People
 

La Cocina staff has, cumulatively, over 95 years of food-industry experience in working with local businesses to strengthen business models, access below market rate capital, and create new jobs.

 
 
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+ Caleb Zigas, Executive Dishwasher

contact: (415) 824-2729, ext. 304, caleb@lacocinasf.org

Caleb was not the founder of La Cocina. Instead, he begged his way in, starting as a volunteer in 2005, the week that the organization opened their doors. That's both a personal testament to the power of volunteerism as well as an appreciation for the hard work of grassroots organizations in the Bay Area to make La Cocina a possibility.

Before La Cocina, Caleb was an accidental assistant pastry chef at Ruppert's Restaurant in his hometown of Washington, DC (real dc. DCPS works folks), a dishwasher and grill scrubber at BD's Mongolian Barbecue and a butcher at Sparrow Meat Markets in Ann Arbor, Michigan, where he also went to college. He moved to the Bay Area looking for social justice work after spending time in Bolivia with ProMujer, a leader in micro-finance. In the Bay, he worked at Isa Restaurant, Chez Papa — where he won 7x7 Magazine's "Best Waiter in San Francisco" — and as a butler at the Getty Residence. He is still available for all of your service needs.

At La Cocina, Caleb has grown with the organization and has been the ED since 2010. In his time here, he has been named a Yoshiyama Young Entrepreneur, recognized by Inc Magazine as one of "5 Community Organizers Making a Difference" and was nominated for the Basque Culinary Center World Prize. Caleb built the original infrastructure for La Cocina's award-winning incubator program, launched the San Francisco Street Food Festival, advocated for policy change in mobile food vending opportunities in the Bay and has been a part of more than 30 brick and mortar openings. And, while he loves the food component, ultimately this job is about people, about opportunity and about equity, and that's what drives the work. Come see him in the kitchen.

favorite foods: matzoh ball soup, steamed pork buns, molletes and nearly anything with miso

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+ Leticia Landa, Deputy Director

contact: (415) 824-2729, ext. 306, leticia@lacocinasf.org - Out on parental leave August, September, December & February

Leticia learned about La Cocina by reading a newspaper article about El Huarache Loco (a graduate) when she was in college, studying Anthropology at Harvard. She joined La Cocina in early 2008 as the third staff member. Throughout her career at La Cocina, Leticia has relied on her experience being the daughter of Mexican immigrants who moved to the US and started a business, to fuel her strong belief that business ownership can be transformative, particularly for women, immigrants and people of color. She is passionate about food and cooking, particularly the way sharing food transmits memory. Fluent in Spanish and French, Leticia has loved learning from the 100+ entrepreneurs she's worked with about food traditions from all over the world. Now Deputy Director of La Cocina, Leticia has worn almost every hat at the organization over the last decade: writing grants, developing the incubator program, working directly with business owners, managing volunteers, and consulting with other incubators. Leticia has provided vision and strategy for the organization's tremendous growth, which has led to the organization's international recognition. One of her favorite recent projects has been co-authoring We Are La Cocina, a cookbook published by Chronicle Books in 2019.

Favorite Foods: chilaquiles, quiche and the perfect brownie

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+ Geetika Agrawal, Program Director

contact: (415) 824-2729 ext. 305, email: geetika@lacocinasf.org

Geetika first started hosting dinner parties when she was four years old. The main ingredient was play dough. As she graduated to using more edible ingredients, Geetika developed a passion for turning creative ideas into great businesses. With a Computer Science degree from Stanford, Geetika started and ran a software incubator at IBM. Launching new products got her hooked on entrepreneurship. At NYU Stern, Geetika focused her MBA on Social Impact & Innovation, while working with investors and entrepreneurs around the globe. At Acumen Fund, she managed the agriculture portfolio, defining investment strategies to help small holding farmers in India. In London, Geetika worked with community development organization Bootstrap to bring in new revenue and expand community impact, including co-launching the New York Times notable Dalston Roof Park. She helped start Kitchenette, a London incubator inspired by La Cocina. As the Program Director at La Cocina, Geetika loves working alongside the incredible La Cocina entrepreneurs to support their businesses, leading growth initiatives for the organization, and of course, and sharing delicious food.

Favorite Food: Her mom’s Palak Paneer and pretty much any gooey chocolate chip cookies.

 
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+ Aniela Valtierra, Events & Operations Manager

contact: (415) 824-2729 ext. 309, aniela@lacocinasf.org

At the age of fifteen and with much reluctance, Aniela had her first taste of the food and beverage industry while working after school and in the summers at her parents’ newly opened restaurant in Mexico. Over the years, she grew to enjoy the f&b operation, and it has, since, become a part of her life and career. Aniela values food for being the center of her fondest family memories, and she looks up to her family’s entrepreneurial spirit to share their love of food.

Aniela studied Hospitality Industry Management with an emphasis in Entrepreneurship at the University of San Francisco, gaining professional event planning and f&b management experience in hotels, private clubs, and restaurants, with continued wine education from the Culinary Institute of America at Greystone. When Aniela learned about La Cocina and its mission, it felt much like home; she was inspired by the passion that the women-run businesses of La Cocina have for their native foods and their entrepreneurial drive to launch their food business, do what they love and share it with their communities.

Aniela joined La Cocina’s team in 2013 and brings her passion of food entrepreneurship and support of small business communities in her operations and events role. Committed to the success of La Cocina’s women entrepreneurs, Aniela facilitates the use of the facility’s program offerings and launches events that promote growth and community recognition for their businesses.

Favorite foods: tacos de papa, arrachera, french toast, and chocolate mousse pie

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+ Lisa Murray, Retail Manager

contact: (415) 824-2729 ext. 301, lisa@lacocinasf.org

A native Philadelphian, Lisa lived in Bermuda and Washington DC (where she knew Caleb) and was most recently in South Orange NJ before moving to the Bay Area in August 2013. Lisa has spent almost 30 years in the food industry in almost every capacity. She’s taken a few “breaks” to sell wine & spirits and do consulting on beverage service and cost/production. While working at Chef Tell’s, she even had the pleasure of meeting and forming a friendship with Dr. Claus and Ute Riedel (of Riedel crystal glass fame) whose son attended school close by. Having Dr. Riedel personally explain his philosophy on wine tasting and service over dinner is something Lisa will hold onto forever. After so many years working in the food and beverage world, Lisa wanted to find something that helped make a difference, something she could be proud of and where her years of hospitality and retail experience could benefit someone else.. She’s thrilled to be at La Cocina where the entrepreneurs are so talented and determined, they inspire her everyday and it’s exciting to be around them. La Cocina is giving Lisa a chance to view the hospitality industry from a different perspective.

Lisa’s favorite food changes daily. She craves pizza and oysters and will order almost anything that is prepared with fennel, leeks or ginger.

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+ Blake Kutner, Culinary Manager

contact: (415) 824-2729 ext. 302 email: blake@lacocinasf.org

Blake Kutner has been cooking and working in professional kitchens since the Bill Clinton days (one of his heroes, Blake’s not Bill’s. Although they do share a birthday). He’s done pretty much everything in the back of the house world from dishwashing to fry station, kitchen managing to grade manger, Mexico to Spain, New Orleans to San Francisco.

After graduating from Dartmouth in 1994, Blake thought he would go to medical school like most of his family had. While applying, he started working at the Copeland’s restaurant (a New Orleans based mid level chain) below his apartment, first as a waiter (think cheap fake tuxedo shirts and polyester bow ties) and then eventually as a fry cook in the all Nigerian kitchen. The swashbuckling life of the rowdy kitchen crew combined with the hand’s on gratification of taking a slimy raw product (like chicken or oysters) to glistening deep fried glory started his journey. The intellectual stimulation that cooking provided utilizing biology, physics, chemistry, history and culture has kept him doing it.

Blake is excited to be starting as our new kitchen manager at La Cocina. He believes that street food is secretly every chef’s favorite and makes up the fabric of any great city. He thinks he may have the greatest job in the world getting to learn from the true masters of cuisine and work with a bunch of bad-ass women.

If he had to pick some food favorites they’d be: boiled crawfish, oysters, barbecue and fermented things, but it feels wrong to not include South East Asian curries, fried chicken, tacos and pizza.

 
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+ Candie Rose, Adminstrative Office Manager

contact: (415) 824-2729 ext. 310, candie@lacocinasf.org

Candie grew up eating Kraft macaroni and cheese, kielbasa, over-cooked broccoli and her Great-Grandmother’s carrot salad (all of which she still loves). As an adult she has actively broadened her culinary exposure to many different types of foods.

Candie’s background is primarily made up of experience in health care administration and medical administrative office management. After years of thinking she wanted to be a nurse and then getting accepted into nursing school she realized her passion was on the administrative side of things. Since then she has worked in facilities large and small as well as a start up or two. She has always loved providing support for the team and getting involved in projects when she can. Joining the team at La Cocina helps her combine her love of food, taking care of others and her desire to work in an environment that values social justice, nurturing and kindness.

When cooking for her family she often makes roasted vegetables and carbs.

Favorite foods: pizza, eggs, tacos, citrus fruits and any vegetable smothered in peanut sauce.

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+ Emiliana Puyana, Program Manager

contact: 415-824-2729 ext. 303, emiliana@lacocinasf.org

Emiliana has always been in love with food and cooking. Early experiences in her family’s kitchen in Venezuela taught her that food has the extraordinary ability to bring and keep people together. She landed her first restaurant job at the age of fifteen in Caracas and has continued cooking ever since.

After graduating from the Culinary Institute of America in 2002 she decided to make the move from New York to San Francisco. Her time in the Bay Area has seen her hold most positions in food industry from prep cook to chef de cuisine. She’s gained her battle scars behind the stoves of places like La Folie, Salt House and Marla Bakery. In 2011 she joined La Cocina’s incubator program and started her own pickling business, Jarred SF Brine. After three years of running her own food business she made the tough decision to pack it in and move on to the next food adventure.

She now finds herself back at La Cocina but at the other side of the table. She couldn’t be more excited about the opportunity to give back to an organization and community that has given so much to her. She loves that a walk through La Cocina is like a mini UN general assembly where the only language spoken is food.

Favorite foods: arepas, platanos fritos, tequeños, kimchi, all things pickled, capers, capers, and more capers

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+ Maribel Ramirez, Catering Manager

contact: 415-824-2729 ext. 310, email: maribel@lacocinasf.org

A Los Angeles native, Maribel, grew up in a very large, close and, boisterous family. Always having something to celebrate, her family parties consisted of tamales, arroz, frijoles, tortillas and arranchera. She longed to be like her friends and eat “American” food.

After making the difficult decision to leave her family in Southern California she moved to the Bay Area for school. As the first person in her family to graduate from college she was ready for new adventures, just not in food. Ambitious and driven, a few years later she found herself working as a Marketing Director for a design company.

Needing a break and wanting to improve her French (her minor in college) she asked her employer to let her take a few months off to travel in France. While she was working on the ramparts of a bastille in the South of France with an international group of volunteers, she discovered her love of food – bread, butter, mirabelles (not personally named after her) and the art of eating. The “gourmandize” of the French provided a compass to appreciate and celebrate the food of her own family.

When she returned to the States she never looked back. At first volunteering as a garden and cooking educator and at various food banks throughout the Bay Area, she started working in the crazy, hectic and creative restaurant world. Most recently she developed her skills as a corporative event coordinator for prominent pharmaceutical, tech and law companies and she is excited to bring that experience to La Cocina. Maribel believes that food is disarming; open happy mouths equal open happy hearts. Cooking and eating transcend the barriers of language and culture. She can’t believe how lucky she is to have found a home in La Cocina that combines her skills with her passion for food, social and economic justice.

Favorite food: anything with mole, paris-brest, and chilaquiles

 
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+ Linda Esposito, Municipal Marketplace Director

contact: (415) 824-2729 ext. 313, linda@lacocinasf.org

Growing up immersed in the food-obsessed culture of Malaysia, food has always been part of Linda’s DNA. Her grandmother blended curry powders, and as a child Linda recalls helping her grandmother pack curry powder, pan roasted in a wok as big as her, over a charcoal stove, into recycled ketchup bottles. Linda came to the U.S. for college, and stayed. But it was only until after she got her legal paperwork to emigrate that she dared venture beyond the confinements of her educational training and ICE requirements to pursue her passion in food and slowly moved into the kitchen.

Linda has a bachelor's from Smith College in economic development and a master's of business administration from Harvard Business School, focusing on entrepreneurial management. After working in tech product management, brand marketing, finance and consulting, Linda merged all these skills with food and managed the operations of Hodo Soy, a Bay Area tofu maker, and found herself knee deep in plant-based, organic food manufacturing. She also teaches cooking at 18 Reasons and runs Malaysian dining pop-ups in the city. She now brings these business and food making skills to La Cocina, and manages the development of the Municipal Marketplace.

Linda practically eats anything that moves under the sun, though she has allergies to many foods….like chicken, beef, soy, and most fruits.

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+ Sarah Qadri, Municipal Marketplace Manager

contact: (415) 824-2729, qadri@lacocinasf.org

Sarah Qadri is a hospitality and event professional born and raised in the Bay Area. She credits her mother to her start in career when Sarah’s mother encouraged her to volunteer for a regional volleyball competition after her own team didn’t qualify. Sarah began working in restaurants in her teens, and quickly found her niche in guest relations. Long before the days of food blogs, Michelin-starred San Francisco restaurants (well-loved, but now closed), Aqua and Rubicon, first exposed her to global culinary history and culture, along with classic fine dining service. Fast forward almost 10 years, and she was part of the teams at State Bird Provisions (2012 James Beard winner for “Best New Restaurant”), Bar Tartine, and The Perennial which encouraged inventive styles of service, and expanded her knowledge of natural food processes and modern winemaking techniques.

Sarah joined La Cocina in 2018, and is thrilled to be the Marketplace Manager for the Tenderloin project (opening in 2019), and at UC Berkeley. She is proud to share her passion for service, and experience in operations with the current and future participants. When not at work, Sarah spends her time wishing there would be a Season 7 of The Americans.

Favorite food: Her mom’s lamb biryani and egg curry

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+ Stephanie Goss, Donor Relations

contact: stephanie@lacocinasf.org

 
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+ Michelle Magat, Director of Development & Communications

contact: (415) 528-2904, magat@lacocinasf.org

At the age of eight, Michelle took to her sister’s manual typewriter to churn out weekly newspapers and cooking magazines, which she’d sell to her parents for a nickel a piece. This penchant for writing eventually earned her a master's in journalism from Indiana University, and her entrepreneurial spirit ultimately shaped a 20-year career in communications and marketing.

Michelle co-founded Current, a now global communications firm, ran her own consulting business, and co-founded a school communications software startup called HEARD. She has worked with two of the world’s leading communications agencies — Weber Shandwick and Edelman, and has advised brand teams at The Clorox Company, Burt's Bees, Samsung, Kraft, Nestle, and more.

Community service has always been a personal passion. She has served as a museum guide for students at SFMOMA, created curriculum and taught kindergarten computer lab at a local public school, and — for the last 10 years — volunteered with La Cocina — from serving food at events to serving on its board.

Michelle is proud to share her work experience, entrepreneurial spirit, and passion for service to support La Cocina entrepreneurs.

Favorite foods: Anything in pie form — from chocolate cream to chicken pot. Her mom’s Leche Flan, her husband’s wood-fired pizza, and her daughter’s ginger snap cookies.

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+ Consuelo Reyes Lopez, Communications Associate

contact: 415 824-2729 ext. 316, consuelo@lacocinasf.org

Consuelo’s relationship with food blossomed where her relationship with her mother and other women in her life blossomed as well- in the kitchen of family homes helping flip tortillas on a comal (yes, with your hands) and adding the finishing touches to Mexican dishes to host family, friends and strangers. Wanting to remain close to her family in Mountain View, Consuelo chose to attend the University of San Francisco where she pursued a Communication Studies Degree and minors in Public Relations and Chicanx/Latinx Studies.

A daughter of Mexican immigrants, Consuelo has been able to witness some of the challenges that come with language barrier, legal status, and overall lack of opportunity; she has also proudly witnessed a lot of her family’s successes. Seeing the highs and low of her parents experience as immigrants, combined with her academic background is what pushed Consuelo to pursue a full-time position at The Women’s Building after interning for 6 months. There, she worked as a Program Assistant wearing many hats (à la nonprofit) but focused on developing programs to combat food insecurity, increase tech literacy, and provide employment opportunities in the local mission community.

For Consuelo, working at La Cocina as a Communications Associate is the perfect marriage between her communication skills and passion for building community to create social change. She’s excited to connect with female entrepreneurs, listen to their stories, and find new ways to tell La Cocina’s story.

Favorite foods: Her mothers gordita’s de papa (especially as leftovers for breakfast…it really hits different), artichoke pizza on garlic herb crust, mac and cheese, and unfortunately, hot cheetos!

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+ Katherine Sundt, Development Associate

contact: (415) 824-2729 ext. 317, sundt@lacocinasf.org

Originally hailing from Washington, DC, Katherine has since had the pleasure of living in and tasting the flavors of New Orleans, Quito, Los Angeles, and now San Francisco. She has bussed tables and hosted in restaurants from Capitol Hill to Venice Beach. Most recently, she worked at Yelp, partnering with locally-owned restaurants in the Bay Area. Aside from enjoying the tasty perks of working with food entrepreneurs, Katherine is in constant awe of their extreme passion, grit, and relentless energy.

Katherine started out as a volunteer with La Cocina, managing the intake of volunteers and matching them with projects. As a volunteer, she saw what a supportive, driven, and all-around kick-ass group of people this was, and decided to go all in. She’s thrilled to be with the organization full-time now and is excited to make supporting La Cocina an engaging and unforgettable experience for donors and sponsors.

Katherine is always planning her next meal, which would ideally consist of a massive amount of carbs in any number of acceptable forms, including: tamales, fried yucca, homemade gnocchi, a New York bagel, garlic mashed potatoes.

 
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+ Amrita, Bookkeeper

contact: (415) 824- 2729 ext. 319, amrita@lacocinasf.org

Amrita grew up in India, and her food journey started with her nose - inhaling all of the aromatic spices and other smells that wafted through the streets and countryside of her native country. She has memories of shelling peas with her grandmother at their family farm in the North Indian state of Haryana.

After coming to the U.S. and completing her B.A. in International Relations at the College of Wooster in her Ohio, Amrita discovered her real work in the kitchen. It began with the necessity of a recent college graduate needing to feed herself economically and then blossomed into a passion for feeding the neighborhood and beyond. With two Italian neighbors in San Francisco, she launch SupperShare, a way of building community by sharing one's kitchen with neighbors and others who are looking for a good home-cooked meal. These experiences have led Amrita to the conviction that one must feed the belly first; only then can the mind be fed.

Prior to joining La Cocina, Amrita managed the family resource centers for Edgewood Children and Families in the Bayview/Hunter's Point district of San Francisco, after completing her M.A. in Education at San Francisco State University. She also has served as an Airbnb Superhost and worked for WineWise, a wine importer and distributor.

Favorite Foods: Pani puri, caccio e pepe, her husband's Northern New Mexican red chile enchiladas.

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+ Sasha Lopez, Program Associate

contact: (415)824-2729 ext. 314, sasha@lacocinasf.org

Sasha, with the help of her best friend, started her first business at age ten: a gallette delivery service. They would harvest fruit from her friend’s garden, make a dough (without a recipe), and deliver fresh galettes to their neighbors in Berkeley, California. Despite the huge success of her first business, Sasha craved more kitchen experiences. At age fourteen, she began working alongside a Bay Area chef, assisting her with cooking classes, pop-up markets and catering events. That was her introduction to the culinary world and from then on, the kitchen became her favorite place to be.

Since then, Sasha’s most memorable kitchen experiences were those that combined her love for food with the outdoors. She has cooked at two different backcountry lodges, in the White Mountains of New Hampshire and the Trinity Alps Wilderness in California, as well as her favorite summer camp near Yosemite National Park.

When she discovered La Cocina, Sasha was excited by the opportunity to work with passionate individuals who recognize the power of food in building community, spreading cultural knowledge and creating more equitable opportunities. She is thrilled to be joining the team as the Program Associate in 2019.

Her favorite foods include: a crusty sourdough bread with a aged cheddar cheese, a corn, tomato and jicama salad, a tangy salsa verde to go on nearly anything, and a chewy salted chocolate chip cookie.

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+ Walter Miros, Kitchen Associate

contact: (415)824-2729 ext. 315, walter@lacocinasf.org

My career in food began as a teenager, initially cooking helped pay for my philosophy degree, then grew into a passion that led me to fine dining. The thrill and adrenaline of cooking on the line got me hooked, but as I grew into a chef, nurturing talent became my favorite aspect. I am excited to bring my experience and skill to La Cocina!