Executive Director: Caleb Zigas
Caleb was accidentally hired as an assistant pastry chef at Ruppert’s Restaurant, in his hometown of Washington DC, when he was 16 years old, and hasn’t left the kitchen since. He has worked dish lines at national chains, service counters for independent butcher shops and front of the house for some of the best restaurants in the country (and some of the worst too). After graduating from the University of Michigan with degrees in English and Globalization and Culture, Caleb interned with ProMujer in El Alto Bolivia, learning about microfinance in its infancy and bringing those programming lessons to bear at La Cocina when it opened its doors in 2005.
Since joining La Cocina, Caleb has had a hand in shaping the incubator program as it has achieved national recognition. Caleb’s work on the program curriculum and social entrepreneurship innovation has been celebrated by the Hitachi Foundation when they named him a Yoshiyama Young Entrepreneur and by Inc. Magazine’s recognition as one of 5 Community Organizers making a difference. More recently, Caleb was behind La Cocina’s San Francisco Street Food Festival and Conference which ultimately led to involvement in the legislation changes that brought increased mobile vending opportunities to San Francisco. He has been named one of San Francisco’s Tastemakers by 7×7 Magazine, though he might be as proud that before that he was named Best Waiter in San Francisco. Bilingual, a trained diversity leader, HACCP Certified and a California Food Safety Manager, Caleb’s combination of food industry experience and commitment to social justice is what helps defines La Cocina, recently named 2011 Best Small Businesses by the San Francisco Bay Gardian.
Caleb brings a love of food and a passion for social justice to La Cocina and a belief that everyone deserves an opportunity to make a living doing what they love to do.
contact: (415) 824-2729, ext. 304
favorite foods: chicken soup, steamed pork buns, molletes and nearly anything with miso.
Programs and Development Manager: Leticia Landa
Leticia learned about La Cocina in her last week of college when she read an article about El Huarache Loco in The New York Times. After moving to San Francisco to work at a foundation she visited La Cocina’s Ferry Plaza Farmers Market booth a couple of times and decided it was an organization she wanted to volunteer for. Coincidentally, she met Valeria (the Executive Director at the time) at a Holiday Party and instead of becoming a volunteer she began as a staff member in February 2008.
Leticia studied Anthropology at Harvard and has a background international nonprofit work–she has lived in rural Northern India and rural Southwestern China working and studying agricultural poverty and its effects on women. She also completed the first year of culinary training at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris and worked on the line at Jeffrey’s Restaurant in Austin, Texas where she grew up. She is fluent in Spanish and French and (increasingly less) conversant in Mandarin Chinese.
Since joining La Cocina, Leticia has been named one of San Francisco’s Tastemakers by 7×7 Magazine and was named a Yoshiyama Young Entrepreneur by the Hitachi Foundation for her work on the program curriculum and social entrepreneurship. As Programs and Development Manager, Leticia oversees the Mobile Foods project and the Business Incubator and works with staff to set goals with all entrepreneurs around business growth and access to capital and market opportunities.
Leticia brings a passion for the kitchen to La Cocina and a true belief in the power of small food-base businesses in transforming people’s lives.
contact: (415) 824-2729, ext. 306
favorite foods: chilaquiles, quiche and the perfect brownie
Business Development Manager: Geetika Agrawal
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. Back home in San Francisco, Geetika co-organizes Soup SF, a real life kick-starter for creative community projects. As the Business Development Manager, Geetika is excited to be supporting amazing entrepreneurs, leading growth initiatives, and sharing delicious food.
contact: (415) 824-2729 X305
Favorite Foods: Raspberries, Cookies, Her mom’s Palak Paneer, and anything smothered in peanut butter.
Program Coordinator: Daniella Sawaya
Daniella’s love of food stems from early days spent helping her father and grandmother cook traditional Middle Eastern and Latin American cuisine, as well as impromptu eating contests at family parties. From an early age, these experiences instilled in her a passion for cooking, a willingness to try anything, and a firm belief in the power of food to bring together individuals, families and communities.
She received a Bachelor’s degree in Architecture from UC Berkeley, with an emphasis on Design and Urbanism in Developing Countries. Daniella worked with the Foundation for Sustainable Development in Cochabamba, Bolivia, improving accessibility at a farm for children with disabilities. She also worked on a slum-upgrade project in the Mathare River Valley in Nairobi Kenya, in which she collaborated with university students, a local NGO, and the community to propose plans for community infrastructure, housing, and river rehabilitation.
Combining her background in urban studies and her love of international fare, Daniella has wholeheartedly embraced La Cocina’s advocacy for street food vending. She believes that street food offers some of the most delicious and authentic dishes of a place and, as an integrated part of the urban fabric, offers a vital market opportunity for entrepreneurs.
Daniella is fluent in Spanish and Italian, and conversant in Portuguese. She also paints a mean fresco.
contact: (415) 824-2729, ext. 303
Favorite Foods:Macaroni and cheese, runny yolk, maduros, and curry (from every part of the world)
Development and Communications Associate: Michelle Fernandez
When Michelle was growing up, she wanted to be a writer, a Supreme Court Justice, or a Professional Chocolate Chip Cookie Taster.
A few years later, she was on her way to realize these dreams at Amherst College, where she studied Spanish and the History of War. Following graduation, she researched International Crime in the Executive Branch with a two-time Pulitzer Prize winning journalist. One late night, while browsing archives and eating her 3rd chocolate chip cookie of the night, she realized her passion lay with food.
A few weeks later, she was traveling in the Middle East and Asia with her sister and taking cooking lessons from anyone who would teach her. After 6 months abroad, she returned to the States and worked as a line cook in central Florida’s only organic, locally-sourced restaurant. A few burns and shortened thumbs later, she tried a number of odd jobs from teaching English to Spanish-speaking immigrants, to organizing for the 2012 Obama campaign, to working as a program evaluator and sometime surf instructor at the Valpo Surf Project in Valparaiso, Chile.
After moving to the Bay Area, Michelle was fortunate to start as an intern at La Cocina before becoming Operations Assistant, then Events and Marketing Coordinator, and now Communications and Development Associate. Michelle is responsible for handling sponsorship at the SF Street Food Festival, managing press relations, and finding people as passionate about food entrepreneurs as the folks at La Cocina. She’s thrilled to have found a job she loves and the surplus of pupusas around the office.
Favorite foods: sushi, choripan, her mom’s arroz con pollo, and of course, chocolate chip cookies.
contact: 415-824-2729 X 307
Operations and Events Manager: Aniela Valtierra
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.
Contact: 415-824-2729 ext 309
Favorite foods: tacos de papa, arrachera, french toast, and chocolate mousse pie
Retail & Catering Manager: Lisa Murray
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.
Contact: 415.824.2729 ext 301
Culinary Manager: Blake Kutner
Blake 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.
Contact: 415-824-2729 ext 302
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.