As the season heats up and farmers’ markets everywhere suddenly have heaping piles of crisp, rainbow hued salad ingredients to offer, I needed a little jump start to get me thinking about new combinations and uses for all those spicy greens and plump beans. So when I ran across an article about Haven’s Kitchen in the NY TIMES a few weeks back, I promptly registered for a class there, called ”All Sorts of Salad”.
I arrived at the Union Square Greenmarket by 9 AM, with plenty of time to amble slowly, taking pics and admiring the tight stacks of carrots and radishes, bending low to inhale the sweetness rising from bright fuschia strawberries. Walking through the market on the way to Haven’s Kitchen, conveniently located just west of the square, was the perfect prelude to the cooking event.
Most of the ingredients piled on the prep tables for the class had been sourced from there just an hour before the class started at 10 AM. Talk about farm to kitchen. This is the way to do it , folks. And the title, “ All Sorts of Salads”, was cleverly ambiguous since the market’s offerings can never be perfectly anticipated.
Haven’s Kitchen is the brain child of Alison Cayne Schneider, who opened this airy cafe, specialty shop, recreational cooking school and event space in a 25 foot-wide carriage house only 7 months ago. The carefully curated cafe menu, smooth concrete floors, open and flexible spaces soaring three stories high, lend a cool and welcoming vibe.
Straight through the small cafe in the front, are glass doors revealing the classroom kitchen. Nine lucky attendees donned aprons, gratefully sipped on expertly brewed coffee and directed our attention to the school’s head instructor, Ashton Keefe.
At 26, Keefe looks more like a very mature and poised teenager than a highly trained chef but her perfect command of four work-stations and three assistants quickly revealed her expertise (she’s a proud grad of the French Culinary Institute) and sunny disposition.
Haven’s Kitchen is meant to teach home cooks how to respond to the season’s offerings by being flexible and at ease without leaning on recipes. Instead of compulsively following worksheets (they were e-mailed to participants the following day), Keefe divided up piles of plump sugar snap peas, a couple of variety of waxy heirloom potatoes, bundles of romaine lettuce and moved easily from station to station giving easy to follow instructions on slicing and chopping while answering all questions with grace and calm.
Keefe gave useful tips and advice ranging from how to macerate shallots to how to toast farro. Plenty of discussion revolved around making aioli and green goddess dressing as the amicable group of new friends gathered around one of the four gleaming work tables. We peering into bowls, checking the consistency of the emulsions after oil was drizzled and whirred, stripped herbs from their woody stems, and talked about the many uses for microplanes (best to keep a separate one for raw garlic).
I love that Haven’s Kitchen sources ingredients from their neighborhood greenmarket. Bigger flavors, happier and more solvent farmers, building community while eating seasonally is what it’s all about. AND, It’s rare to see a kitchen that composts in NYC but they do, and they make it look easy.
Havens Kitchen is walking the talk and it comes through loud and clear.
And at the end of our morning of chopping, tearing, simmering and dicing together, we gathered around a long farm table at one end of the kitchen and helped ourselves to the fruits (OK, greens) of our labor along with a well deserved goblet of crisp, chilled rose. Those of us who remembered, packed up left-overs in containers we had been encouraged to bring from home.
How’s that for thoughtful?
Chef Ashton Keefe wrote the recipes she prepared with us. Here’s what we made:
Grilled Romaine with Green Goddess Dressing
Warm Potato salad with Capers and Spring Onions
Toasted Farro Salad with Spring Vegetables
Arugula, Cherries and Shaved Asparagus Salad.
Check back next week when I’ll be sharing the recipe for one of these summery delights. Let me know if there is one in particular that you want to see. Leave comments below.
Haven’s Kitchen is at 109 W. 17th Street, NYC
Cafe hours: M-F 8 AM- 7 PM; Sa 10 AM- 7 PM
The next “All Sorts of Salad” class will be offered on August 7.
For a complete listing of upcoming classes, supper club events and parties click here.
For vegetarian and kosher friendly classes, read detailed descriptions carefully or submit your questions via Haven’s Kitchen‘s website here.