Project Grantee Kate Zaidan connects people through soup and delicious dishes with her project Stir. On the last Monday of each month, you can join Kate in Findlay Kitchen from 6pm–9pm as she leads this themed cooking class with some serious pizzazz. When she’s not working on Stir, you can find her in Findlay Market leading the operations at Dean’s Mediterranean Imports, a Mediterranean market started by her father. What’s her inspiration? Find out below.
What inspired you to start Stir?
Stir is just one of many ideas I had to use food as a bridge to deal with complex social issues and problems. I was inspired by my family's shop in Findlay Market. I am constantly amazed at how disarming food can be–– I see it at my counter, where people from all walks of life are connecting over recipes and sharing their tips and tricks in the kitchen.
Food is empowering! It's an expression of who we are and what we care about. Almost everyone has some connection with food, even if you hate cooking. I wanted to have a space where people could strut their stuff in the kitchen. The classes are a combination of teaching, learning and storytelling.
Stir was also born out of both a passion and a concern for the Findlay Market Community. We are in this fantastic period of growth and change in Cincinnati, especially in OTR; but I worry that development without intention and attention from all of us stands to flatten the depth and character of this awesome public space. Cincinnati really has something special with the Market, and I believe it is up to all the staff, merchants, shoppers and neighbors to ensure that the diversity and the vibrancy of the Market is preserved.
How did you choose the themes for each month?
It was difficult! I'm a naturally curious person; and I went with the ideas I was personally curious about, hoping others would feel the same. There was a big narrowing down process. I had initially wanted to do a class every other week, and I have a list of about a dozen more I want to do.
I also tried to think of themes that would really draw a mix of people. The first class, Migration and Immigration in Cincinnati, was such a hoot! Six women from the Donschawaben Germania Society made strudel and tortillas alongside the Guatemalan and Honduran members of the Interfaith Workers Center. It was exactly what I was going for.
What has been the most exciting or unexpected thing that's come from Stir?
First, I love watching people light up when you ask them to cook for a crowd. A lot of the folks who have given presentations at Stir Classes are not professionals, but all of them are incredibly skilled and capable in the kitchen. It is so wonderful to be able to offer them a platform, and I feel lucky to learn from them.
Second, I am working with a truly excellent production company Afrochine Productions; and through their guidance and storytelling prowess, we've shot some really amazing works of art and culture. We will have documentation of 20–30 truly amazing food stories from our city. Our challenge now is to help people watch them.
What is your background in cooking?
I grew up in my Dad's business in Findlay Market. It started out as a traditionally Lebanese store, but in the mid 90's, my dad started to become enamored by other gourmet and specialty items. We started to carry lovely jams and marmalades. I have this memory of Droste Cocoa always in our home. Food has been a big part of my life from the get go.
I moved away from Cincinnati and did a ten year stint in Philadelphia working for environmental and social non-profits. I loved the work, but I hated having a desk job. I would spend my lunch breaks in Reading Terminal Market drinking in the smells. I started a food blog and made plans to start a hummus business. Life intervened and my dad fell ill, so I came back to Cincinnati to run his shop. Thankfully, he is here and well; and now I get to learn how to run a hummus business from the master.
If you weren't doing this, what is something you'd really love to do?
In my dream world, I would be doing exactly what I'm doing but with more time and more money. Balancing it all has been hard work, and I wish I had more time and resources to make all my ideas come to life.
What's your favorite dish to make and why?
That is nearly an impossible question. There are so many, and I have so many more to learn! One of my favorite things to do is make elegant salads with fruits and cheese and nuts. I finally had a free evening the other day to snip all the lettuce and dinosaur kale in my garden, and I tossed them with bing cherries from Catenzero, white currants that I grew myself, sorrel from Farm Beech Bethel and fresh pistachios and goat cheese from our store. I am a Northsider; so naturally, I topped it off with soft serve from Putz's.
Any anecdotes from Stir that you'd like to share?
All of the speakers have been so memorable and full of character. We sing, smile and laugh. The classes are always just such lovely experiences, and everyone leaves feeling good. It makes me so happy. I can't chose one!
You can catch Kate’s final three summer Stir events on July 2, July 31 and August 28.
Find out more about what’s cooking here.