Lindsay Sterling of Immigrant Kitchens loves to share. Sharing stories, sharing recipes, and sharing time with people from all over to gather around a great meal. Her cooking classes, which take place at Fork Food Lab, expose participants to cultures and dishes that they've never before experienced - the recipes come from all over the world, and are taught to her by New Americans. Lindsay is an experienced chef, and it shows in her professional and thorough classes. She told us about her background in fine dining, and how Immigrant Kitchens came to be. Enjoy!
What was your first job?
I was a waitress in a brew pub in Wisconsin. I was in high school. It wasn’t, like, fine dining - it was hamburgers. But I learned that I would rather be in the kitchen!
How did you get involved with food work?
I was living in San Francisco and had just graduated from Middblebury with an English degree. I had worked in restaurants before, but at the time I was working in advertising and wanted to get into cooking. One of my roommates threw a party one night, and I chatted with one of her friends who was a sous chef at Stars, Jeremiah Tower’s restaurant. I said I wanted to shift into cooking and he told me they were doing a tryout for an assistant cook opening. I was like, am I ready for the big time now? We worked on my knife skills for a few sessions, but I went in and chopped the tip of my thumb off in the tryout. I had to go to the emergency room! So I came back a few days later, with my thumb in a bandage and my tail between my legs, and they let me try again. They let me have an extended tryout where I finally proved myself.
What’s the story of your business?
As I gained more experience in fine dining - I liked to go out to eat and think about how the food was made - I always loved to go to immigrant restaurants. I loved the strong flavors and the challenge of figuring out how it was done. I spent a lot of time in an Ethiopian restaurant. I loved it so much and I had no idea what was in the food! So I decided after a period of time in fine dining that I really wanted to pursue my passion for other styles of food. I pitched a newspaper column to the Portland Phoenix that I would do this as a column - learn how to make dishes with immigrants. Soon after, I started teaching the cooking classes. The foods are just so fun and I want to share them with people.
What motivates you to continue and grow your business?
It’s really a combination of the immigrant’s stories of how the came to be living and cooking here, which is fascinating and worth sharing, and then on top of that there are these delicious foods that are also worth sharing. I feel compelled to pass on these stories and recipes because they’re simply so amazing. I can’t stop because it’s so fascinating and good.
Who are some food entrepreneurs that you admire?
I admire food entrepreneurs who make me swoon with their great flavors and textures: Empire, Ottos, Shwarma, Falafel Mafia, Sur Lie, and Asmara to name a few! And I admire the farmers who dedicate their lives to growing the best tasting food with little to no harm to the environment. Six River Farm always inspires me at the market at Crystal Spring Farm in Brunswick. Their organic produce is magical.
What’s your go-to weeknight dinner?
Gallo Pinto - it’s a Nicaraguan beans and rice dish that is so easy and fast and delicious. I like to eat vegetarian as frequently as I can. I like incorporating vegetarian meals for environmental reasons.
Where do you like to eat in Maine?
At the home of someone who loves to cook, preferably with ingredients straight from the garden or farm. The food’s always great, and the connections made while cooking together and sharing stories make me feel grounded and connected in a rare and beautiful way. I hope my cooking classes rejuvenate people in a similar way, through the process of creating something beautiful and interesting together, and sharing the results by candlelight.