About DianeDiane LaVonne is a unique combination of conventional learning and life experience, all of which she offers to her guests at Diane’s Market Kitchen. This UNM-educated anthropologist/historian Midwesterener has lived a number of iterations in her 60+ years. Growing up in Minnesota with dairy farmer grandparents and spending much time on their small farm in the 50’s, she learned the lessons of self -reliance and respect for the animals and the farmland that supported them. During her childhood and formative years, she experienced the dramatic shift from small family farms to mega-agribusiness ownership and “management” of much of the acreage of the Midwest.
After college, she worked for several Fortune 500 companies anchored in the health care industry. These positions taught her about the business models and purposes of many health care product and delivery companies, and ultimately led to her expertise in training and developing others. She moved on to being a primary care-giver for her children, owning a successful catering business, instructing martial arts, and participating in her community as a member of a school board overseeing 15,000 students.
As an inveterate asker of questions and a dedicated learner, Diane uses all of her life experience as sources for understanding and growth. Diane believes that eating well, eating delicious, healthy food should be a life choice, not a diet. In her Seattle community, this perspective is manifested in her focus on local producers and people; she shops, uses and promotes local products and ingredients. She also commits many hours to teaching free cooking classes for low income seniors at the nearby Pike Place Market.
In her Kitchen, she brings all of this learning, literally and figuratively, to her “table.” Her goals include helping individuals to manage their resources, to understand the implications of their choices, to be able to prepare and share healthy food, and to create lives with greater health and well-being. Her kitchen is a reflection of the things she values most: sharing, knowledge, curiosity, comfort, integrity, humor, the gifts of talents and skills of the people she loves, and joy.
The Market Kitchen StoryBeginning with what amounted to a concrete box, significant imagination and varied talents were needed to transform what amounted to a “garage” into a space to be filled with food, family and friends, and experiences to enrich the body and spirit. Thank goodness for supportive people … among them, Tina, whose drawings were the beginning; Jon, whose jackhammer work and lessons were a critical part of the destruction needed before creation; Shannon who sent me to the discard part of the yard to discover the beautiful stone that was to become my granite tabletop and countertops; Ruth whose painted chairs were just the kind of creativity and love needed to share events; and mentor and general contractor Glenn whose lessons never stopped and whose patience and tenacity helped realize the vision. Adam, my son, was the “gopher” with the energy, strength and smarts to be part of the solutions. And, the importance of Home Depot being only 15 minutes away cannot be overstated. You know, those OMG moments where missing or wrong parts need quick resolution?
The lessons were many, continuous and vivid. Who knew, for example, that a Honda Pilot could be a construction vehicle with a half sheet of drywall fitting perfectly? Appliance dealers loaned state of the art equipment to make the results worthy of the plan. Add the generosity of neighbors who reminded me to turn off my lights, who served me sustenance even when my hair was filled with construction debris, and who served as coaches and cheerleaders as the “Kitchen” began to emerge. And emerge, it did. A space filled with both the materials and spirit that manifested what Diane knew could be. With Braden’s creation of the website, taking the “Kitchen” out into the cyber world, the business began. Over the course of the last 10 years, as with all visions, finer details, ways to improve, and new horizons emerged to enhance and further define what had been the “pipe dream” some saw … and the vision Diane knew could be made real.
And like the Kitchen itself, guests have arrived and continue to arrive who are all Diane envisioned, and much more. Some come to classes to learn or refresh their skills in various cuisines or dishes; from the pasta classes to Mexican 101, guests taste ingredients, work together, and create both the sensory and conversational experiences that enhance the food. Some arrive to celebrate various milestones or relationships; everything from coming nuptials to birthdays, from far-flung family reunions to locals whose family members haven’t seen one another in a while and “wanted to do something fun together.” Among the memorable events was the bachelor party whose members arrived straight from the gun range, reeking of gunpowder; donning aprons, they spent the next few hours creating pasta together. Another evening it was the in-laws meeting for the first time. Lots of interesting “testing” and conversation there. One evening, three generations of an Italian food company came together with wonderful energy to celebrate; I am sure the whole neighborhood was illuminated by their joy and laughter.
Not only have people come as individuals, but the Kitchen has also served as host for a variety of corporate events. Team building, corporate introductions, marketing events, and company appreciation are among reasons folks have come to the Kitchen. In addition to hosting events for many local companies and foundations, Korean journalists visiting the culinary scene in Seattle came to the kitchen, as well as dozens of Brazilian agri-business folks in 2016. And, let’s not forget all the opportunities, for whomever, to experience innovative pairings of libations and food, classes hosted by other chefs from pastry to sushi, and tours of Pike Place Market whose vendors comprise part of an extended family of which Diane has been a part for over 30 years.
Speaking of vendors, Diane’s commitment to local and sustainable foods and to engaging in a relationship of stewardship with the land, has driven her selection of all elements of her business, including the people with whom she works. Many of the farmers are first generation folks who made very conscious and deliberate decisions to become farmers. Among them are Wade, whose sophisticated business sense as well as his commitment to the earth has helped him create orchards and a range of products that overtly express his values and success. And at Nash farms, one of the owners is a former chemist whose work with the Organic Seed Alliance and commitment to biodiversity brought about the creation of the produce company, to which was added a milling branch as the family strove to serve more customer needs. Eiko and George went from fish to farm, dedicating themselves to the development of sustainable and organic beef production, among other products. Other vendors have been in the business of providing quality food products for generations. This is just a sampling of the folks with whom Diane works, people whose curiosity and creativity have led them to innovations that express their commitment to the larger context of stewardship and care of and for the planet and the people who inhabit it.
Whatever the occasion or motivation for expanding one’s culinary skills and horizons, the Kitchen and Diane’s vision and energy make these events memorable and enriching. Regardless of the places you call home, be they local, national, or international, Diane’s expertise and your presence in the Kitchen will help you experience the connections with food and each other that characterize her philosophy and “inhabit” her Kitchen. And, it is the kind of experience that travels well, enabling you to share with others at home.
ConnectingThe willingness and ability to create and maintain connections is a fundamental commitment for Diane which manifests itself in a variety of ways. Not only does this value show itself in all her classes and events, the neighborhood is part of her “stage” as well. For example, inspired by a conversation with a guest, four months after launching her business, Diane baked every Friday for years. Grateful for the interest and support of her neighbors, she created this as a way of saying “thank you” every week. Neighbors and visitors alike would stop in to sample whatever she had on the counter. And Friday’s cookies were not just popular among the two legged set. A member of Seattle’s finest, a local seventeen hand high police horse Harvest and his rider Officer Mark were often to be found at the door on Fridays as well. She still makes trips to Pike Place and other markets to deliver her baked thank you’s to the vendors and farmers whose continued support and ingredients make her classes so memorable. Another local situation has allowed to Diane to connect with the younger set. With a day care up the street and access to the rooftop playground requiring a trip past the Kitchen, Diane gets to share with the “baby chain gangs” that pass her door. Not only do they provide any needed emotional reboot, they visit for treats, decorations, and moments of wonder.
Pike Place Market is another scene of connecting, specifically with seniors and local residents. Several years ago, Diane found a way to help people not only access healthy and affordable food but to use it more effectively. Creating a series of classes called “Farmers to Family and Friends,” she asked the Pike Place Foundation for help in locating clients and an appropriate space. The Foundation identified potential clients, including those using the SNAP program, and Diane taught free, weekly cooking classes for three years. Taught for 10 weeks during the summer and fall actually at the Market, each class highlighted one recipe using ingredients available that week in the Market. For many, it became a regular “get together” with the kind of rich and joyful time Diane creates in the Kitchen. She now teaches one class a month, often attended by her cohort of devotees.
Buying Local – From Farmer to TableDiane views her commitment to using locally produced ingredients as another way she contributes to and supports her community. She has developed relationships with her vendors because they share a passionate commitment to what they do and are also active in supporting their local communities. Some of these folks have come to food production as second careers, believing that the values that drive their lives can be better expressed with this career path. Others are multi-generational farms, orchards and fisheries. Regardless of their inception, the vendors with whom Diane works have chosen to see their lives and work in a larger context. Providing the world, through the local economy, with healthy, responsibly produced, and sustainable food is their choice. And they share with Diane a devotion to curiosity, creativity and problem solving that serves as the foundation for their production of goods and services. When Diane attended the National Chef's Collaborative Summit (September 2010), she realized that the Pacific Northwest was and is ahead of the curve when it comes to supporting the local food economy. By buying locally grown and produced products, we are re-injecting life into our communities. No wonder Diane feels at home here! More than once a week, Diane can be found browsing, laughing, and chatting not only at the Pike Place Market, but at University District, Ballard, and several other seasonal markets.
Local WinesWashington wines are also a part of Diane's meals. Each month she features a local vintner. Her goal is to find someone with limited distribution, great wine, and moderate price points to feature in her kitchen for a month, giving them an exposure they wouldn't otherwise have. Having researched local vintners, she draws on her knowledge of the current market and invites one of them to be highlighted. Then, for that month, she features three to four of their wines. Out of respect and honor for the winemakers' skills and talents, the wines are sold at the winery pricing.
Eat it to save it: a mantra which resonates with all of Diane's endeavors.
CompanionshipIf you reflect for a moment on the occasions you have invited guests into your home, I suspect you will recall that everyone gathered in the kitchen. I believe that we are “hard wired” to gather in the hearth of the home. It is the place to which we are drawn and the place where conversations naturally occur around topics of family and things of importance. I created the Market Kitchen to feel like a home kitchen. No commercial ovens or cook tops, no commercial pots and pans, just a place like feels like home when you walk through the door. Once here you will find yourself in a space that looks and feels like a home, a place to relax and share conversation and cooking.
Contributions and DonationsDiane has had a lifelong commitment to her community. For her, it is not just what she does, it is who she is. Although she started her business on a shoestring, from the moment she opened her doors in October of 2006, she has given back to her community. In her first year of business her donations raised over twelve thousand dollars for local non-profits. In 2007 -2008 the amount increased to more than fifteen thousand. Her goal when she was developing her five year business plan was to be able to contribute $ 50,000 annually to non-profits.
Community PartnershipsDiane’s community reaches far beyond the Pacific Northwest. Since she opened her doors, she has been a conservation education partner with the Seattle Aquarium. If it is not sustainable and responsibly raised or harvested, the fish and seafood do not come into the kitchen. In October 2008, she partnered with her friend Sushi Chef Phillip Hensyel and the Seattle Aquarium to kick-off the release of the new Seafood Watch card designed for Sushi.
Diane has been an active participant in the Chef’s Collaborative since she opened. This is a national organization which facilitates personal relationships between producers and purchasers, people who are committed to growing, using and encouraging farming and fishing practices which create a vibrant and economically sustainable local food community. She has found through this organization dozens of like-minded chefs who share her commitment to purchase locally and who delight in using the seasonally available products from the Northwest.
Diane has been a member of the Downtown Seattle Association. For two years she has served as Committee Chair for the West Edge Neighborhood Marketing Committee. Her involvement in her neighborhood comes from her desire, as a business owner and resident, to create a neighborhood which celebrates diversity and where business owners can find a venue for discussion and collaboration.
A member of the Seattle Visitors and Convention Bureau since 2006, Diane can be found celebrating and extolling the virtues of her home town. A resident for more than twenty seven years she delights in the opportunity to tell her tour groups or passersby about the sights to see, places to dine, her favorite shops and perhaps a story or two about the places and people of the city she loves.
AcknowledgementsI wanted to take time to acknowledge some of the individuals and companies who made it possible for me to launch this business.
First and foremost to my son Adam, who was my most dependable sub-contractor, who often reminded me to "chill out" during the build out process, and whose "eye" has been impeccable.
To all of my sub-contractors/advisors, Tom, whose insightful questions led me to clarify my vision of the space; Glen, whose persistent, "you can do this", and "it’s all good" kept me going; Nam, whose integrity was an inspiration; Jim, whose humor made frustration disappear; Shannon, who reminded me that "when you jump the net will appear"; Jon, to whom nothing was impossible, and numerous others, who have worked with me to create a place that feels like home to anyone who enters my kitchen.
To my business neighbors who have encouraged me, fed me, and occasionally offered me a drink and a place to rest after very long and often exhausting days of hanging sheetrock, painting or any of the other jobs that had to be done. To those who worked with me to acquire the fixtures necessary, and in time, to help create this beautiful space.
To the local residents and people who work in the area who stopped by while I was deep in the build out process to say hi and welcome me, and whose presence allowed me to stay focused on the "long game".
To the manufacturers who understood my vision and offered to provide me with the products I love and have used for years:
Cuisinart – Small Appliances
Kitchenaid – Small Appliances
Luwa Distributing, Miele Corp - Appliances
Wilsonart – Laminate and Flooring
Wusthof-Trident, Dexter-Russell, Messermeister – Knives
All Clad – Cookware
To Albert Lee Appliance for their generous loan of all of my appliances.
To Wendy whose perspective and knowledge brought my words to life; Ruth, whose delightful chairs help to set the tone for my kitchen; to an amazing young man Braden, who set up my first website, and finally to Tina whose drawings first made it possible for me to imagine that my vision could be built and whose skill and attention to detail allowed me to get my building permits passed on the first review.
To all those who have inspired me in the past and those who will do so in the future.
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