Finding the Flavor
commercial kitchen built for creativity, education
In a culture that is heavily based around local farming and produce, Trish Cummins wanted a place that could nurture that culture while also providing a fun, educational experience. After close to a year of work, she opened Forage, a shared-use community kitchen at Banbury Place in downtown Eau Claire.
“It started from a long-time interest in local food,” she said. “There’s missing knowledge, like what food people can get at the farmers market, or what people can do with a whole chicken.”
Cummins hopes that people can focus on questions like those at Forage, a 1,000-square-foot loft in Building 13 at Banbury Place with a full kitchen and dining area that overlooks the Eau Claire River. “I really wanted to be centrally located,” she said. “The reality is that a commercial kitchen can be an expensive undertaking, and by going to Banbury, I got to stay downtown and they just made it very easy to move into a space that was ready to go.”
“There’s missing knowledge, like what food people can get at the farmers market, or what people can do with a whole chicken.” – Trish Cummins, on the educational aspect of Forage
The motto for the space, “Create, educate, celebrate,” hones in on three areas in which she feels the community has needs in the local food industry. “There will be events specifically around food, but also the space was designed to showcase art and small music venues, and maybe film down the road,” she said. “It’s just a place to bring it all together.”
“Create” refers to the opportunities presented in the full-scale commercial kitchen, featuring a large amount of cooking and baking supplies and storage areas for anyone who wants to rent it out “for a low price.”
“I created the space,” she said. “But the idea behind the name is that there are so many people out in the community with stories to tell, recipes to share, and knowledge to impart in the area of food.”
Cummins sees the kitchen being used for local producers who want a centralized location for their operations, for entrepreneurs who have dreams of a restaurant and want to test their practices in a low-risk facility, and for parties or fundraising events. “And if a food truck culture starts in Eau Claire, this would be an ideal kitchen for them,” she added.
“Educate” has multiple meanings in the Forage scope, as the space will be available for people of all ages to take cooking classes. But it will also be a place where local farmers can gather a group of consumers and teach how to cook with their products, or where students can come for an educational field trip. “We want to educate the big issues surrounding food,” she said, “Food scarcity, relocation of our food, where our food is coming from. ... A really important piece of this is children and their food education.”
The last part of the Forage trifecta is to celebrate food, creativity, and community in the space. That was on display during the recent Banbury Art Crawl, when Forage had its grand opening. The opening featured cooking from students who had just learned a new recipe, and while people ate at the long, wooden dining room table, they could enjoy art by local artist Lori Chilefone and photography by UW-Eau Claire professor Ellen Mahaffy. In the back of the space, local farmers sold their winter produce ranging from toffee to potatoes. “(It) was a wonderful grand opening,” Cummins said. “A typical grand opening, we may have expected 50 people, but there were close to 4,000 people walking in and out during the crawl.”
Now that the space is open, Cummins hopes that people can find a way to utilize Forage in whatever creative, community-driven way that they can.
“We want people to reclaim their connection to food,” Cummins said. “Whether it’s sharing their grandpa’s barbecue sauce recipe or teaching a class to kids about eating their vegetables. ... It’s meant to be filled with community members who are moving forward.”