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“You must be MamaPotPie!” With that greeting, and my mother looking very pleased with her new moniker, our host excitedly led us in the industrial kitchen at the Pike Place Market Senior Center.

I love to cook alone in my kitchen at home – measuring, and stirring, and creating, as I retreat into my mind – delving into the depths of some issue I am trying to sort out in my head, or alternately, escaping from my thoughts and just entering my zone, the cooking zone. Whichever medicine I require at any given time.

Truly though, I get even more satisfaction out of preparing and enjoying a meal with others. If I had a bigger kitchen, I would have many more cooking parties like the Norwegian cookie party I have each year with my aunts and grandmother.

My kitchen is far too small really to do this on a regular basis but I have found a wonderful alternative – the community kitchen! A lovely way to learn, cook and connect with your community.

Recently I wrote about my mother coming home from Florida for a week-long visit and our adventure to Spatini for Mad Men makeovers. But while she was here we also enjoyed this fun evening together cooking with others.

As we walked in (only five minutes late) everyone was already in aprons, assigned to teams and busy strategizing their portion of the meal. The Community Kitchen in Pike Place Market, held once a month, led by “Chef” Ryan is one of a collective called Community Kitchens NW, hosted in different neighborhoods throughout the city on various days.

Each kitchen is different. Some focus on a certain type of diet, some cook and eat together, others make food to package and take home. Each group decides how their kitchen will be run but the idea is the same: cooking a few simple, healthy dishes from scratch, together. Learning, laughing, and connecting. As a community.

We made four dishes that night with Chef Ryan as our guide, answering our questions with calm and patience while encouraging cooperation and collaboration. While he was there for support, the focus was on us, following instructions and problem-solving together. All the while he was making sure that everyone had a chance to participate and contribute to this communal meal and taking advantage of “teachable moments” to further our kitchen education.

Chef Ryan invited a special guest to help us prepare traditional Teresa’s Collard Greens. The recipe is usually made with pork, but Teresa made them vegan-style that night so that all in attendance could enjoy.  This particular kitchen is really vegan-friendly, as we made two other vegan dishes – Eggplant Coconut Curry (which was the dish I helped to prepare – exceptionally delicious! Though I am not partial to eggplant myself 🙂 )

And my favorite dish of the night, the Red Salad, made with roasted potatoes, red cabbage, red chard, and raw red bell peppers.

The final dish was certainly not a vegan, or even a vegetarian, dish.  Slow Beef. And to be honest, because it is so “slow” we didn’t really have time to make the beef during the window of time allowed for the event, so Chef Ryan cheated a bit and prepared it before hand. Shhhh! Don’t tell!

Once all the food was prepared and laid out, kitchen was clean and we had removed our aprons, the icing on the cake was sitting down together to enjoy the meal and talk about cooking. All of us together, new friends, a good friend-Jenn of Amateur Gourmand, and of course, MamaPotPie – with our bellies happy and enjoying connecting over food. What an amazing experience! I will definitely be back for more of these events! I’m even thinking about attending one in my own neighborhood soon.

You can read more about our evening and get all these recipes (and many more!) on Ryan’s blog. And you can follow the Pike Place Market Community Kitchen on Facebook.

The Community Kitchen at the Pike Place Market is held every third Thursday of the month from 4:30-6:30pm at the Pike Place Market Senior Center. The fee for this incredibly satisfying experience including the meal, and taking all the leftovers home, is only $10! Such a bargain! The next Community Kitchen at Pike Place is tomorrow night, March 17. But be sure to RSVP – they only have 15 spots available each month.

For more information on Community Kitchens NW, or to find one near you, visit their website. And if there isn’t one in your neighborhood, there is also information on their site about how you can also start your own.

Have you ever cooked in a community kitchen? What was your experience? I would love to hear! I am really new to this idea, but know that community kitchens have been around for quite a while here and in other parts of the world.