San Francisco's Underground Food Scene: Sidesaddle Kitchen

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Laura Miller, creator of Sidesaddle Kitchen, wants to convince you that raw, vegan, "not gross" dessert is as delicious as it looks. In this series, filmmaker Eric Slatkin has teamed up with ForageSF to document the craft and passion of some of the foodies that make up San Francisco's growing "underground" food scene.

In 2009, ForageSF, an organization that promotes foraged and local cuisine in San Francisco, brought together a diverse group of aspiring chefs, bakers, and gourmets under the umbrella of an "Underground Market." From a small private event, the unlicensed market grew into a massive operation, drawing thousands of visitors, before going on hiatus after a cease and desist order from the San Francisco Department of Public Health. ForageSF continues to grow, however, and founder Iso Rabins shares his vision for the future of the venture in an interview below.

The Atlantic: What was the genesis of ForageSF's Underground Market? How has ForageSF grown as a business since 2009? 

Iso Rabins: The Underground Market was started in December of 2009 as a reaction to the maze of wait lists and regulations required to enter into a regular farmers market. Started in a friend’s house with seven vendors and 200 eaters, it has grown into a monthly event with 50 vendors and attendance over 2,000. The main difference at our market vs. a regular market is that much of the food you'll eat is cooked in a home kitchen by startup food entrepreneurs. We think of it as an incubator, helping food makers with that first step into sharing their food with the broader community.

The market just exploded in popularity, with foodies lining up around the block to get in, including food journalists from numerous media outlets. What do people love about the market? 

I think people come to the market for a couple reasons. One, of course, is the food. There is an amazing array of different foods to try at each market. From Afghani Bolani to Vietnamese Banh Mi, each vendor is making what they know, and making it delicious. Another is the connection with the producer. It’s not often that we get to stand and talk to the very person that canned the jam we're about to eat, or tended to the hives of the bees whose honey we're tasting. 

Lastly, I think many people come to the market to be inspired. To be a vendor at the market, all you have to do is bring a sample of whatever you want to sell, and if we think it's delicious, you're in. No costly permits or wait lists. You can come to a market one month as a customer, and the next as a vendor. People are inspired by the idea that something they've always wanted to do, but haven't for whatever reason, is so accessible.

What are some attributes and strategies of successful vendors? Do any vendors stand out in your experience?

It's interesting to see how the market has evolved. When it started, you were lucky if people had any kind of sign, or a table covering. As we've evolved, the vendors have really stepped up their game. Having delicious food is the first step towards success, but I've found that the presentation is almost as important. Having a good sign and good packaging are both very important.

The market is currently on hiatus -- how do you see ForageSF evolving in the future?

We're currently working to get the market back open. We're creating a more legal membership structure, so it is a viable private club, and that will be finished in the next month. We hope to relaunch in late October or mid November. Another big project we're working on is the build out of an incubator kitchen space for vendors and the San Francisco food community to use. It will be a great next step for vendors who want to create legitimate food businesses, and will also offer classes, a roof top farm, and tons of other fun stuff for people to enjoy. We're currently looking for investors to fund the build out, and hope to be open within the year.

For more videos by Eric Slatkin, visit http://www.hitthehighbeam.com/.

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Kasia Cieplak-Mayr von Baldegg is the executive producer for video at The AtlanticMore

Cieplak-Mayr von Baldegg joined The Atlantic in 2011 to launch its video channel and, in 2013, create its in-house video production department. She leads the development and production of original documentaries, interviews, and other video content for The Atlantic. Previously, she worked as a producer at Al Gore’s Current TV and as a content strategist and documentary producer in San Francisco. She studied filmmaking and digital media at Harvard University.
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