Bi-Rite Interview Part II: Earth Conscious Cooking and Sustainable Soft Serves

Sunday, October 10, 2021

Today, I continued the conversation with Rachel Kiichli (RK) the Senior Marketing + Community Manager at the Bi-Rite Family of Businesses. Last installment, we discussed the role of Bi-Rite in contributing to the community and food ecosystem as a Certified Green Business.

This week, RK shares how her non-profit background introduced her to the transformative power of sustainable cooking interventions in communities. We then explore members of the Bi-Rite Family of Businesses that share the mission to sustainably empower the community through food: 18 Reasons (a non-profit community cooking school) and Bi-Rite Creamery.

RR: Hey, Rachel! Again, it’s a pleasure to speak with you today. Would you mind telling me a little bit more about your non-profit background? You mentioned earlier that you co-led a non-profit called Bay Leaf Kitchen before transitioning to Bi-Rite, and I feel that it would be interesting to discuss this further.

RK: Our non-profit was called Bay Leaf Kitchen. We provided culinary education to kids. As an organization, our goal was to combat food insecurity, especially in low-income San Francisco communities. There’s such a rich food and chef culture in this city, and chefs in San Francisco, as I think we’ve all especially seen during the pandemic, are a group of people with a tremendous amount to give and a tremendous desire to be giving back. So, we saw this incredible group of people with a lot to offer, and a lot of expertise, and a lot of love, and we saw a lot of people with a desire to learn how to cook. So, we started putting them together. We had after-school programs and summer programs that paired SF chefs together with young groups of people, starting all the way down at little chefs.

RR: Awwww…so cute!

RK: Yeah, it was wonderful. And, during programs like our summer camp program, we would have different chefs come in every single day and teach children how to cook. Kids are so smart and so capable if you give them the tools and a little bit of room to play. So, we had kids learning how to cook dishes that the chefs were preparing and serving at their restaurants. The kids absolutely rose to the challenge. We focused on seasonality, how things are grown and how they make their way from field-to-table. Our summer camp ended with an overnight stay at a beautiful farm in Dixon California called Eatwell Farm. You can actually find their farm stand at the Ferry Plaza Farmer’s Market. I highly recommend them.

Eatwell would host us for an overnight where we would go out and gather ingredients from the field and bring a chef to the farm and do a farm-to-table dinner. It was an exploration of getting kids to cook with more fruits and vegetables, and getting an understanding of how things are made, and getting kids excited about being in the kitchen. Not trying to take nutrition education from a top-down stance, but rather infusing excitement about food into young minds—young chefs!—to get them excited about cooking. I saw a huge amount of success in the communities in which we worked: kids asking for fruits and vegetables more often and wanting to go shopping with their families so that they could make choices about their food. We saw a tremendous food literacy increase. We saw a lot more families cooking together.

RR: That’s exciting. That makes me think—that aligns with so many of the Bi-Rite Family of Businesses’ sourcing guidelines in terms of traceability of food, in terms of understanding the entire integrated food system, really a holistic, bottom’s up approach in order to infuse sustainability throughout entire communities.

RK: Absolutely.

RR: That’s so cool. So, I know that there is this 18 Reasons non-profit cooking school integrated into the Bi-Rite family. Could you tell me more about that?

RK: 18 Reasons is part of the Bi-Rite family. They offer really incredible cooking classes you can sign up for online. They also offer programming called Cooking Matters, which is more cohort based, and it’s focused on kids and families and parents looking to increase their food literacy and get excited about cooking. The classes are offered in English, Spanish, Cantonese, I believe Mandarin as well, at various spaces all over the city. They’re digital, of course, right now due to COVID, and they cover everything from how to go grocery shopping on a budget and make healthy food choices, to cook using things you’ve purchased on that budget, how to make things, some understanding of seasonality, how to use farmers markets.

RR: That’s amazing. That really integrates everything there, and I can see how that’s especially relevant in the context of COVID-19, because, really, all the high retail prices, reduced incomes, really a big increase in food insecurity. And, about the location of 18 Reasons, could you just speak a little bit about that?

RK: Yeah, we’re going on about 25 years in operation with Sam at the head of Bi-Rite Market on 18th Street. And, then right down the street and two blocks down, and there’s 18 Reasons, and that’s the community cooking school, and right next door, there’s the Creamery. It really has a sense of creating a food literacy corridor, so to speak, and there are so many other incredible restaurants on that street that have been there for so long, you know Delphina, Tartine, there’s Faye’s Coffee Shop. A lot of collective power in small business owners with a common thread of giving back to through community-related work.

RR: That’s—that’s so cool that it’s all part of that community. You mentioned that Bi-Rite Creamery is right nearby 18 Reasons, and I heard that the creamery, like *laughs* I have a friend who’s obsessed with the creamery. Could you say maybe a word or two about the creamery?

RK: Bi-Rite Creamery was started by two bakers, Kris and Anne, who wanted to bake and make ice cream in a responsible, sustainable way. Their goal was to make people happy while being good to the planet and paying attention to seasonality. They’ve developed the most amazing ice cream that features locally-sourced ingredients, in season, and integrated handmade inclusions (like our homemade chocolate cookies from our Cookies and Cream Ice Cream). We work with partners like Strauss and Double 8 Dairy to source the best milk, cream and buffalo milk for our ice creams and soft serves.

The other cool thing about some of our flavors is that flavors like Roasted Banana and Balsamic Strawberry were flavors that were created specifically to help us with products from the market that we ended up with too much of, thereby helping with food waste. So we purchase the excess strawberries that don’t sell or are getting kind of close to too ripe to eat, but are perfect for making ice cream and we bring them over to the creamery.

RR: Oh my gosh—like surplus to soft serve!

RK: Yes, exactly. So, it goes into our ice cream flavors. Yes, it’s amazing. We have a few key flavors like that throughout the seasons that are really part of our sustainability effort, which is also a farm relationship. So, with the strawberries in particular, we can buy strawberries from farms, that are delicious but they might not be beautiful enough, quote—unquote, to go on the shelf at some of their other retailers.

RR: Cool.

RK: And, I think the thing that really stands out to me about the creamery is seasonality. In every single season, you will see a seasonal ice cream that comes out. We’re in—right now, we’re just getting into summer, so we have our Basil, our Balsamic Strawberry…

RR: Cool

RK: We just finished our citrus season flavors. Our Orange Cardamom, our Blood Orange Sorbet. And, as summer comes along, we’ll also be moving on to Peach Cobbler, once the stone fruit season starts. And, so, you can really track the season’s produce by what kinds of ice creams are in the case. And what kinds of ice cream are in our pints as well.

RR: Oh my gosh. I’m feeling hungry thinking about it. *laughs*

RK (amidst laughter): Yes, I know. You can see me light up when I talk about the ice cream. You know, who doesn’t love to talk about ice cream?

RR: Oh my gosh. Yum! So, final question: how can readers have a taste and contribute, other than stopping just running out to get ice cream?

RK: Well, let’s start with ice cream: the creamery has online ordering. This information is available online via the Bi-Rite website and Creamery Instagram account: @biritecreamery. So, you can order ahead pints as well, for pickup or delivery!

RR: And 18 Reasons?

RK: Yes! I would really highly, highly recommend going to 18 Reasons and checking out their class schedule and seeing if there’s a class that you might want to take. They also are always accepting donations if you would like to contribute to Cooking Matters Programming.

And, I believe that when they go back to in person, they’re always looking for volunteers. They have a really core group of volunteers who come back over and over again. Why wouldn’t you want to hang out at some cool fun dinners with some cool chefs?

RR: Yum!