Alison Cayne wants home cooks to feel more confident in the kitchen. The N.Y.C.-based entrepreneur and founder of Haven’s Kitchen recognizes that this is no easy task—especially when it’s so simple to order takeout from an app.
That’s one of the biggest reasons she opened Haven’s Kitchen in Manhattan’s Chelsea neighborhood, a culinary school that eschews the typical “yes, chef, no, chef” mentality for a bit of freedom and creativity. Haven’s Kitchen is part cafe, part sustainable cooking school, a place where anyone can learn to cook—whether you’re uninitiated or have long felt comfortable in the kitchen. Students can learn how to make fresh pasta, master steak frites, or perfect their knife skills, all in a comforting, warm kitchen space.
“I called it Haven’s Kitchen because it should be a haven,” Ali says. “It should be safe and fun and you shouldn’t feel scared.”
Ali is well aware that there are plenty of people out there who aren’t looking to learn how to be a chef on the line. They’re more interested in being taught how to make dinner every once in a while. Perhaps they want to throw a party and impress friends with a platter of appetizers. Or maybe they’re simply tired of picking up cereal and milk from the corner bodega, preferring a home-cooked meal instead.
“In order for us to reach them, there has to be some confidence that we gain, and [you have] to let your guard down and feel like it’s OK to make some mistakes and not know what the hell you’re doing,” she says. “All of that has to feel OK in order for you to change the way you feel about the whole act of cooking.”
The Haven's Kitchen Cooking School, $14.59 on Amazon
It’s hardly an overnight process. But Ali hopes that with a little practice, even the most ignorant of cooks can walk away from Haven’s Kitchen with an arsenal of recipes—and a whole lot of confidence. Plus, there are far more benefits to cooking at home than the prospect of saving money.
“People have to know how to cook because it will make the world better, it will make your personal health better, it will bring your community together,” she says. “You’ll end up choosing things that are gentler on the environment and more sustainably grown.”
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Most recently, Ali has branched out from cooking classes to launch her first line of refrigerated sauces, aptly called Haven’s Kitchen sauces. The all-natural sauces run the gamut in flavors—from gingery miso to nutty lemongrass and chili harissa—packed into squeezable pouches that can be resealed after using. Aimed at making weeknight cooking a little less stressful, the sauces can be poured over chicken to marinate, whisked into eggs, or even mopped up by triangles of pita bread. They’re versatile, available for purchase in more than 300 locations, and above all, make cooking and shopping far from complicated. Ali likens the sauces to squeeze pouches that make you feel like you’re in preschool playing with finger paints—a decidedly DIY painting project, albeit one that is fully edible.
But the road to this successful juncture hasn’t always been easy, and Ali’s felt that deeply as a female entrepreneur. She’s dealt with the challenges of putting herself and her brand into the world—whether it’s dealing with customers, investors, or grocery store buyers.
“My generation was taught how to minimize ourselves to make everyone else comfortable. Don’t be too smart, don’t be too loud, don’t be too ‘fill in the blank,’” Ali says. “We’ve been conditioned to not talk positively about ourselves or what we’re offering, and getting out of that has been challenging.”
The food space is slowly picking up speed when it comes to women in the industry, Ali has found, but there’s still a lot of work to be done. A new generation of women is using their platform to speak out and make changes, and Ali hopes this shift will be long-lasting.
In the meantime, she’ll continue to inspire confidence, both in her brand and in the kitchen of the home cook.
“Once you shift the mentality that [cooking] isn’t going to be a chore,” Ali says, “that it’s going to be fun and something I actually might enjoy, all of a sudden it feels very doable.”
Header image by Haven's Kitchen.