Sunday is International Women’s Day, a global celebration of women and a reminder to keep pushing for equality. That’s what La Cocina, the Bay Area culinary incubator, does every day. This nonprofit empowers immigrant and underserved women, enabling them to go from home cooks to small business owners.
Nafy Flatley was born in Senegal, but, she says, “I was looking for my American dream.” She came to America for college, settled here, married and raised a family here, and thanks to La Cocina, has her own business here.
La Cocina, the Bay Area incubator kitchen, empowers low income home cooks to launch women-owned businesses preparing the beloved dishes of home. Launched in 2005, it provides low-cost commercial kitchen space, business consulting, helps its entrepreneurs scale up production, and connects them to potential financing sources. It’s become its own community, providing women like Flatley with a powerful support network. The program has given Bay Area locals and immigrants from all over the world financial independence, greater self-value, greater voice, and a way to bridge cultures and community through food.
Nafy Flatley runs Teranga, where she makes and sells juices and ice pops bright with the flavors of home, like hibiscus and baobob. That’s what the American dream tastes. It also tastes like Maria Carmen del Flores’ pupusas (puffy Salvadoran corn cakes), Reem Asil’s fattoush (Arabic bread salad), and all the delicious, diverse flavors of the world. They’re gathered together in We Are La Cocina Cookbook: Recipes in Pursuit of the American Dream. Compiled by La Cocina co-founders Caleb Zigas and Letitia Landa, the book provides recipes and the stories of the hardworking women who’ve developed them. It reminds us that at a time when immigrants have become the focus of violence and vilification, they’re a precious ingredient in the melting pot of America.