Berkeley’s Kitchen on Fire Booms During Economic Bust

by Sarah Henry on May 27, 2011 · 16 comments

in berkeley bites,food businesses,sfgate site

Olivier Said (left) and MikeC, the Kitchen on Fire duo. Photos: Courtesy of KofF.

The two self-professed clowns behind Kitchen on Fire, who like to ham it up with kitchen utensils for the camera, are quite serious about their mission: they want to teach people to cook real food for themselves.

Chefs MikeC and Olivier Said launched the Gourmet Ghetto business in 2005, but it really took off during the economic downturn. That’s when a lot of folks realized they couldn’t afford to eat out as often as they wanted, and they set out to learn how to D.I.Y. dinner at home.

For those who lost their jobs, there was both a hunger and a need to learn their way around a kitchen; some hoped they might pick up skills that could lead to employment, and a cooking school seemed like a good place to do that.

Kitchen on Fire classes now regularly sell out. To meet the growing demand, this summer the kitchen classroom will expand to a second location in West Berkeley, which boasts an even bigger space.

The new kitchen will be housed in the Rocket Restaurant Resource supply store, where, last Sunday, Bay Wolf’s Louis Le Gassic and Corso Trattoria‘s Rodrigo Da Silva will battled it out in an Iron Chef culinary contest, part of a fundraiser for Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner.

Last week, I met with MikeC, 33, who lives in Central Berkeley, to find out what’s cooking at Kitchen on Fire.

































What’s in a name: both yours and the company’s?

That’s my real name, my parents were hippies, my siblings only have one name but I’m the only one with a capital “C”. Kitchen on Fire was the first name we came up with in English that Olivier could pronounce; if you know him you know he has a heavy Parisian accent.

Who takes your classes?

Everyone, we teach teens and seniors, and everything in between. Our couples classes are really popular. We teach slightly more women than men, but it’s close. We have a high lawyer conversion rate: People in their 30s and 40s who come in and want to follow their passion and become cooks. Our apprentice program draws people who want to test the waters in the culinary world.




















Kitchen on Fire does knife classes, cooking series, and specialty cooking classes. What else do you do?

We’ve done TV shows, including the “Hungry Bytes Show” and “Hippy Gourmet Show“, and; that’s the best medium for getting our message out to the masses. We’ve done instructional videos and we have a step-by-step technique book coming out in November, based on our 12-week basics series, with more books in the works.

We’re committed to helping a diverse group of people learn how to cook, so we’re strong on community service. To that end, we work with different populations.

Olivier is on the board of Cooking Matters [formerly Operation Frontline] and we’ve held classes for people who are low income or on food stamps; one of our assistants ran into a homeless person cooking on a grill in a park after that class, there’s something powerful about passing on that knowledge.

I work with St. Vincent de Paul in Alameda as part of their Kitchen of Champions program. That population has dealt with things like incarceration, rehab, abuse, they do an intensive professional culinary training program, which gives them job-placement skills.

And we work with the culinary academy over at Hercules High. I’m on the advisory board there — they had a need and we filled it.

We also do farmers’ market demos and mc events like the Spice of Life Festival.

Who else teaches at Kitchen on Fire?

Longtime Bay Area chef Chat Mingkwan teaches Asian cooking classes, cookbook author Jennie Schacht teaches farmers’ market desserts, and Richard Chapman, who used to run Sur La Table’s culinary program, is really versatile; he teaches everything from pastry to barbecue. And Kevin Hogan of The Spanish Table leads our San Francisco tapas tour.

How does your partnership with Olivier work?

We’re really different people and have different strengths, and we knew that going in and that’s why it works.  I’m all-American, more Rambo like, classically trained, and am very methodical. He’s European, artsy, more cavalier I guess. We delegate tasks between us; on our book I’m the writer and he’s the designer.

I gather you mostly cook, but when you do eat out, where do you go in town?

I like Sportivo, the new Italian sports bar downtown for pizzas and cannelloni, and they have a great cocktail list. Angeline’s for fried chicken. And 900 Grayson for their chicken and waffles.

This post originally appeared on Berkeleyside and was cross posted on SFGate.

You might also like:

Operation Frontline: Teaching the Needy to Cook
Farewell to Berkeley’s Frugal Foodies
Sprouts Cooking Club: Growing the Next Generation of Chefs

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{ 15 comments… read them below or add one }

Living Large May 27, 2011 at 11:57 am

OH, I would love to take a couples cooking class. That sounds like a lot of fun!


Sarah Henry May 27, 2011 at 12:22 pm

Any particular cuisine or techniques you’d want to learn, Living Large?


Melanie @ Frugal Kiwi May 27, 2011 at 12:03 pm

Great to see that some enterprises are booming with the economic down turn. These classes look like a lot of fun.
Melanie @ Frugal Kiwi´s last [type] ..A Curbside Hongi


Sarah Henry May 27, 2011 at 12:23 pm

I know what you mean, Melanie. Some enterprises actually do well during tough times.


Lisa { AuthenticSuburbanGourmet } May 27, 2011 at 12:12 pm

Great post! I have taken a class at Kitchen on Fire before and it is quite entertaining. Glad to see that they are growing!


Sarah Henry May 27, 2011 at 12:23 pm

Thanks for chiming in, Lisa. Curious to hear which class you took and whether you’ve incorporated anything you learned there into your own kitchen routine.


Alexandra May 27, 2011 at 12:44 pm

Love the name, Kitchen on Fire!
Alexandra´s last [type] ..Chez Svens Landscaping Gets Facelift


Sarah Henry May 28, 2011 at 2:02 pm

And it’s kind of funny, Sandy, why the pair picked that name for their business. I guess it’s easy for a Parisian to pronounce.


Sheryl May 27, 2011 at 5:50 pm

What a fun class this must be! I’d love to take the knife class; I’m sure there’s a lot to learn to help make cooking easier by using the correct techniques. Sounds like this would be fun to plan with a big group of friends, although I’d think by the end of the class, everyone would BE friends.


Sarah Henry May 28, 2011 at 2:05 pm

Good points, Sheryl. Apparently the knife class is the most popular. My kid is addicted to one of those Gordon Ramsay shows (I can never keep up with the names), but on one of them they critiqued the way prospective chefs chopped onions. It’s a skill for sure.


MyKidsEatSquid May 27, 2011 at 7:44 pm

They do look like they’d be fun to hang out with. I’m wondering what some of their specialties are?


Jennifer Margulis May 27, 2011 at 8:23 pm

I love this story! So inspiring. I’m glad people are taking these classes and learning to cook, and it’s great to see innovators doing well despite the economic crunch!


Merr May 28, 2011 at 4:33 pm

I love the idea of taking a cooking class that is FUN and with chefs/cooks that don’t take themselves so seriously. These peeps look like they make great food and have a ball. Love it.


Jane Boursaw May 30, 2011 at 8:40 am

I’m all about the fun, and these guys sound like they have a blast — and pass that along to everyone they meet. Life’s too short not to have fun!
Jane Boursaw´s last [type] ..Haley Reinhart and Tony Bennett at the American Idol Finale


Kris @ Attainable Sustainable May 30, 2011 at 4:19 pm

What a great idea – I can see why it would be successful in this economy and this food climate. Certainly, knowing how to cook great meals will cut down on the dining bills. And people are becoming more and more concerned about the food they eat – this would allow them to keep track of where each ingredient originated. Something that I’ve found difficult when dining out.
Kris @ Attainable Sustainable´s last [type] ..Hidden Treasure- Avocadoes


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