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Kitchen Sisters: Telling Your Story

Jun 2, 2015

One way to build community and create connections is with storytelling.  The award winning "Kitchen Sisters" are sharing their experience and expertise in this area at a Zing Train speaker series appearance in Ann Arbor. 

 89.1 WEMU's Lisa Barry recently spoke with this talented duo.  

 In this world of tweets and texts and people with their faces buried in their smartphones, it doesn't look like people are really talking to each other any more. However, the art of storytelling and human connection is the point, and the passion of the Kitchen Sisters. Davia Nelson & Nikki Silva are Peabody award-winning independent story producers that create stories for NPR and other public media, and will be coming to Ann Arbor on June 3rd, as a part of the Zing-Train Speaker series.

Kitchen Sisters: Origin Story

We took our name from two stone masons, the Stone Brothers in Santa Cruz from the 1940's, who built chimneys and fireplaces - but they were also a but wacky. They built Yogi Temples and goat milk bars by the light of the moon. We heard their story when we were just getting started working together, and we were in a kitchen cooking a salmon dinner. The dinner ended up falling apart, but we started calling ourselves the Kitchen Sisters.  It just seemed to fit, and it was their history we were trying to honor. It wasn't even about food at the time, really. It was more about making things together.  Even though our name shows it, we didn't really start doing stories about food in particular until we started the Hidden Kitchens project in about 2004. 

 Before that, and even now, we work on all kinds of stories. All of our stories have something in common, as we try to get to our core essence of what it is that people are really passionate about, what it is that drives them. And what we learn from other people's stories; what surprises us and sort of pushes us. 

Listening As Part Of Story Telling

Listening is a part of storytelling. That's the secret weapon, isn't it? There's this whole movement called "close listening" going on around the country right now. People gather in churches, in bars, in clubs, or in halls and listen to stories and listen to radio together. Almost like going to a movie, it's like a congregation of fellowship, of listening. We're have that sense that if people just spent a little more time listening there would be less war, less conflict. We've become a very impatient culture, and it's an art - listening. 

The Birth of the Frito

One of the most interesting stories the Kitchen Sisters tells is about the creator of the Frito. The Frito was created by a man in Texas who was a really a can-do, almost sort of Thomas Edison character of snack food.

Charles Elmer Doolin met a gas station owner in San Antonio that was making an extruded corn chip out of masa, frying it and selling little bags of the fried corn chips. They were fritos, "little fried things" — the beach food of Mexico. 

Doolin was intrigued by the recipe and he bought the trademarks and the rights and began to perfect the Frito in the way that Henry Ford made the automobile. On an assembly line, and later on with hybridized corn to find the taste he was looking for.

Doolin was actually a bit overweight. Though he was unhealthy and had a bad heart, he was also a bit of a health freak and rarely even ate the salty fritos. There he was creating one of the first salty snacks in all these sort of scientific ways, and he only ate yogurt and figs!

The Doolin Family: Mary Kathryn and Charles Elmer Doolin and their children (from left), Kaleta, Charles and Earl.