to see them hand slice that stuff, pure artists).

The one thing I didn’t do was update my blog, but I did write (on real paper no less) and will try to post some of it here very soon. For now, I’m happy to be back and getting into the swing of things again.

The first order of duty was to organize two Wild Kitchen dinners, each featuring nine of my favorites dishes from Europe, with a forageSF twist.  One of my favorite courses of the night was soup de poisson avec aioli maison de nori sauvage.  This dish was inspired by a meal we had in Cassis (a small town in the south of France, from which the crème de’ gets its name).  It was exactly what I’d been looking for since I got to Europe:  a good meal, perfectly cooked, served simply.

Soupe de poisson is essentially a very flavorful fish stock, served with crostini, spicy aioli, and cheese.  The secret is to get an intense rich flavor of seafood and spice.  Rather than being “fishy,” it was more of round and full profile.  I first imagined was just a reduction of fish stock, with the flavor concentrated by long cooking, but as we worked we discovered it needed more to get it just right.

First we experimented with a simple fish stock, which is nothing more than halibut bones, garlic, carrot, onion, celery, and bay leaf.  After cooking for an hour we reduced the liquid by more than half.  This gave us a good flavor, but it wasn’t what I was looking for.  It tasted like fish, but didn’t have that same richness.  We finally found it by adding reduced chicken stock, brandy, oyster liquor and crab “goodies.” If you don’t have those, the stock will still be good, but the fullness they add to the flavor is worth the extra work.

To top it off I made an aioli of wild nori and Sriracha.  Nori is a seaweed I collect locally; its similar to the seaweed used to wrap sushi and our local variety grows abundantly up and down the coast.  We put the aioli on crostini, added a side of mozzarella cheese, and that was it.  A really simple course that was the most popular dish of the night.

Wild Nori Aioli

If you’ve ever made aioli before, it’s the same process, but with addition of chopped nori and Sriracha towards the end. The nori really gives a great layer to the flavor and eating seaweed always makes me feel good. I used nori that I collected during the mid summer when it’s at its peak, and preserved it by cleaning and drying it out. You should try your hand at it too, nori is a great thing to have around to put in soups, and in this case, aioli.

-2 egg yolks

-1 qt. blend oil (a blend of olive and canola) or canola oil

(Pure olive oil has too strong of a taste for aioli.)

-Sriracha hot sauce

-2 cups dried nori (preferably foraged yourself, because its so fun, but don’t feel bad about buying pre-made sheets)

-1/2 clove garlic

-2 tsp. Dijon mustard

-4 tbsp. lemon juice

-Salt/pepper to taste

  1. Pulse eggs, minced garlic, and lemon juice in food processor.
  2. Add the oil, a drop at a time until you have an emulsion, and then add the rest of your oil in a slow but steady stream. You know you’re done when your aioli ceases to be liquid eggs, and thickens to become lovely silky mayo.
  3. Add  nori, and Sriracha, and pulse to incorporate.  Aioli is really a matter of personal taste, so if you feel it’s too thick, add a drop or two of water, not sharp enough, add some more lemon, and of course salt and pepper to taste…feel free to experiment.

Simple Fish Soup

This is essentially a really rich fish stock, and goes amazingly well with the spicy aioli. And it’s a fun dish to serve and eat: first, you bring out three bowls containing the crostini, aioli, and cheese as well as the pot of the fish stock. Spread aioli on top of three crostini and sprinkle some cheese on top. Lay these pieces in a bowl and ladle fish stock over it until it slightly covers the bread, then eat by spooning the soaked bread in your mouth. Bon appétit!

-5 lb. halibut bones (or other non-oily white fish such as haddock, hake, or sole). Have your fish guy cut them into pieces about the size of your hand.

-1 lb. carrot

-1 lb. celery

-2 lb. onion

-1/2 lb. fennel

-1/2 cup soy sauce

-1 1/2 cups white wine

-1/2 cup brandy

-2 gal chicken stock

-1 bay leaf

-Salt and pepper to taste

- 3 tbsp crab “goodies” (brains and organs from inside a cooked crab)

-1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese

  1. Add fish bones to a oiled stockpot over medium high, cook about 15 minutes until caramelized.
  2. Add rough chopped veggies, brandy, wine, chicken stock, bay leaf, and soy and bring to a boil.
  3. Turn down to a simmer as soon as it boils and cook on low heat for 4 hours.
  4. You’ll know its done when you taste the rich flavors of the stocks coming together. Strain everything through a cheesecloth lined strainer.
  5. Return the soup to the pot and cook it over medium-high heat until it has reduced by half, about an hour.
  6. Serve with sides of crostini, aioli, and mozzarella cheese. You can’t miss with these flavors.

So the trip was great! We ate good food, met good people, and had some adventures, but it’s nice to be back.

Iso

Recipes by Iso Rabins and Jordan Grosser

photos by Valerie Luu

Check out my new blog site at foragesf.com/blog

•July 27, 2010 • 2 Comments

Hey all

Thanks for following/reading my blog, gives me the warm and fuzzies as the English would say (actually I have no idea if they say that). I don’t really post here anymore, so come check me out at foragesf.com/blog. See you soon.

Thanks

Iso

Should the SF Underground Market be bigger?

•June 15, 2010 • 6 Comments

Note: After this post, my blog will move. Come check it out at foragesf.com/blog. Thanks for reading!

The first and most obvious answer to this question is yes.  If one throws an event that draws more people than your space can fit, you move up. Bigger is of course better, and in all things, we want to be as big as we can get. Right? I’m not so sure.

It’s a question I get a lot. People tell me that we need a bigger space, and the running joke seems to be that we should move it to the Cow Palace. Its definitely something we think about not the Cow Palace – when I see the hour and half wait to get in, get angry emails from customers  (actually just got my first one a couple days ago), and patiently explain to vendors for the 20th time that in fact we can’t let anyone else in at the moment, lest we all die fiery deaths as martyrs for the local food movement (translation: we’ve reached fire code capacity).

We’ve done our best to make the market accessible to as many people as possible.  We started this past December in a small Victorian in the Mission (seven vendors and 150 customers), and moved to a warehouse on Capp St. (30 vendors and 700 customers)— both still not big enough.  When we approached SomArts I thought that was it. There was no way we could overfill that space. This of course hasn’t proven true.

The space we have now, SomArts, is in the range of 5000  feet. That’s 35ft wide, and 144 feet long. It’s a large space by any measure.

We pay several thousand dollars to rent SomArts for a night and by SF standards, that’s very cheap. The next space up in size is about $10,000. That’s before shelling out for a cleaning staff, security, insurance, alcohol license, the band, equipment, and all the other less obvious costs that go into creating an event for 2,000 people.  I don’t say this to complain, but to set the stage for a fact: If we got a bigger space, we would be forced to raise the vendor fees. As it is, the vendor fees don’t cover the cost of the space, which is why you paid $2 to get in this month. In May, we lost money on the market because the event was free. We don’t need to make a killing, but a market that loses money every month will not be around very long.

“But wait,” you say, “a bigger space would mean more people, more people equals more money, so no need to charge the vendors more.” Not necessarily. A larger space would definitely let more people enter at the same time, but the number of people coming in would not be guaranteed to go up by the amount we would need to make it worth the costs.

The current vendor fee is $50, a very low bar for entry into a commercial sales space like ours, but for some of our vendors it’s a stretch to pay that cost. Our vendors are making products that they are passionate about, but are also very expensive to produce. The profit margins are already slim, and it wouldn’t feel right to charge the $100-$300 per stall that a larger space would require.

I like the size it is. The market feels more like a big party, rather than a vast trade show. I like that we can fit upwards of 40 vendors inside and still have room for a couple hundred people, while at the same time being able to see the whole space in one sweep.

I like SomArts. We have a good deal of freedom at SomArts and the people who work there. They are very supportive of our ideas, and seem to genuinely want to make things work for us. No one working on the market has much professional event organizing experience; there are a million random things to think about when planning a market, so getting some help along the way is key. A larger commercial space probably would not offer that kind of support.

I like the idea that in creating a market for the SF food community to come to together, we are at the same time supporting a venerable SF non-profit event and art space. A space that hosts the kind of events that make SF what it is. They go out of their way to court and support burgeoning orgs (like ours) that would otherwise not be able to afford such a professional space, and for that they deserve our support. Every person that walks through their door helps them to get funding from grants as well as the city, so 2,000 people coming through each month at our market gives them some real leverage.

People do have to wait. I don’t feel good about it (although most people I talk to seem pretty happy with the whole experience, meeting fellow food obsessives in line is always fun). It’s great that people come out to show so much support, and ideally we wouldn’t make them wait so long to show that support.  Note: If you want to miss the lines, come during the day next month, there will be tons of room.

Next months SF Underground Market will again be at SomArts on July 24th(this time on a weekend!).  Although there is often a wait at night (hint: for a more relaxed time, come during the day).  I want to say that I really do appreciate that people wait as long as they do. That kind of support shows the vendors that there is a market for what they make, and encourages them to keep getting better at what they do.  I do believe that bigger is not always better, and there is a really intimate vibe now that I feel like we may lose if we expand. This doesn’t mean it will always be there, but for the time being we’re staying put.  Let me know what you think. You think we should move? Did you see anything at the last market that needs changing? Thanks for reading, and thanks for coming, see you all next month!

Thanks,

Iso

photo by Robin Jolin: robinjolin.com

 
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