Learning to Live a Little (And Not Always Following the Recipe)


chef mike weller of 18 reasons
Photo: Blair Kirkbaumer

You know the feeling—you’re in the kitchen, and your best-laid meal plans have just gone awry. Maybe you’re an onion short, or your tomatoes have gotten mushy. Either way, you’re definitely about to deviate from the recipe. At this culinary crossroads, do you feel anxiety or are you ready to rise to the challenge? 

Chef Mike Weller is in the business of inspiring home cooks to feel the latter – by teaching kitchen confidence, creativity, and repeatable skills. He’s the head chef at 18 Reasons, a nonprofit community cooking school in the Mission District of San Francisco. Well known for his puns, tie-dye, and beginner-friendly classes, Mike embraces the power of cooking fundamentals. “18 Reasons’ mission isn’t just to entertain you for a couple hours” – it’s to make you a better, more creative home cook.

One of 18 Reasons’ most popular classes – and Chef Mike’s favorite to teach – is Basic Knife Skills. In just three hours, students walk away with knowledge of knife care, use, and safety. Through demos and hands-on instruction, Mike leads students through the necessary knife techniques to prep bright vegetables and herbs for salad. In just one class, students overcome common fears that cooking is too hard or not for them. 

This passion for conquering kitchen fears inspired Chef Mike’s new twelve-class fundamentals series: The Confident Cook. His goal? To equip home cooks with repeatable techniques and weeknight-friendly recipes to build a solid culinary repertoire. Each class focuses on a different ingredient or theme, like tofu, soups, and beef. It’s a Pick-Your-Own-Adventure, where class-takers decide which topics are most beneficial to them as a home cook. 

Each class is packed with foundational skills, with a special focus on versatility. For Chef Mike, “it’s a technique more than a recipe”. In The Confident Cook: Rice, Chef Mike uses Fried Rice and Risotto as templates that can be modified to incorporate whichever veggie ends are in your fridge, or whichever produce looks best at the market. Similarly, an odds-and-ends-friendly jambalaya recipe in The Confident Cook: Mixed Meats never needs to be made the same way twice. There’s no right or wrong way when there’s no fixed recipe – only flexible and adaptive home cooks that can make substitutions with ease. 

Chef Mike openly dislikes recipes. This outlook may seem paradoxical from a California Culinary Academy Executive Chef who writes recipes as part of his job – but he opposes the rigidity and apprehension they bring into an otherwise creative and joyful process. Says Mike, “Recipes scare people away from cooking. I want people to cook! If you have 1.5 onions and the recipe calls for 2, make the recipe and live a little!” Mike isn’t concerned with precision or a perfect meal – he cares deeply and passionately about the power of home cooking. 

Teaching was initially Mike’s route to being a better father after his son was born, trading a frenetic restaurant schedule for the reliability of classes. For Mike, “Home cooking is, and always has been, a way of gathering the people I live with together over a shared meal. Feeding them is the most profound gift I’m capable of giving.” This singular warmth and hospitality exudes in every single one of Mike’s classes. On all of Mike’s recipe packets, he includes his email – and is thrilled when students reach out to ask questions, share their successes, and discuss food. 

Join Chef Mike’s community through an upcoming class! Visit 18reasons.org/calendar to sign-up. Hurry before they sell out! New classes are posted on a monthly basis, so be sure to check back for future options.

This advertorial was paid for by 18 Reasons. Edible San Francisco relies on the support from advertising partners like 18 Reasons, who share our vision and want to see the Bay Area’s local food community grow and flourish.