La Cocina is a San Francisco-based nonprofit kitchen incubator for low-income food entrepreneurs. // Photo by Eric Wolfinger, courtesy La Cocina

Resy SpotlightSan Francisco

‘Everyone Has a Role to Play’: A National Storytelling Event Worth Tuning Into

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“Everyone has a role to play, a choice, in being able to shape what comes next,” says Aileen Suzara, chef-owner of Sariwa, a Filipino American pop-up and catering company in the Bay Area.

Suzara’s statement couldn’t be more timely, especially when we, both as a country and as individuals, are faced with making pivotal choices that will have lasting impacts on our immediate future. And in making those tough decisions, it’s absolutely crucial that we hear from voices like Suzara’s, and others who might not always get the spotlight otherwise.

Later this month, for the first time in its five-year history, you can watch one of the country’s most compelling food storytelling events — La Cocina’s “Voices From the Kitchen” — without having to travel to the San Francisco Bay Area. This year, it’s going virtual, available to stream on Oct. 29. The show has historically amplified lesser-heard stories and voices — something that’s especially poignant this year, considering this fall’s show theme, “Choices.”

“I can’t stress how much more powerful the food industry deserves to be, and how centered the women at La Cocina should be in any political movement,”  says Caleb Zigas, executive director of La Cocina, a San Francisco-based nonprofit kitchen incubator for low-income entrepreneurs. “Like with the independent restaurant work, we should be at that table, and their voices should be at the table. But they aren’t, really. So here’s a chance to hear those voices intimately. Broadly.” 

What’s always set “Voices From The Kitchen” apart is the caliber of its storytellers and this year is no different: Some are well-known artists like poet Lauren Whitehead, and writers Jia Tolentino (“Trick Mirror”) and Jennifer 8. Lee (“The Fortune Cookie Chronicles”). But many are people whom you may never have heard from otherwise, like Suzara, a graduate of La Cocina’s fall 2017 incubator class.

La Cocina’s biannual “Voices From the Kitchen” stage production, known for its compelling storytelling and for showcasing lesser-heard voices, is going virtual for the first time later this month. // Photo by Erin Ng, courtesy La Cocina

Suzara, for one, hopes people who watch the show will leave feeling restored: “I know a lot of people might be spending a lot of time online right now, whether for school or working remotely, but I think we are just in exceptionally difficult times, and to be able to tune into a space where we can share these kinds of stories could be a balm right now.” 

There’s a universality to the stories being told as well, says executive producer Bonnie Ross. “We tell these stories through the lens of food but it’s really about culture, people, relationships — it’s not just about the food itself. People relate to these kinds of stories and the event itself champions voices and stories often less heard.” 

In previous years,“Voices From the Kitchen” has been a live stage production, with an accompanying reception showcasing the foods of its women entrepreneurs. But, given the pandemic, organizers saw this 10th installment as an opportunity to widen its audience by releasing the hour-long show on YouTube, and bringing the experience home through meal kits delivered nationwide.

Throughout the pandemic, La Cocina has sold meal kits like this one. Viewers of “Voices From the Kitchen” can order a meal kit to enjoy while they watch the show later this month. // Photo Courtesy La Cocina

Viewing the show is free, but a $10 suggested donation per ticket is encouraged, as is purchasing curated meal kits from the chefs of La Cocina’s incubator program. Four kits are specific to the Bay Area but one kit, a snack box, can be shipped nationwide. All money raised goes toward La Cocina’s mission to help low-income food entrepreneurs grow their own businesses. Meal kits feature items like roasted habañero salt from Sal De Vida to sprinkle atop popcorn, or Vietnamese mushroom pâté from Noodle Girl

“Connecting our stories and their relationship to La Cocina is made solid when you have the food,” says Suzara. “It’s a beautiful way of making things practical and tangible.” La Cocina’s mission, she says, is “ultimately about food, but it’s also about believing in entrepreneurs to have a path around liberation and economic freedom.”

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You can purchase tickets and meal kits for “Voices From the Kitchen” here. For more information about the show, click here. The show will air on YouTube at 5:30 p.m. PT/8:30 p.m. ET on Thursday, Oct. 29.

Deanna Ting is a Resy staff writer. Follow her on Instagram and Twitter. Follow @Resy, too. 

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