La Cocina’s 5th Annual Street Food Festival drew thousands of people to the Mission District over the weekend. The event showcased more than 90 vendors and featured cuisine from all corners of the world - from Italy to Nepal to Korea.
Founded in 2005, La Cocina is a non-profit incubator based in San Francisco that provides affordable commercial kitchen space and technical assistance to low-income and immigrant citizens who are launching or growing food businesses. The Street Food Festival is an extension of La Cocina’s charter and gives budding entrepreneurs in the food industry a platform to promote their businesses.
The daylong event brought together award winning chefs, like Stuart Brioza and Nicole Krasinski of State Bird Provisions and Thomas McNaughton of Central Kitchen and Flour + Water, who cooked alongside participants from La Cocina’s program. For Whole Foods Market's Local Forager winners, it was their public debut and for others it was their largest public stage.
All the participants had a story of what had fueled their culinary aspirations. For Fernay McPherson of Minnie Bell’s Soul Food Movement, her inspiration was family recipes. As such, her business is named after her grandmother and aunt. For Binita Pradhan of Bini's Kitchen, cooking is also a family affair. Her mother was the one time cook of the Nepalese royal family.
The average cost to start a restaurant is $750,000, which is a significant barrier to entry. La Cocina’s program celebrates culture and gender diversity and lifts up those who might otherwise get left behind. In 2012, it supported 39 businesses that generated $3.35M in revenue and created 110 jobs.
Entrepreneurship is core to the Bay Area, but too often it is looked at narrowly through the lens of technology. But innovation can stretch beyond just the latest gadget and can manifest itself into a dish that connects people with other parts of the world. And it is important to support these businesses too.
If you are interested in making a donation to La Cocina, visit its website. Check out my slideshow to see some of the dishes I sampled at the event.