"D id you have your whey shot? You can't have the ricotta if you don't do the whey shot, did I not make that clear?"

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Best Leap-of-Faith Inspiration

Diane's Market Kitchen

"Did you have your whey shot? You can't have the ricotta if you don't do the whey shot, did I not make that clear?"

It was a Sunday afternoon in the Pike Place Market during the Seattle Cheese Festival, and while other chef demos had onlookers staring uninterestedly, waiting for the free-sample finale, the presentation by Diane LaVonne of Diane's Market Kitchen had people fascinated. Instead of fake-cooking her way through a recipe, she shared a story about true ricotta, which is made by boiling whey, the liquid left after the curds are strained during cheesemaking. We were able to taste Diane's final custard-like dish made with asparagus and ricotta, but also to understand where it came from, with shots.

This is what LaVonne does for a living. In her small, tidy kitchen on the corner of Post Alley and Spring Street, just a few blocks south of the Market, she offers hands-on cooking instruction that serves as part class and part dinner party. Her sessions might tackle a single dinner menu or run with a topic, such as Italian food basics. One recent attendee, a concierge to American Express Black Card holders, described Diane's as "a cooking spa." A Midwest native, LaVonne has an infectious, affable demeanor that draws you in immediately. If you weren't paying her to show you how to make dinner, you'd want her at your next potluck.

"I want to inspire people to try stuff they'd never try," says LaVonne. "That's how you get people involved in food. And I have all the reference material I need just up the street."

Five years ago, LaVonne found herself in a position where she'd lost everything. She had the idea for her kitchen, constructed a thorough business plan, but couldn't get anyone to loan her the money. Excuses ranged from her lack of collateral to her concept seeming too much like a restaurant and therefore posing a high risk. "I went online and found this space, and I negotiated the lease myself. I had enough money to spend for a couple hours on an architect, and I have a girlfriend who drew plans for me. Then I started calling people who were in a position to say yes," says LaVonne. One of those yes-men turned out to be the Miele appliances rep, who helped LaVonne get all her appliances free. "That's when I knew I was on the right track," LaVonne says. "When you know what you want, you just have to put it out there and leave it up to the universe."

On a recent afternoon, a neighborhood couple stops in to pick up a bottle of olive oil. They jaw for a while and talk about plans for an upcoming dinner. "He developed one of the procedures used for angioplasty," says LaVonne with some reverence. "I've had so many amazing people around this table. I teach, but I've also gained so much."

There's a great quotation from Risky Business that encapsulates a particular approach to life: "Sometimes you've gotta say 'What the fuck?' 'What the fuck?' brings freedom. Freedom brings opportunity, and opportunity makes your future." I don't think I've ever met anyone who embodies that quotation more than Diane LaVonne.â€"Maggie Savarino

 
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