We’ve all seen the lists telling us what the Top 25 Careers to pursue in a recession, but here’s a new idea. Cook. Bake. Boil. Blend. Mix. Create. The tough economy is inspiring creativity in the kitchen.

The “incubator” kitchen, that is. Yesterday, the Los Angeles Times featured a story about Chef’s Kitchens Co-op in Los Angeles, but there are 60 such incubators nationwide. Why would anyone want to do this?

“Everybody has a dream of some kind of food . . . a favorite dish they really think people would love,” says Bell, a former caterer with 25 years of experience. “People are a lot more interested in what goes into their food, the ingredients, the health aspects. By buying from people who are also concerned about that, you can get food of the caliber you would make at home.”

Jeanine and I are constantly coming up with food concepts that we believe the general public can’t live without. Some are good ideas like low-fat trail mix while others have been a bust in our home “test” kitchen. Just ask a couple of our friends about the frozen “Waffle Cows.” That was a waste of a Saturday morning, but it provided all the testers (including us) with some good laughs.

Jeanine would love to own a food business. We’ve dreamed about opening a cheese shop or a Jewish deli (think Zingerman’s), but they’re really just fantasies. It’s an expensive venture to launch and the risks are enormous. Plus, most fail. But we continue to dream. And cook.

So when I see articles like the one mentioned here, it gets us thinking again about the possibilities:

There are dozens of stories behind the bowls and stoves and recipes at Chef’s Kitchens, an incubator for food businesses. Stories of people shedding careers or adjusting to new and unexpected challenges. People with a dream and a cleverly decorated cookie or a family tamale recipe or the goal of owning a restaurant.

A small food business often starts at home — cooking or baking after a day job, handing out samples, asking friends and family for advice. But after that, the home cook must confront the reality of insurance, permits, packaging, marketing. And a kitchen. Selling food from most home kitchens is illegal. Building one can cost tens of thousands of dollars; rental kitchens are scarce.

You would think the recession has hurt the incubator kitchen business, but quite the opposite.

Last fall, Bell says, the economic news left her worried that “things could get pretty rough” for her incubator, but that hasn’t happened. In fact, she says, her office is getting more calls, five or six a day, inquiring about the kitchens.

That’s a lot of cooks in the kitchen. I guess it makes sense. When people get laid off, they often reconsider dreams that they might never have the courage to pursue. It’s hard to walk away from a good paying job, but when the economy does this for you… well, some of us just might decide that it’s time to start baking our famous granola cookies for hire. And the incubator kitchen will be there waiting to let us use it by the hour.

How has the economic crunch given more meaning to your dreams?

Photo credit: stock.xchng.