I talked to strangers. All because of a free dinner. I stumbled across a unique event in San Francisco when I was doing my research for my trip. Free dinner. That is how it might sound to some, but in reality the dinners organized by the urban agricultural students of the University of San Francisco, hosted at Cyprian’s ARC are quite the experience.
The garden is a community supported, organic, educational garden. Students involved in the program learn about seasonality, planting, harvesting and being a member of your community through participation. ARC is a non-denominational collaboration between two church congregations. Basically neighbors group together to support artistic expression and shape a community based on resilience.
Once a month, on the first Thursday, a free community dinner is put together for anyone who wants to stop by. Preparations start when certain students are designated to glean ingredients from local farmers at markets. Students request donations of unwanted vegetables or bruised fruits and then use as much as they can and waste as little as possible. Students also harvest things found in the garden. These ingredients change based on the season, the weather and their state of ripeness. Any other ingredients needed are purchased from Rainbow Grocery, worker-owned cooperative food store.
Students meet in advance to plan a menu based on the ingredients they have managed to source. Teams are made, some do the cooking, others prepare activities for the evening such as trivia or live music and others are selected to take care of set up with chairs, tables, signs and the like. I stopped by the Cyprian’s community kitchen and made small talk with the young students. Most of them aged 20 to 24 years.
All the students I spoke to were incredibly friendly, one or two slightly nervous about being observed by a professional chef, except for Taylor Wolfrom, self-proclaimed fire king. Another student went as far as to ask me for suggestions on the soup being made, I was quite flattered. I heard stories about lemons suspiciously sourced from a deserted construction site. I listened to the details of a beautiful dream belonging to Cyprian’s ARC of having their current community kitchen renovated and equipped to meet state department standards, so that they can host more activities that will bring people together.
The menu for the evening went as follows:
- Mixed green salad with lettuce, watermelon radish, orange, mint, cilantro and green onion
- Potato soup (yukon gold potatos, rutabagas, turnips, red onion, butter, green onion, rosemary and a little half and half)
- Rosemary cranberry crostini
- Bowtie pasta with broccoli, greens and crimini mushrooms
- Vegan gluten free crumble
- Apple and pear compote with allspice and vanilla
- Lemon and lavender blondies
- Lemon water
Dinner was simple and homemade; the best kind of dinner if you ask me. Generous farmers provide the core for the dinner to even be possible. Visitors are not asked for any type of fee, but tip pitchers are located in different spots for those with a few singles to spare in thanks.
I would like to send a special thanks to Elizabeth Rofoli, Lexie Ackerman, Claire Kirshner, Kyle Jacobson, Graham, AJ and Cassidy Miller for being so gracious with their interviewer. Thanks to Anders Peterson for taking the time to share about the kitchen project. Thank you to John Torma and Sam Wilder for providing me with lots of good info for my article.
To all my readers: please share this article with those you know. I would love to garner some support for the kitchen project at Cyprian’s ARC.
I was very impressed by the USF students, inspired by the kitchen project at Cyprian’s ARC and just glad to have been in town at the right time to be a part of it. Cyprian’s Community Kitchen initiative has a motto: “Building community, one meal at a time.” I couldn’t have said it better.
Until next time…