What if you could turn your passion for food into a reliable source of income? I’m not talking about a risky venture like opening a new restaurant, but rather offering food “experiences” through which you share your perspective and skills with hands-on activities for guests.
Five years ago, I quit my high school teaching job to become a full-time food experience entrepreneur. Within two years, the independent cooking school I created, Kaori’s Kitchen, would supply my entire income and employ a family member. At the time, I didn’t realize I was part of a new and growing industry made possible by the wide reach of online posting sites.
My personal food passions grew out of my Japanese heritage and interests in home cooking. As an undergraduate at UC Berkeley, I cooked a lot with friends while broadening my palate on the wide variety of inspiring foods available in the surrounding community. When I moved with my husband to Columbus, Ohio, in 2013 and started a job as a high school English teacher, I soon found the long hours and stress of that work environment to be wearing, and I craved the chance to explore new projects and ideas of my own design. I signed up for an internship at a local cooking school called The Seasoned Farmhouse, and it was there that I began teaching cooking classes based on my knowledge and skills in Japanese home cooking.
When we moved back to California in 2016, I decided to take a shot at creating my own cooking school. I offered classes at private schools and local community centers and posted on platforms like verlocal.com and meetup.com. But what niche could I fill? I thought about the enjoyment my mother and I share making mochi, which at the time was becoming quite popular in the Bay Area. Who else was making this Japanese rice-flour confection at home? We posted our 5-Course Mochi Experience on several platforms, and it took off. The class continues to be the mainstay for Kaori’s Kitchen. Find it on Airbnb Experiences, our main booking platform, and at kaoriskitchen.com.
From Bagels to Vegan Cuisine
Mine is but one example of how a passion for food can be nurtured into a small, independent business. Consider Laurie Leiber, who holds her “Bake Your Own Amazing Bagels” classes in her Berkeley home kitchen via Airbnb Experiences. Her guests learn the art of making the perfect bagel as they become versed in bagel history and lore. The class covers every step in the process of making naturally fermented bagels: feeding the starter; making, shaping, and boiling the dough; finishing the bagels with a choice of seeds; baking them; and, of course, eating the best bagel a person has ever tasted, slathered with Leiber’s spreads, including a delicious homemade tuna topping.
Leiber explains her success and positive ratings: “I try to make it personal in that I am sharing my love of baking and the secrets of baking a really good bagel. I’m not a professional baker; I’m an avid home cook. I include all the little tricks I’ve learned after years of making bagels, the tools that really help, the technique that matters. I also try to explain why I do things the way I do. I tell lots of stories.”
Another successful food-experience entrepreneur is Oakland-based chef Philip Gelb, who runs dinner parties and cooking classes that feature made-from-scratch vegan foods from various ethnicities. Gelb is a musician as well as a cook, so he also invites musician friends to perform during special dinners. His space is small and intimate, and his guests often make new friends as they enjoy his eye-opening, mouth-watering menus. As of this writing, Chef Philip has 1799 positive reviews on chefsfeed.com, a platform for posting cooking classes as well as dining experiences. For classes and catering, contact him at soundandsavor.com.
Gelb explains how he discovered his niche: “I can only teach what I think I have learned a great deal about, and that is vegan cuisine from many parts of the world, such as Trinidad, Jamaica, Sichuan province, Japan, Thailand, [the] Middle East, and Eastern Europe.”
I agree with Gelb that to be a successful food experience host, you need to rely on skills and passions you have already developed.
The Benefits to Being a Crazy Mochi Lady
When you launch a food experience business, the financial and personal risks are minimal. You might want to upgrade your equipment, and you may need to print up some menus and instructions, but your venue could be free if you hold events outdoors in a park, in your own home, or at a client’s house. There is little risk of burnout because you can create a flexible schedule for yourself, and you don’t have to stick with the same type of food experience every time. You can teach cooking classes, host dining experiences, do food tastings, take people on food tours in your neighborhood, and more.
Finally, hosting food experiences can be a way to build a personal legacy. Three years ago, if you’d told me I was going to host the only mochi-making class in the Bay Area, I wouldn’t have believed it. Kaori’s Kitchen mochi classes are now in such high demand that I drafted my mother to join me. Guests flock to our mochi-making experience every weekend. I’ve become the Crazy Mochi Lady, and my life has become better for it. I’ve created a source of income for myself and for my mother. Hosting this experience has opened doors. It’s allowed me to write a mochi cookbook, run team-building cooking lessons for companies like Google, Facebook, and LinkedIn, and take on paid speaking opportunities. By becoming a food experience entrepreneur, I’ve created a platform for my own growth and impact in the world.
*This story comes to us from Edible East Bay.