Gaux Girl - Alison Cayne2019-10-25
Alison Cayne's built a space in Manhattan's food world that feels positively dreamy. Haven's Kitchen, her coffee shop/teaching kitchen/event space in Chelsea, has evolved into a neighborhood staple, where regulars stream in and out to grab quick eats made in small batches with local ingredients. For others, it's a pilgrimage to the organized cooking classes to sip wine, mix with friends, and learn about things like fresh pasta (in a way deliciously reminiscent of the best Nancy Meyers movies).
Alison directs the majority of the activities and developments, a fact that comes as no surprise when you learn she has her master's degree in food studies and has been actively thinking about sustainable living (and eating) since the first of her five children was born.
With that official supermom-status comes skills that make growing her brand look easy. Most recently, she's launched a line of vegan sauces available in gourmet retailers (all while still carving out time to pick up blooms from the farmer's market to personally arrange the flowers that dot Haven's).
Read our chat about the value of cooking, shopping locally, and why phones should be ignored at dinner.
What's your earliest memory of being in the kitchen?
I've loved food since I can remember: the colors and textures, what makes something the perfect bite...I literally can't remember a time I didn’t think about that stuff. I started actually cooking around age eight. First I made sandwiches, then I started getting into oven things—I made my first Thanksgiving meal when I was in the 4th grade. It didn’t turn out well, but it was fun! In middle school I started cooking for my friends, and Sunday nights I made my parents sit down at the table for dinner.
What was your general mission when developing Haven’s? How does food and meal prep factor into a life well lived?
There are so many reasons why cooking is empirically good. The more people cook, the better it is for the environment, farm labor practices, food equity and our personal health. There’s also this incredible sense of accomplishment that comes with making a meal for yourself and your friends—that’s actually the number one reason why people cook. It’s a creative release, an act of connection, and the ultimate act of self-care. I originally built Haven’s to do my part to create a better food system, and that’s still the mission today. The more people cooking real food, the better it is for all of us.
You have five children and committed to keeping tech away from the dinner table, right?
I'm not a particularly strict parent—I can’t be with five kids. It's just me they live with, so I decided pretty early on that there wouldn’t be a lot of silly rules, just some very hardcore nonnegotiables. Dinner as a family, with respectful manners, conversation, and no electronics, was one of them.
It’s where my kids learned to listen and converse and to debate respectfully. It’s where all the good, bad, and ugly came out and we worked through it as a family. Their friends were always welcome, but those table rules were mandatory.
You're a regular at the Union Square farmer's market. Why are you so passionate about shopping locally?
I buy all of my produce here. You can find more varieties that stay fresh for so much longer; when you buy and store smart, it’s a lot less expensive.
I wish people understood that buying lettuce or carrots or squash directly from a farmer not only supports them and ensures that they keep on growing, but that it’s so much better for the shopper. The more diverse our diet, the healthier we are. You can find 22 varieties of apples at Union Square in October—and each one brings something different to our microbiome, so you don’t need supplements. You just need real, local food.
What is your working wardrobe like?
I am pretty casual and decidedly un-corporate, but I do tend to have a lot of meetings where I feel the need to be a bit more put-together than my usual. The City Sandal is perfect because it’s comfortable enough to run around in, but also elegant enough to go anywhere and meet anyone.
What does being a girl on the gaux mean to you?
A girl on the gaux is a woman who is focused on building something. She’s curious, energetic, and takes risks, but is conscious that her boundaries make her stronger—and that humor is the key to all of it.
Photos by Kirsten Francis