How a globetrotting designer found a home in the kitchen
As a graphic designer living in London, Chef Lee Davidson struggled. She remembers feeling unhealthy and stressed, but not being able to pinpoint the cause. Through baking and cooking, she healed herself. By applying principles of design, working with food became a form of edible “art” therapy for her. Now a resident of the Bay Area, Chef Lee is sharing this knowledge through Made2Gather, an educational food community. This Oakland-based cooking school focuses on sustainability and health, going well beyond the simple popup. Participants do not just eat: they learn kitchen skills, cooking the dishes before enjoying the feast together at a communal table.
Building a community
Made2Gather’s culinary philosophy revolves around collaboration, with both the workshop participants and members of the Bay Area food community. Chef Lee brings in ingredients from local purveyors: the produce comes from Oakland’s farmers markets, the spices from Oaktown Spice, and the meats from Ver Brugge butcher on College Avenue. Using local, seasonal products weaves in a crucial layer of building the community that is so important to her.
Chef Lee’s cooking workshops always incorporate elements, both in ingredient and in practice, that she believes “to be nourishing, physically and soulfully.” A literal act of breaking bread immerses participants in the communal atmosphere, as they bake and enjoy a miniature spiced pita together. Get the recipe here. The unique fusion dishes that follow meld Chef Lee’s South African and Israeli heritage, her experiences abroad in London and Israel, and California’s impressive natural pantry. Dishes like basmati rice with turmeric, cinnamon, and cardamom represent this melange. The warm Indian spices evoke a scene from London’s street markets, while toasted rosemary and almonds add an Israeli twist. Chef Lee’s curry with butternut squash and ginger-marinated chicken is another example, fusing a South African meat base with earthy vegetables from Israeli cuisine.
Most of Chef Lee’s dishes are cooked, although she does include raw salads topped with Middle Eastern herbs for freshness. Za’atar and sumac are staple spices, flavoring dishes like roasted Jerusalem artichoke bites. Chef Lee touts tahini as her kitchen’s most versatile ingredient or her “ranch dressing,” which workshop participants also learn how to use: “It can be used in both sweet and savory applications, from biscuits to dressings to dipping sauces.” Her latest culinary experiment has been with Jewish fare like rugelach. A dark chocolate and walnut variety appears on her new spring menus. She is also inspired by her travels, having recently time eating and learning in Japan!
Why everyone should cook
According to Chef Lee, “everyone is a chef,” which she defines as someone who “nourishes themselves and others. It’s about togetherness.” From creation to consumption, Chef Lee encourages participants to simply enjoy the process, not worrying so much about a perfect outcome: “I encourage people to just be [present] in the kitchen, because they are part of the energy transmitted into the food.” The healthful and soul-enriching benefits come from the connections forged through cooking, further enhancing the community Chef Lee is working so hard to maintain. In a world often fragmented by differing backgrounds and beliefs, this is relevant and inviting.
Following the loss of two friends in the Oakland warehouse fire, Chef Lee became even more motivated to fortify this network. By helping others learn and heal, she is “carrying on the legacy of these friends who believed in [her] mission.” For the future, Chef Lee envisions the creation of a cooking school with retreat center, a space where all people can create and educate. Rather than simply a commercial kitchen or a chef incubator, it would encompass food, music, art, and other disciplines. For now, Chef Lee is embracing her role as a cook and as a community-builder, enjoying the freedom that this avenue allows her to take.
Special fundraising event! Proceeds from the meal will go to Oakland International High School.