Kate Moore of "Community Cooking with Kate" on reinventing the potluck
Seven years ago, Kate Moore decided she could no longer tolerate the Minnesotan tendency to hibernate over long winters. To combat isolation, she combined two of her favorite things -- community building and cooking -- and started what she considers a "modern, urban reinvention the potluck," otherwise known as Family Dinner Minneapolis. Every Monday, Moore comes up with a menu and sends a mass text to her regular Family Dinner guests, asking who plans to attend. When she hears back, she assigns each guest $6 worth of ingredients. Guests arrive with their ingredients at 7:30 p.m. and the 8-16 person group proceeds to cook, eat, and clean up the meal together.
Moore's culinary background is extensive. She started cooking at the age of nine, got her first restaurant gig at 17, graduated as valedictorian at the New England Culinary Institute, and spent six years training under Lucia Watson of Lucia's Restaurant.
Eventually, Moore left Lucia's to start teaching classes at co-ops, corporations, and homes under the name "Community Cooking with Kate." The business is flourishing, especially her corporate "Lunch & Learn" demos, and it's clear why: Kate is kind, enthusiastic, and a total culinary badass.
Hot Dish: Tell me about Community Cooking with Kate.
Kate Moore: For the past two almost three years, I've been fully self-employed doing culinary education. I do a personal "cook with confidence" thing [and] I also do corporate stuff. That's actually gaining a ton of popularity. People will do their health and wellness week and I'll come to their place of business and they'll set me up in like a boardroom and I'll do a little live demo. It's kind of like having a live cooking show in your space.
It's simple because I'm making it right there [with] my little satellite burners. But it also is a good point on how you can make this good stuff and you don't need rules and equipment and a big fancy kitchen. If you have water and fire and a pan and salt and pepper and some nice ingredients, you can make something really good.
What do you strive for as a teacher? My philosophy as a teacher is work with what you have, be empowered in your kitchen, be the boss of your kitchen. That's what I always say. I'm like 'Who's the boss of you kitchen?' and people are like 'chirp chirp' and then I'm like "YOU ARE!"
How did you get your start?
One time when I was moving, I found this old Frugal Gourmet cookbook. Inside [my mom wrote] "Happy 9th Birthday, Kate, I hope this is the first of many. Love, Mom. You're my precious sweet angel." She's from Texas. And that was 9. I started cooking then and got my first cooking job when I was maybe 17.
I worked at the Wedge for a lot of years in the back of the house, in their the prep kitchen and I also did some front of the house at the deli counter back in the day, and that's how I was earning money to go to culinary school. I went to culinary school at the New England Culinary School in Vermont and was valedictorian and it was awesome. I went to regular college briefly and flunked out spectacularly. If you're a possible burgeoning gay, don't go to a women's college because all you will do is make out and flunk all your classes. I learned a lot about myself.
What school was that?
Hollins University. I lasted maybe a year and a semester and flunked out with maybe four F's and a D and an A+ in lesbianism. Going back to school again was a big deal because my family was like "You can go to school one time and we'll help you, but if you fuck up, next time you're on your own." So I took it a little more seriously.
Leaving culinary school, I started as an intern for Lucia's. So apparently even if you graduate valedictorian in culinary school, I still started as like a number one potato peeler at Lucias as like this little baby intern and over the years worked my way up in the company. I spent my last four of the six years running the kitchen at Lucia's Bakery and To-Go and had an awesome experience there.
How did you get your own business off the ground?
I had taught some classes with Lucia while I was working there and I found myself really liking it. I really liked the performative nature of teaching. I'm a total attention whore. I love the camera, I love being in front of people, I love all eyes on me, so I knew that was gonna work out well.
Some of the qualities that make me a good teacher make me not as good of a boss all the time because I have some of these qualities of micromanagey-ness, which is not really what you want in a boss. That's a real hard personality trait to fight against, so why not channel my micromanagey-ness into a good avenue where everyone is new and fresh and eager all the time to learn and be micromanaged a little bit. I reached out to a few different places that I knew were starting to do some teaching. This sounds super corny, so excuse the cheese factor, but I really believe in my heart that if you are following your rainbow and doing the thing that you're really passionate about, the opportunities will present themselves. And it did -- one gig led to another gig. A lot of times it seems like there's an organic nature to these things.
Do you cater to people with food allergies?
Yes. If you're somebody that has a special food need, rather than being like "Oh let's make gluten-free bread and gluten free this" and all of these things that are supposed to have gluten and forcing them to be gluten free, I leave that stuff aside. That to me is like somebody giving me carob and calling it chocolate. I'm like, fuck you, that does not taste like chocolate. Let's not try to make gluten free bread where you're like why is this so dense and tastes like I'm eating sand? Instead, let's make some really kick-ass risotto which is going to be really satisfying and tasty and naturally gluten free. Or like, let's cook with quinoa.
Instead of making a pasta dish, lets think about the qualities that that dish has that you like and think about how we can translate that to something else. Let's say you have this orzo salad that you make all the time. If you're stepping back from that recipe and trying to look at it in broader brush strokes, what role does the orzo have in that salad? It's the starch and it also is the bulker because it has a lot of the body. So then I say, okay let's think about other things that are starchy and kind of bulk up whatever it is. So let's try making it with rice or let's try making it with potatoes or if you miss the sucking-up-ness of spaghetti, let's try spaghetti squash.
Tell us about Family Dinner. We've been doing it for six, maybe seven years now. It started as a response to the insular qualities of Minnesota winter and the hibernation syndrome that happens where you're like, "Okay bye everybody, see you never." I'm an extrovert and need a lot of community and my family does not live here. With lots of gay folks or other folks, maybe you don't feel super connected to your family of origin, so I was like bring the mountain to Mohammed.
This is like modern, urban reinvention of the potluck and that's why I like the not your mama's potluck. Instead of bringing a dish, I would assign people six dollars per person of just an ingredient. Every Monday, I send out a mass text message that says family dinner is on tonight. Whoever's gonna come texts me back and I'll just give them a little assignment for whatever we're going to have that day. I'll go down the list and assign out all the ingredients.
Like any old-fashioned family, everybody works together. If someone doesn't like to chop, they will be in charge of setting the table. It's a really fun kind of circus mentality. It's usually very simple, very healthy, usually organic. I'm cheap, so this is like lentil soup for an army.
I think one of the things that I really value about it is I think there a lot of lessons and skills you can develop at family dinner that you can use in the larger world, like delegation and boundary setting and asking for help. I mean, all of those are really good skill sets to have and it's nice to have a place you can practice them week after week.
What are your three favorite dishes to cook?
A Thai red curry with kale and sweet potatoes, braised meat of almost any kind, and I make a killer toasty garlic tomato kale. It's exactly what it sounds like. Put a fuckin' egg on there for protein and you're good to go.
Do you have a favorite snack food?
I make a party popcorn with Penzeys Northwoods Fire Seasoning. I get so bloated. Favorite dessert?
Either Haagen-Dazs coffee ice cream or a really simple dessert of flavored whipped cream and fresh berries with a shortbread cookie. Baileys on the rocks is probably one of my favorite desserts. It's like a drunk candy bar. Favorite music while you cook?
Beyonce. Lately the newest album. Favorite restaurant for the weekend?
Modern Times. Favorite fancy restaurant?
I'll go to Lucia's or La Belle Vie. Favorite fast food?
Paneda Tacos. It's inconveniently located across the street from the YWCA, so you're like, I worked out, I deserve a burrito. Favorite international cuisine?
Can I say pan-Asian? Sure. Do you have a favorite chef?
Okay, granted I'm possibly a little biased, but Lucia Watson.
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