How One Woman Turned a Manhattan Carriage House into New York’s Most Vibrant Cooking School

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This Thanksgiving we partnered with Haven’s Kitchen, a cooking school, event space and café in New York City, to host a Thanksgiving feast with friends. Read on to learn more about the one-of-a-kind space and the story of founder Alison Cayne.   

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 New York City’s Union Square Greenmarket is a mecca for local-food aficionados who cook and eat in Manhattan: In peak season 140 farmers from the region set up shop to sell their just-picked produce, small-batch jams and pickles, farmstead cheeses and artisanal breads. On market days the space is buzzing with energy as shoppers fill bags and carts with an ever-changing rotation of fresh, seasonal finds. It’s unlike anywhere else in the city.

 

So, when New York native Alison Cayne set out to open a recreational cooking school, she knew it had to be close to this market, where so many Manhattanites go to get inspired. Driven by her love for local food and her desire to teach New Yorkers how to cook, Cayne transformed a carriage house just two blocks away from the greenmarket into a vibrant cooking school, café and event space called Haven’s Kitchen.

 

Haven's kitchen owner Alison Cayne setting the table at Thanksgiving.

Haven’s kitchen owner Alison Cayne setting the table at Thanksgiving.

 

The idea for Haven’s Kitchen came to Cayne in 2012 when she was getting her Master’s Degree in food studies at New York University. “I was learning so much about issues of food systems, from farm subsidies to school lunches, and I just kept thinking ‘How come more people don’t know about this?’” says Cayne. “I wanted an opportunity to teach more people in a way that wasn’t purely academic or policy-focused, but that still connected what you eat day-to-day with the larger issues within our food system.”

 

Her vision for a recreational cooking school expanded when she found the perfect space: A three-story former carriage house on 17th Street, walking distance from the greenmarket. The bottom level became Haven’s Kitchen Café, a casual spot with a carefully-sourced menu written on a chalkboard panel and an array of bistro-style tables where locals gather with friends, books or laptops. In the back, a communal kitchen serves as the backdrop for cooking classes on topics that range from basic knife skills to Thai street food. A spiral staircase leads up to two stories of private event space that have whitewashed walls, rustic chic flooring, and luxe furnishings that give it the feel of a Manhattan townhome.

 

But, behind all of the stylish design and the hip, city-dwelling clientele, the original mission of Haven’s Kitchen remains strong. Every element, from the seasonal frittata served in the café to the food used to cater weddings upstairs, connects back to Cayne’s passion for local food. A bumper sticker at the register reading “No Farms, No Food” reminds everyone who is eating there to thank the farmer, not the chef.

 

The Community bulletin board at Haven’s Kitchen filled with notes and photos.

 

“I really do believe that cooking can save the world and that shopping at a farmers’ market is critical for the survival of food as we know it,” says Cayne. Recently, she was disturbed to find out that a friend who began raising chickens was nervous about eating the eggs. “She wasn’t comfortable with the fact that they didn’t come in a cardboard box of a dozen clean and perfectly sized eggs,” says Cayne. “I just thought it was so crazy that she was scared of this thing she had raised and created in her own back yard, but not of the anonymous industrial food at the grocery store.”

 

So, it’s no surprise that when she hosted a Thanksgiving feast for eight people, each dish was designed to celebrate the bounty of autumn’s harvest in New York, from the Winter Greens Panzanella (“hearty greens get sweeter after the first frost”) and the Quinoa Salad with Apples and Dried Cherries (“there are like 18 varieties of apple available here!”).

 

Get the full menu and read more about Thanksgiving with Friends at Haven’s Kitchen.

 

 

Catch our behind-the-scenes video with Haven’s Kitchen.

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