A Latina-founded startup from San Francisco is betting foodies and immigrant cooks will be able to connect through the recipes they cherish from Culture Kitchen.
Jennifer Lopez, who founded the startup venture along with Abby Sturges, grew up in New York City with a father from Puebla, Mexico and a mother from Puerto Rico.
“Neither of my parents graduated from high school – my mother got her GED at the age of 52,” Lopez says. “They never got to finish their schooling but hell or high water they were going to get me everything I needed to succeed.”
Her education took her to Dartmouth where her parents hoped she would become a doctor but she says she was too busy making jewelry to complete those pesky pre-med requirements.
Lopez says she was fascinated with making things because of her family life growing up.
“My mother and father fixed and made everything,” she says. “If something broke my father fixed it. My mother made our curtains. My parents cooked every day.”
Lopez felt that making jewelry would be too limiting though and transitioned towards a Master’s degree in product design from Stanford University.
It was then – through her Master’s thesis – that Culture Kitchen was born.
She went to Myanmar and spent time with locals as she tried to understand their irrigation needs and Lopez found that one thing had the power to make language barriers melt away.
“We started to share food, that’s when you make an amazing connection,” she says. “There is something extraordinarily powerful about food as a cultural connector – I wish more people could learn about each other through food.”
Her co-founder Sturges had similar experiences in Kenya and the two came back with the underlying foundation of Culture Kitchen.
The startup, which has raised more than $20,000 from 121 backers in less than four days on Kickstarter, hopes to reach its goal of $150,000 by August 21.
Lopez and Sturges work with 15 master cooks to create authentic food by immigrants of different countries. At the moment there are two Mexican cooks and one Nicaraguan cook and the food kits they create to send out to customers include some fresh and dried ingredients. At the moment there are seven kits; West Indian, Thai, Mexican, Vietnamese, Iraqi, Taiwanese and Bengali. If they reach their Kickstarter funding goal they hope to make another six food kits on top of the two that are currently in development and add videos from the master cooks.
Lopez says the keys to the food kits are that they are not just recipes but a look into how people adapt to make recipes as true to home as they can. “When you come to the U.S. you don’t always have the ingredients you had at home so you have to adapt,” she says. “The way we send out recipes is the same way cooks would make it in their kitchen.”
She says Culture Kitchen makes sense because people can order out less and cook from home.
“I like to say that when you cook at home you know exactly what goes inside it,” she says. “It’s incredible for people who eat out a lot what gets added to their food.”
While some recipes include ways to cut fat or add more vegetables, she acknowledges that not all of them are the healthiest meals — but that’s by design.
“They are often traditional or holiday meals but they tell a compelling cultural story which we want to share,” she says.
Lopez is excited about the next step for Culture Kitchen being the addition of videos from the master cooks.
“They’re not your standard Food Network star – but I think they can be,” she says.
“It’s real people cooking just like our customers are and getting people to share their culture and their heritage through food in a more visible light.”