We recently met up with Haven’s Kitchen founder Alison Cayne at the gorgeous renovated carriage house in Manhattan where you’ll find the Haven’s Kitchen cooking school, café, and event space. Alison kindly took some time to answer our questions about how she founded the business and what led to the creation of the Haven’s Kitchen sauces available on FreshDirect—with Thanksgiving coming up we were curious about her upcoming holiday feasting plans too! Read the interview below.
Bonus: there’s a recipe for sesame chicken featuring the Haven’s Kitchen Gingery Miso at the end.
Can you tell us about how Haven’s Kitchen was started?
I went back to grad school at 38 to get a masters in Food Studies and everything I learned kept reinforcing the same lesson: home cooking is the single most impactful thing a person can do to support a healthier food system and their own personal health. But there wasn’t a place in New York City dedicated to home cooks (i.e. not a professional culinary school) where people could go and gather and learn how to make dinner with local produce. So I built it.
Our mission is to change the way people feel about cooking. First we did that with classes, then with our cookbook and now through our sauces.
Can you tell us a little bit about the different ventures that Haven’s Kitchen encompasses?
It’s kind of crazy actually! In the building on 17th street we host cooking classes and have an all-day café. On the top two floors, we host 300 private events a year, ranging from three-day corporate retreats to weddings for 150 and brand activations to intimate dinners.
Why do you think being connected to the food we eat, and doing that through cooking, is important?
There’s a ton of research showing that the more people cook at home, the more healthful their diets are. But it goes beyond that, because once you start cooking and interacting with produce and ingredients, the more you care about equitable farm labor practices, sustainable agriculture, and the environmental impact of your choices. Then there’s all the social and emotional benefits of cooking and eating well… I could go on!
What was the inspiration behind creating the Haven’s Kitchen line of sauces?
When you’re a mission-driven business, you’re constantly checking yourself against that mission. And while I was super proud of the reach our school and cookbook have had, I wanted to reach more people and change the feeling that cooking is time-consuming, difficult and stressful.
We asked our students for years what they like and don’t like about cooking, what would make cooking easier for them and what they need. And the sauces just organically came out of those questions. Most people don’t need a whole meal kit and felt a lot of guilt around the waste. They know how to stir fry, they can roast some cauliflower and grill a chicken breast. What they needed was a sauce that tasted and felt like something they’d see in a great recipe. They were tired of shelf-stable, old-school sauces. They wanted the feeling of homemade with the convenience of store-bought.
How did you come up with the different flavors of Haven’s Kitchen sauces?
The first three were easy: they were basically right out of our cookbook and our students’ favorites. Then the Gingery Miso and the Zippy Chili Harissa were not only answers to our students’ requests, but also something we thought would cut out the hard work for people. A lot of people make a version of the gingery miso at home, but it takes so many ingredients and it’s a bit of a drag to make. So we put it all in the pouch, ready to squeeze!
Is there anything special about how Haven’s Kitchen sauces are made?
There’s a lot that special about how they’re made! Really though, we’ve just been able, through a lot of hard work to basically take a homemade recipe and make it scalable. By using high pressure pasteurization (like cold-pressed juices) we’re able to keep them fresh and vibrant without having to add preservatives or boil them beyond recognition.
How can Haven’s Kitchen sauces help home cooks, like your motto says, “cook with confidence”?
Everything you enjoy in life comes down to how you feel doing it. People naturally do more of the things they feel good doing, and less of the stuff they dread. When you know that you can make a great meal in 20 minutes and feed yourself and the people you care about, you are simply more likely to do it! If our goal is to change the feelings around cooking, confidence is key.
Do you have any go-to recipes or dishes that use Haven’s Kitchen sauces?
I have a few! I’d say at least twice a week I sauté shaved Brussels sprouts, cabbage and maybe some tofu with our Nutty Lemongrass sauce. It’s a five-minute dinner, one pan and delish. Our go-to Friday dinner is chicken thighs marinated in our Harissa: you just need to roast them for 45 minutes at 375 F. Sometimes, I’ll add maple syrup or honey. Oh! And I make meat or turkey balls with our Gingery Miso once or twice a week as well.
What are some of your favorite ways to use Haven’s Kitchen sauces around Thanksgiving or with fall ingredients?
Nutty Lemongrass and Romesco are both dreamy drizzled on all types of roasted squash, sweet potatoes and yams. Harissa on roasted carrots toppled with toasted pistachios or sesame seeds is a perfect combo too. Chimichurri is a great base for stuffing (instead of doing all the chopping of the aromatics) and of course, delicious on any meat or poultry.
One of the reasons why we love working with Haven’s Kitchen at FreshDirect is that you’re a local small business creating these really unique experiences and food products. Do you feel a similar connection to the local New York food community?
Absolutely! I built Haven’s Kitchen as a place for people to engage with local, sustainable food and it’s really become a hub of the food community. We work with a bunch of non-profit organizations doing hunger and sustainability work to give them a place to hold meetings and events. We host tons of New York City-born brands launch their products and services. Our entire staff are die-hard New York food people.
Do you have any Thanksgiving traditions at Haven’s Kitchen?
The holidays are one of our busiest times at the cooking school, with team building and holiday parties, so we celebrate as a team at our anniversary time in January. We have staff meal together every day, all year long, so every day kind of feels like Thanksgiving to me!
Follow @havenskitchen on Instagram.
Haven’s Kitchen Gingery Miso Sesame Chicken
What you’ll need:
- 1 lb. boneless skinless chicken breasts, cut into 1-inch pieces
- One 5 oz. pouch Haven’s Kitchen Gingery Miso Sauce
- ½ cup rice flour or all purpose flour
- 1 tablespoon cornstarch
- Neutral oil for frying
- 2 tablespoons sesame seeds
What to do:
1. Marinate chicken pieces in half of the Gingery Miso sauce for about 30 minutes.
2. When you’re ready to cook, in a deep wok or Dutch oven, heat at least 3 inches of oil on medium until it shimmers.
3. Meanwhile, combine the rice flour and cornstarch in a shallow bowl. Dredge the chicken in the flour mixture, shaking off any excess.
4. Carefully add chicken to the oil one piece at a time. Cook about 5 minutes or until crispy and golden brown, gently prodding occasionally to prevent sticking. Using a metal spider or slotted spoon, transfer chicken to paper towels to drain.
6. Discard the hot oil and reheat the wok over medium. Pour in the rest of the sauce from the pouch and bring to a simmer. Add the chicken and toss to coat in the sauce.
7. Sprinkle chicken with sesame seeds. Serve with rice and veggies.