Heena Patel, owner and chef of Besharam in the city
Please Note: Updated program participants and tasting components apply.
Can a food truck be a symbol of social justice? What happens when natural entrepreneurs are provided the right resources and hands-on technical assistance? The answers can be found in the successes of La Cocina, a nonprofit small-business incubator in the Mission District of San Francisco that is turning home cooks into businesswomen.
The emerging food-industry professionals of La Cocina—working-class, primarily immigrant women and women of color—are building self-sufficient enterprises that benefit themselves, their families, their community, and the whole city. For example, Heena Patel joined La Cocina with a vision for her mobile food and catering business that combined California ingredients with her native Indian techniques.
Now, as an alumna of La Cocina, she is the owner and chef of Besharam in San Francisco. Patel named her restaurant after the Gujarati word meaning “to be shameless,” because she shamelessly pursued her own dream and hopes to inspire all women to be besharam in everything they do.
Patel and La Cocina’s executive director Caleb Zigas join Joe Yonan, Washington Post food and dining editor, to discuss their experiences with the incubator program, the important opportunities it provides to participants, and La Cocina’s new cookbook that collects the personal stories and recipes of more than 50 of its sucessful entrepreneurs.
They also talk about the deliciously wide range of cuisines that are spotlighted in the food products, restaurants, food trucks, and food-stall concepts that the organization supports. Though they are diverse and the flavors are global, there’s a vital connection among these culinary traditions: They all celebrate the power of food to bring people together.
Linger after the program for a sampling of Patel’s sev puri and a signing of We Are La Cocina: Recipes in Pursuit of the American Dream (Chronicle Books), which is available for sale.