Three years ago in a small ceremony in West Auckland’s Henderson, The Kitchen Project had its first official introduction to the world. Run by the vivacious, determined and incredibly passionate Connie Clarkson – there are few people who know Auckland food and its people like she does – it has been an inspiring Auckland success story.
The Kitchen Project is a part-time, 26-week programme (covering food safety, marketing, business planning and everything in between) that helps budding food entrepreneurs take their next steps into becoming full-time culinary businesses.
“The inspiration for TKP came when I heard Caleb Zigas, from La Cocina [a food incubator in San Francisco’s Mission District] speak in Vancouver in 2016. La Cocina looks after immigrant women of colour, and he spoke so eloquently about how the best cuisine comes out of the kitchen of immigrant women – they really work to preserve culture and support their families through food.” says Connie.
An immigrant woman of colour herself, Connie had always championed the place of affordable, delicious ethnic food in Auckland, and Caleb helped her realise that she could do more than just tell their stories. Working in the urban regeneration realm (she was with Panuku Development at the time) she had the opportunity to actually help preserve the cultures of emerging indigenous entrepreneurs through food and help them create businesses, employ people and contribute to the growth of the city.
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“It took me a year to convince Panuku, Auckland Unlimited and Healthy Families South and West, to let us embark on a pilot programme. I was amazed and absolutely chuffed when we actually launched – and utterly terrified that we just had no option but to succeed.”
She needn’t have worried as it’s all gone incredibly well, and they’ve just secured another three years of funding.
“It’s been the ride of a lifetime. I am in awe of our entrepreneurs and how brave, determined and talented they all are. When we sit with them and hear their stories and their ups and downs – and taste this food that comes from their hearts, I cannot believe how lucky we are to contribute, even a little, to their journey.”
Here are what some of the graduates from The Kitchen Project are doing now:
Banu Sidharth has been teaching cooking classes in her house for nearly seven years, carrying on her father’s legacy (a well-known caterer in India), but going through The Kitchen Project enabled her, and her husband, to get their online business selling spice pastes, mixes, pickles, chilli oils, masalas up and running. “Because of TKP we are selling all of our 25 products online, shipping all over New Zealand and also trading at many major Auckland markets.” says Banu. “Everything has changed. We now have a council-certified kitchen and have grown from selling a few jars at the back of the class to over 600-800 jars per month. I now have a team of three, managing different sides of the business.” Banu says The Kitchen Project helped take the great ideas they had and make them a commercial reality and a ‘proper business’. “Having mentors besides you gives a great sense of confidence and strength. We are so thankful for all the support, ongoing advice and exposure the programme has provided.” www.banus.co.nz
Carmel Davidovitch has always missed real fluffy pita bread, like they make at home in Israel, and The Kitchen Project helped her to make her dream to produce it here come true (served with delicious fillings like crispy green falafel, marinated chicken and roasted cauliflower). “When I started The Kitchen Project I only had an idea,” says Carmel. “I had to work to find the right concept. I’ve made pita, but quickly learned that starting a bakery wouldn’t work for me, so slowly I found myself at markets selling stuffed hand-made pita breads – and dragging my partner along too!” What started as a germ of an idea is now a mobile set-up that the couple move from one event to another; they now have a new commercial kitchen in Eden Terrace – and hopefully a small permanent spot coming soon. “Tom, my partner, and I run the show and we have wonderful employees that make everything better and easier. Getting to this stage would never have been possible without The Kitchen Project – it was my biggest support system in making all my first steps and holding me accountable during my progress.” www.bycarmel.co.nz
Connie Duncan is a naturopath who found herself fascinated by the health benefits of cacao. She started making a paste for friends and family to put in hot water as a drink and everyone loved it so much she wondered if it could be sold to a wider audience. Being accepted into The Kitchen Project made her realise this could actually be a reality. “I started selling at markets and the programme gave me the guidance and confidence to take the next steps. The mentors were amazing – when you hear people talk about how they started as one person in their kitchen and grew to two or three and then selling online and in shops, it helps you to put yourself in that picture and imagine doing the same.” Connie has had amazing feedback and her Instagram account is overrun with orders from regular and new customers. “There’s a website coming soon, and I’m just about to be stocked in my first shop in Hamilton. It’s pretty exciting and so great to see so many people enjoying my product.” www.instagram.com/warriorcacao/
After being a chef for many years, Bertang Jang decided to swap his chef’s knife for an egg beater. With the help of The Kitchen Project he began his journey to pursue his real passion, baking – with a Pacific twist. He started off nervously with a stall at La Cigale French markets and now has his own thriving permanent store in Onehunga, making sweet treats like coconut buns, koko Samoa lamingtons, pineapple and coconut pie and cassava cake – as well as stunning bespoke cakes and a newly introduced high tea. He now employs six people. “When I joined The Kitchen Project, I was just making cakes as a hobby while doing casual stints as a relief chef, but I knew I wanted to make it my full-time business. The programme gave me the tools to turn my dream into a reality – providing me with the mentors I needed to guide me as a young Fijian businessman in New Zealand. We now sell both in-store and online and I will always be grateful to The Kitchen Project for being with me from day one. www.sweetandme.co.nz
Yvette Brooks fell in love with real fresh salsa when she lived in the States so decided to bring that zingy, fresh taste she missed to New Zealand when she returned. When she got accepted into The Kitchen Project she was selling this product at one Saturday market but now it’s a full time business for her, her husband and three great staff selling at multiple markets every week and online. Her range now includes salsas, sauces, spice mix, tortilla chips and the burritos they sell at the markets are so popular they are looking to expand to a food truck in the near future. “The Kitchen Project gave us the push, the foundation of all the fundamental stuff you don’t know you’re going to need to know to make this work! The safety net, the courage, the belief and encouragement from the team especially Sreshta who is still there. We are so proud to say we are graduates of this amazing course.” www.redhotkiwi.nz