Iso Rabins has been turning San Francisco's conception of fine dining on its head for nearly half a decade. The founder of ForageSF leads a community of foodies eager to explore a secret universe of eating. He hosts the popular Wild Kitchen dinner series featuring food gathered from foraging adventures throughout the city.
His Underground Market, a veritable food carnival for budding producers, has grown into a national phenomenon. These days, Rabins is working to expand his empire further through the Forage Kitchen, an incubator space for food entrepreneurs.
We caught up with Rabins to hear about his life as a forager, his vision for the city's first food-centric coworking space, his challenges with the city's regulators and the best places to find a hidden something to eat in San Francisco -- restaurants need not apply.
How did you get started in the whole foraging world?
Kind of randomly. My dad lives up north, near Eureka, and I met some foragers up there and was inspired by them. It's nothing I even thought about before. I started collecting mushrooms and would knock on the back doors of restaurants and try to sell them. That was the beginning of my business.
Tell us about Forage SF.
I started following my own interests in wild foraging and morphed that into something that supports local food producers and organizes events around food. The Underground Market, for example -- it's an incubator space for small food producers. I started it because i couldnt find a farmers market to let me in, and I realized that there were a lot of people like that out there.
Why wouldn't they let you in?
I was trying to sell wild foraged food, and most farmers markets are certified, so you have to produce everything you sell. Then you need to apply to sell there, and that can take up to two years on a waiting list to even get in...you spend all this money, then you have to wait. It's emotionally stalling, and it stops a lot of people.
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