A Community of Abundance and Flavor: Our Time Kitchen

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BmoreArt’s Picks: March 19-25

Chef Catina Smith’s Challah French Toast with bruleéd bananas, toasted walnuts, streusel cajeta, and maple syrup is a choir of delightful harmony, served at a spring brunch pop-up at Our Time Kitchen.

My senses are activated and overwhelmed by each perfect note: the dense yet airy crumb of the challah bread; slices of bruleéd bananas warmed in aromatics and glazed in a bath of butter and sugar; and then, amidst the softness, the crunch of a tree nut releasing its bitter and earthy notes into the sweetness. Finally, the cajeta—a goat milk dulce de leche—releases layers of flavor. It’s rich but vibrant and tart, like licking caramel from a gold spoon. The tanginess of the goat milk penetrates through at the exact moment saltiness from the challah releases on my palate, and suddenly, I feel it. Tears well in my eyes. It’s the perfect bite.

Drive south on Howard Street, and the colorful exterior of Our Time Kitchen, Baltimore’s newest ghost kitchen, stands out amongst its neighbors. The spirited botanical mural, created in collaboration with the community by AfroLatina artist Jaz Erenberg, features hands planting seeds and a long sigmoid braid curling along the wall. “It’s inspired by the resilience of Black people that were forcibly enslaved and brought to the US, braiding seeds in their hair and planting those seeds as a way to survive,” explains co-founder Chef Kiah Gibian. “Braids have an essence of femininity,” she says. “It was important for us to get the mural up fast, so it’s a talking point,” adds Chef Cat. 

No other aesthetic design achieves that goal quite like a large-scale mural. Murals are unique in their collaborative nature, a form of public art that captures so many points of view at once. It is a combination of what an artist feels, what a community wants to see, and what civic officials or private property owners are willing to fund. Baltimore Mural Program, a BOPA initiative, has helped produce more than 250 murals in the city since 1975 in an effort to beautify neighborhoods. The Maryland State Arts Council funded Our Time Kitchen’s mural. No matter how they come to be, murals disrupt everyday reality and beg passersby to stop and ponder; to ask for and seek meaning.

Just underneath the vibrant mural, onlookers will find a well-stocked herbal garden full of medicinal herbs available to the community to take from as needed. Inspired by her work as a doula and her love of foraging, Chef Kiah explains the herb garden is a way to showcase what plants and foods can be used as medicine. There’s a garden bed focused on gut health, a bed focused on nerve support and sleeping—so people can heal themselves. Each bed is set up to relieve a specific sickness.

Mural by Jaz Erenberg
Chef Kiah Gibian and Chef Catina Smith
First and foremost, we were trying to figure out a way for Black women to build more equity in the city.
Chef Kiah Gibian

Chef Kiah, owner of Wilde Thyme, and Chef Cat, founder of Just Call Me Chef, co-founded Our Time Kitchen in 2020. “First and foremost, we were trying to figure out a way for Black women to build more equity in the city,” Chef Kiah says. Shared commercial kitchens have long been used to create positive economic, environmental, health, and social effects for communities—a mission that Our Time Kitchen hopes to foster in Baltimore. 

“When COVID hit, we were like, let’s do the thing. Ghost kitchens were popping off, people needed a place to cook, and we wanted to help small businesses,” Chef Cat says. Both chefs say the conviction to build a better kitchen came while cooking free community meals during the height of the pandemic. Chef Cat had her one-month-old, Josh, in tow when they arrived at a ghost kitchen in Brooklyn, MD. The kitchen was dirty and covered in barbeque sauce from the previous business. “I think Josh dropped his bottle and started crying and we realized, this isn’t working. We have to imagine a different kind of kitchen,” Chef Kiah recalls.

During the first few months of the COVID-19 pandemic, food insecurity was one of the biggest needs identified in Baltimore City. Five hundred free meals a day were being distributed by the Wild Thyme food truck in collaboration with The Cherry Hill Leadership Team and Black Yield Institute. One thousand meals a month went out with partners Mera Kitchen and, later, more free meals were funded by Civic Works. The mutual aid free food programs evoked the spirit of the Black Panther Free Breakfast Program of the 1970s, which served thousands of children a day at its height and was organized to address food insecurity and consequently pressured the government to create the USDA’s free school breakfast program in 1975.

In Dean Spade’s book Mutual Aid: Building Solidarity During This Crisis (and the Next), he explains that “Mutual aid is collective coordination to meet each other’s needs, usually from an awareness that the systems we have in place are not going to meet them.” Governments co-opt social justice movements and mutual aid in times of crisis through income support, free food programs, and rent relief. Once the instability passes those programs disappear. “This has been the historical pattern for relief in the United States: it gets expanded during a crisis, and then contracted and stigmatized as soon as the crisis has lessened,” Spade writes. 

“We thought a simple solution was to create a space where people could build equity, but we quickly found out that people need affordable housing and childcare and all these other resources to even be able to show up here and start,” Chef Kiah says.


Our Time Kitchen is more than just a kitchen to cook in, the design gives points of commerce where startups can build a following, sell goods, and host events and dinners. 
Nani Ferreira-Mathews

Our Time Kitchen opened in July of 2022, almost two full years after they started building the concept. They opted to purchase the building at auction instead of renting a space. “We’re trying to shift ownership and who holds capital in Baltimore,” Chef Kiah says. Our Time Kitchen membership quickly filled up and now is home to twenty-six small businesses, most of which are Black or women owned. By the time Our Time Kitchen opened, the funding for free meals in Baltimore had either diminished or been rerouted to other programs, though the residents of Baltimore still suffer from food insecurity, especially in the Black Butterfly.

Chef Cat, originally from Baltimore, has been building relationships across the city’s diverse network of chefs for years. Her resume is impressive, sprinkled with roles such as Executive Chef and Sous Chef in some of Baltimore’s most demanding kitchens. But as a young Black female chef, she often experienced denigration. During her time as Sous Chef at Guy Fieri’s restaurant in the casino, she recalls working sixteen-hour days, seven days a week. “It was terrible,” she says, “It was so much toxicity. The guys in there didn’t respect me.”

It wasn’t until she began her role as the first executive chef of Dovecote Cafe that Chef Cat found a kitchen where she could thrive. “I had found my tribe. I’m working for Black women. This is a safe Black space,” Chef Cat recalls. She founded Just Call Me Chef, a national sisterhood of Black women chefs, in 2018. “In all this mix of me finding my place, I’ve been doing popups. I had been going to things and making my presence felt,” she says. “I was just building relationships.”

Community building is a theme that runs throughout her career. In 2017, Chef Cat started hosting meetups where chefs could hang out, network, and build community. The recurring challenge of no affordable kitchen space was first identified during these meetups.

Chef Cat and Chef Kiah met in 2017 and have collaborated ever since. The co-owners and entrepreneurs envisioned a commissary kitchen and community space. Our Time Kitchen features a pop-up window, a marketplace, and a backyard space with a food truck for its members to use in conjunction with the kitchen. Our Time Kitchen is more than just a kitchen to cook in, the design gives points of commerce where startups can build a following, sell goods, and host events and dinners. 


Architect Megan Elcrat of Present Company assisted the duo with their vision of building a shared kitchen that would foster community gathering. “Our Time Kitchen was the first project after the pandemic that I got to see come to life,” Elcrat says. “I remember being at the grand opening and how happy I was.” Our Time Kitchen officially opened July 7, 2022. Now surpassing their first full year in operation, I ask what’s new for 2023.

“We plan to truly activate the hell out of this back space,” Cat says, pointing to the courtyard. “And demystifying how to start a business.” She thinks the city resources and websites are not user-friendly for startups and new entrepreneurs. 

“Everyone eats,” Chef Kiah says. “It’s an accessible point to pivot into entrepreneurship because you can teach yourself; it’s community taught, and you can start at home.” Our Time Kitchen offers a business series with lessons on “how to pop-up” and “how to permit.” These knowledge-sharing lessons are often led by other members or local entrepreneurs. Our Time Kitchen reminds us that the kind of community we crave does not come from the city or state governments, and that to build the city we want to live in, we often have to do for ourselves.

Chef Catina Smith and Chef Kiah Gibian

This story is from Issue 16: Collaboration, available here.

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