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    18 Reasons for Better Cooking at Home

    By David Landis–

    If you’re like The Gay Gourmet, often at the end of the day you think it’s simpler (especially in foodie-crazy San Francisco) to just go out to eat. Truth be told, I’m a little gun shy about cooking at home. Even though I appreciate good food, I’m not the best cook in the world—and I certainly don’t have the confidence to think I can create healthy, delicious dishes. (There, I said it!)

    The San Francisco nonprofit organization 18 Reasons is on a mission to change that.

    18 Reasons is, as they say, “a nonprofit community cooking school based in the Mission District, (created) to empower our community with the confidence and creativity needed to buy, cook, and eat good food every day.” The Gay Gourmet conversed with this nonprofit’s dynamic Executive Director Sarah Nelson for the San Francisco Bay Times to discuss the organization, its accomplishments, how this nonprofit helps even the most vulnerable in our community, and how cooking can change lives.  

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    Gay Gourmet: What’s the purpose of 18 Reasons? Why is it important?

    Sarah Nelson: Our purpose is to inspire people to do more home cooking. We believe in the power of home cooking to change lives, to make people more empowered, and connect with their culture. There are so many great things that home cooking can do. We want to encourage everyone in the Bay Area to cook more at home and teach them how to make cooking at home fit into your life. We have a classroom in the Mission and anyone can join. We run a free program, Cooking Matters, for low-income adults and kids and families in San Francisco and the East Bay. They’re offered for free with partnerships. Partners are community centers, after school programs, affordable housing sites—anywhere that offers other services. We have a partnership in San Francisco, for example, with Openhouse, to offer residents at their housing site.

    Gay Gourmet: You have 3 main programs—Cooking Matters, 18th St. Kitchen, and Nourishing Pregnancy. Tell us a bit about them.

    Sarah Nelson: Nourishing Pregnancy is our newest program. We’ve had the other programs—18th St. Kitchen and Cooking Matters—for many years. It is a 6-month program for newly pregnant clients. It includes home delivered groceries and classes about parenting and infant care. They continue to receive groceries. About 20% of Black and Latinx parents experience food insecurity during pregnancy. We want healthier outcomes and will be expanding the program. We have community partners who refer people to us, including: Sister Web (a doula collective that works with Black and Latinx parents in San Francisco), Black Infant Health, and the San Francisco Health Department’s “Expecting Justice” program. We offer classes in English and Spanish and they’re all online. It has worked out really well when people have newborns. Cooking Matters was virtual during the pandemic and it will stay virtual. There were some positive aspects as people were able to cook in their own homes with their own equipment. Our paid classes were fully remote for a year and a half. We started doing in-person classes last fall, and they’re popular. With Cooking Matters, we are staying flexible and responsive to what the community wants. The 18th Street Kitchen program offers a variety of cooking classes and events open to the public at large.

    Gay Gourmet: Your public cooking classes run the gamut—from how to make a delicious croissant to a seafood primer to Korean and Chinese and to “knife skills.” Do you embrace all types of cooking and cuisines?

    Sarah Nelson: If there are things we don’t do, it’s only because we haven’t found someone to teach it. Italian classes are taught by an Italian woman. We have teachers from around the world who specialize in cuisines. We are always looking for new teachers. Knife skills is our most popular class—it’s a great skill to have. You will never cut yourself again. That’s a class that is only taught in person and we’ve already sold it out 5 times this year. Home cooking will continue to be a very popular activity. Our chef and Culinary Director is Mike Weller. He was the director of curricula at the Cordon Bleu until they closed.

    Gay Gourmet: What is the Peer Health Educator (PHE) program?

    Sarah Nelson: In Cooking Matters, everyone has a chef instructor and a nutrition instructor. Peer Health Educators are people who have graduated from the Cooking Matters class and then had additional instruction—they help facilitate the class. They are natural leaders from the community and want to teach.

    Gay Gourmet: How do you get around the fear of cooking?

    Sarah Nelson: We try to be gentle. Our chefs are so passionate about food and that’s infectious. Cooking doesn’t’ have to be something you see on the Food Network. Because we focus on home cooking, it’s not like coming to class with a celebrity chef. Sometimes we think cooking is either zero or 60; the reality is most people fall in the middle. We may not even see that as cooking. We think, “I don’t know how to cook, because I cooked pasta and put some sauce on it.” Maybe you want to learn about a different cuisine or culture and learn simple techniques that make you feel more confident in the kitchen. We’re about de-mystifying cooking. We have a cooking essentials class, which is a great way to dip your toe in. We can help people build their confidence.

    Gay Gourmet: Why the name?

    Sarah Nelson: There was a furniture store on 17th and Mission. They put up a billboard that said “17 Reasons Why”—and when we opened, that sign had just come down. We wanted to preserve a bit of the neighborhood history. Our logo is based on that. Everyone has their own reasons for wanting to learn how to cook and we want to support those reasons. Also, we are at 18th and Dolores.

    Gay Gourmet: What makes 18 Reasons different?

    Sarah Nelson: Our difference is a focus on home cooking and home cooking traditions from around the world, things that don’t always get celebrated in day-to-day life. We believe in the cultural value of home cooking.

    Gay Gourmet: Do you have a connection with the Bay Area’s LGBTQ+ community?

    Sarah Nelson: With our partnership with Openhouse, we’ve developed a great relationship with the LGBTQ community. We also have staff and instructors who are LGBTQ+. It’s a big part of life in Dolores Park.

    Gay Gourmet: How big is 18 Reasons?

    Sarah Nelson: We have 17 full-time staff and 300 volunteers. Between our three programs, we serve about 6,000 people a year.

    Gay Gourmet: Do you have plans for growth?

    Sarah Nelson: We’re local, but we hope to open a second location in the next 5 years.

    Gay Gourmet: What’s your favorite easy-to-cook recipe for busy professionals to cook at home?

    Sarah Nelson: One of my favorites is black bean and sweet potato tacos. You cut up sweet potatoes small so they cook quickly. With a taco, you can put anything on it—add an avocado, salsa, cilantro—and you can throw together something healthy and delicious in a short amount of time.

    Gay Gourmet: Where do you like to dine in San Francisco?

    Sarah Nelson: I cook at home almost every single day. But one of my favorites is the Heirloom Café—a beautiful and warm restaurant that feels like you’re being welcomed into someone’s home.

    Gay Gourmet: How can people get involved with 18 Reasons?

    Sarah Nelson: We are always looking for volunteers. They can get involved through our website: volunteer with us; come take a class … it’s a great way to get to know us.

    Bits and Bites

    Made in the Bay Area, Sweet Diane’s has a variety of tasty granolas that can start your morning off on the right foot. They are deliciously balanced and crunchy. The natural granola has hints of oat, is semi-sweet, and holds its texture even with milk. It’s great on plain yogurt or with blueberries and cream.

    mo’mugi, North America’s only gourmet barley teabag brand, is robust, earthy, and delicious. The company claims that this tea hydrates better than water and provides nutritious antioxidants. It’s caffeine-free and can be enjoyed hot or cold. A great substitute for decaf coffee!

    High 5ive, a lively rooftop bar & lounge offering panoramic views, just opened at the new Kissel Uptown Oakland hotel.

    The Bay Area Left Bank Brasserie in Larkspur, San Jose, and Menlo Park will host Oyster Fête 2022, in celebration of National Oysters on the Half Shell Day (Thursday, March 31). The restaurants are offering an Oyster and Wine Flight special all day from March 31 through April 3. Also, watch for a new Left Bank restaurant opening in the old Scala’s space at San Francisco’s new Beacon Grand Hotel (formerly the Sir Francis Drake).

    One of The Gay Gourmet’s favorites—but hard to find—are authentic, homemade French-style crepes. From the owners of Le Marais Bakery, the Grand Creperie has now opened with artisanal crepes, croissants and pastries at a new Ferry Building location.

    If you’re in the Civic Center for a concert or show, there’s now a great late-night option. Recently-opened newbie from Hi Neighbor Group The Madrigal has a late-night happy hour Tuesday­–Saturday from 9 pm until they close around midnight.

    Marlowe Restaurant, home of the popular “Marlowe Burger,” has just re-opened after COVID with its classic menu in its SOMA location on Brannan Street.

    The Automat, a new documentary film about the famed restaurant directed by Lisa Hurwitz, opens April 1 at the Vogue Theatre and the San Rafael Film Center. It stars Mel Brooks, Ruth Bader Ginsberg, Colin Powell, Carl Reiner, Elliott Gould, Howard Schultz, the Horn & Hardart families and their dedicated former employees (among others), all sharing memories of life at the Automat. 

    Invented by chef Bruce Hill in his kitchen at Bix in San Francisco, The Chef’s Press is a vented and weight adjustable cooking tool that replaces old cast iron bacon presses and bricks. It’s adjustable, compact, and super handy (it will even fit in a kitchen drawer).

    The Gay Gourmet was thrilled to be asked to be a guest judge for the 13th annual Taste Awards, called “the Oscars of food, fashion, and lifestyle media.” The awards will be televised across the United States on PBS stations in April 2022 (check local listings). Presenters include the Bay Area’s own Tyler Florence and Joanne Weir.

    North Lake Tahoe’s Pride Ride takes place March 24–27 at Homewood Resort and includes a dinner and drag show on Friday, March 25, with Deja Skye (of RuPaul fame) at the West Shore Café.

    Through 30, Crave in Novato, Cielito Cocina Mexicana in Danville and both Boca Pizzerias in Novato and in Corte Madera will offer specific menu items from 3–6 pm dedicating 50% of the proceeds to the Ukraine Relief Fund. 

    18 Reasons:
    Sweet Diane’s Granola:
    mo’mugi barley tea:
    High 5ive:
    Left Bank:
    Grand Creperie:
    The Madrigal:
    Marlowe Restaurant:
    The Automat (film):
    The Chef’s Press:
    Taste Awards:
    North Lake Tahoe Pride Ride:
    Cielito Cocina Mexicana:
    Boca Pizzeria:
    Heirloom Café:

    David Landis, aka “The Gay Gourmet,” is a foodie, a freelance writer and a retired PR maven. Follow him on Instagram @GayGourmetSF or email him at: Or visit him online at:

    Published on March 24, 2022