Have you ever called your friends to join you for dinner at home? Have you dined with friends in restaurants, highlighting your night with laughter and close friendship? If you could nod your head, yes, to these two situations, then you have experienced first-hand how community is built around the dinner table. The foundation to many special events and festivals in human culture is the food that we share together. Community Kitchens Northwest, a movement that started in 2007, seeks to learn, cook, and support and save money, have fun, and promote good health. A new addition to the Community Kitchens community is right here, in the Pike Place Market. The Downtown Community Kitchen is hosted by Chef Ryan Miller, and the Kitchen is coordinated by Public Health Nurse Diana Vinh.

Diana Vinh founded the Community Kitchens in the Rainier Community Center. She was inspired by the Fresh Choice Kitchens in Vancouver, BC, and she writes that she understands the challenges of providing healthy meals. About the program, she says, “The goal is to have people eat more at home, learn new skills, eat healthier foods and make new friends.” This passion is very evident, and the program expects to grow over time and by word of mouth.

Chef Ryan is a graduate of the prestigious California Culinary Academy, which is a certified program through Le Cordon Bleu. He also has a Bachelor’s in Creative Writing and Poetry from UC Davis. His vision for creating and impacting a community with his culinary arts skills went beyond the high class restaurant, and he wanted to do his part in improving the food community and the overall health of our city. I sat down with Chef Ryan at Seattle Coffee Works, where he spends his daylight hours creating micro-roasted coffee.

The first thing you will notice about Chef Ryan is his unassuming attitude and his humility. Whenever I would ask about his achievements or his culinary strengths, he would turn the answer into a pledge to use his talents for his community. He didn’t want to be a fine dining chef where he would spend 10 hours cooking for just 40 people, laboring over “intricately prepared dishes, using premium ingredients, for wealthy people who have particular palates” when he could spend those same 10 hours teaching hundreds of people basic cooking skills, making the kitchen, and thus the supermarket, much more accessible to them. Chef Ryan is inspired by Chef Jamie Oliver’s recent Food Revolution series, which is the prime-time example of his mission: Teach people to cook, feed them nourishing meals that promote health not illness, and watch our healthcare concerns come under control.

Chef Ryan does not pridefully talk about the amazing and gourmet recipes he plans to teach. Rather, he describes the desire to instill confidence in his class attendees by teaching them techniques. He wants to take them through the Pike Place Market, introduce them to local vendors, teach them how to select produce, and show them the many meals that can be created from humble, nutritious produce. He is also quick to mention not to skip the Seconds Bins that most vendors have. The fruits and vegetables in those bins are a bit less pretty than the ones displayed, but the foods are just as healthy. In fact, some of the bruising and softness that they have are due to ripeness and susceptibility to damage during shipment. They could even taste sweeter than the less ripe, prettier produce.

March was the kick-off of the Downtown Community Kitchen. Chef Ryan taught his students to make a vegetable soup, braised chicken with greens and carrots, tomato olive sauce, hummus, and Diana’s fruit crisp. Rather than planning a lofty meal and searching for ingredients in the Market, he allows the produce to dictate what he makes. He walks through the Market a few days before the Kitchen night and checks out items that are in season. From that preview, he develops his menu and purchase ingredients. The items and skills taught in the class will vary each month.

If you would like to attend a Downtown Community Kitchen, contact Diana Vinh at diana.vinh@kingcounty.gov. You can also check their new website, http://www.communitykitchensnw.com/ . The Community Kitchen meets the 3rd Thursday of each month at the Pike Place Market Senior Center from 4:30 to 6:30. The next classes are July 15th and August 19th. The Senior Center is open for membership, donations, and volunteer service.  Contact Diane Carmel at 206-728-2773 Ext 109 for details.