Mission Street passersby will be forgiven for confusing The Civic Kitchen, a new cooking school and pop-up venue that’s open for classes this month, with some sort of hip bookstore. Students entering the space at 2961 Mission Street are greeted with 20 feet of book shelves stocked with volumes on cooking and baking technique. “We had a little joke that we had to build the school to house the cookbook library,” says Jen Nurse, who owns the Civic Kitchen with her partner, Chris Bonomo.
Beyond the library is the real classroom, farther back behind a long communal dining table: A large, open kitchen with professional appliances and room for 12 to 14 students at a time — or, when class isn’t in session, a team of professional chefs hosting private dinners or pop-up restaurants.
“We designed the space so that pop-ups are a shoe in,” says Bonomo. Technically permitted as a restaurant, The Civic Kitchen also boasts a license to serve beer and wine — a key component of any good cooking ritual.
Students can sign up online for longer courses or one-time classes on knife skills, food-and-wine pairing, pickling and fermentation, or how to cook a particular dish. In one of the first classes scheduled, for example, chef Agustín Gaytán will teach students to make tamales. The school’s roster of instructors, which Nurse and Bonomo hope will include popular local chefs, already boasts teachers with notable cooking experience, like Greg Dunmore (Nojo), Lindsay West (Incanto, A16, SPQR), and Sasha Crehan (Bay Wolf, Café Rouge).
Nurse will serve as the school’s lead instructor. After attending pastry school in Seattle and running a bakery there, she was a teacher at Tante Marie’s Cooking School, which closed in 2014 after 35 years. At The Civic Kitchen, she’s particularly keen on teaching young people, and she and Bonomo are coordinating with Mission District organizations to bring local kids into the kitchen.
“A lot of people haven’t had that home cooking experience, at your grandmas knee making pie crust,” says Nurse. “There’s a lot of fear built up in people’s mind around cooking,” she adds, citing “stressful environments on food TV” and more.
Students needn’t worry — Nurse won’t hold competitions in her classes, and far from eliminations, her lessons will culminate in group meals. “There really is nothing like cooking next to someone and creating a meal, or a piece of a meal, and then sitting down to enjoy it together,” she says.
The Civic Kitchen is located at 2961 Mission Street, with classes starting Saturday January 13 and a community open house on January 21.