photography by Sam Lee
Judging from some of my friends, there are lots of people in this city who would like to learn to cook, but feel overwhelmed by the time it takes to find a good recipe, shop, prep and put the meal together—times seven days a week. Enter The Full Plate (thefullplate.com), a “store” that’s actually more like a commercial-grade kitchen, where folks can cook up to 15 meals at a time with nearly everything taken care of.
I went to the Full Plate’s newest store, in Oakland, last week (there’s also one in Walnut Creek, but unfortunately none in SF yet). Picture a restaurant kitchen, about a dozen gleaming stainless steel workstations on which a different recipe has been posted. My more than a dozen choices — which change every month — included entrees like butternut squash risotto, chicken yakitori, salmon cakes and beef Burgundy. I chose carnitas empanadas because my husband loves carnitas and I am somewhat phobic about working with dough.
There was nothing to fear, though. Everything was laid out for me—chopped onions, diced sweet potatoes, spices, raisins, cooked carnitas and pastry dough layered between sheets of wax paper. All I had to do was follow the instructions and within 15 minutes I had eight homemade empanadas in a pre-labeled freezer bag (which included cooking instructions). Best of all, I walked away from the workstation and left my mess behind me. The staff cleans it up.
I was there on a quiet morning, but co-owner Lisa Alumkal told me that evenings at the Full Plate can get festive, the prep stations lined with after-work cooks sipping wine and listening to music. Sure, it’s not exactly a trip to the farmer’s market followed by a six-course degustation menu, but if it gets busy people that much closer to their food, what’s not to love? Most importantly, the empanadas were yummy.