Chris Russell/AP

Chefs Add Flavor to Soup Kitchen Fare

June 18, 2009 06:00 PM
by Rachel Balik
Chefs across America are donating their skills to homeless shelters, transforming donated food into gourmet meals.

From Fine Dining to “Feeding America”

Tim Hammack worked at a French bistro in Napa Valley for two years before he realized that serving haute cuisine to the wealthy was not meant to be his life’s focus. He continues to run a catering company on weekends, but he works five days a week at a Christian mission where he feeds the needy and even teaches them how to cook. Although Hammack is undoubtedly influenced by his modest upbringing and religious background, he is not the only chef redirecting his skills toward charitable endeavors. The New York Times reports that about 40 trained chefs have donated their services to Feeding America, a nonprofit network of food banks.

The limitations of donated food require some adjustments, but they also inspire creativity. Innovative cooking lessons are part of the territory in the shelters, where the homeless serve as sous-chefs. One recovering drug addict told the Times that while working in the kitchen, “you learn how to tolerate change, especially at the last minute.”

Background: Celebrities help out

Feeding America also works closely with a group of celebrity supporters. According to Web site Look to the Stars, David Arquette, Courtney Cox, model Molly Sims and others decorated eggs to be auctioned off, at a charity benefit in April. In addition to the money raised by the auction, United Egg Producers gave Feeding America a truckload of eggs for each egg decorated by a star.

Also in April, a General Mills press release announced that General Mills and singer Beyonce were partnering to help Feeding America deliver meals to food banks. Beyonce will encourage fans to bring donated food to her concerts and others can help by submitting codes found on Hamburger Helper packaging.

Opinion & Analysis: Do soup kitchens need gourmet chefs?

A post on Daily Kos reported that some pundits think that the creativity in soup kitchens is wasteful, especially when it apparently results in gourmet-type meals for the homeless. Concerns that such meals are costly and a drain on government resources appear to be unfounded; in the specific case cited by the post, the chef in question, Richard Weinroth, was working for a privately funded organization, Meet Each Need with Dignity (MEND), and made use of fairly inexpensive donated food in a creative way.

Related Topic: Recession can inspire reevaluation of life’s work

The economic crisis has led some people to decide that money is not the only thing that matters in life. They might want to take a look at the example set by Hristo Mishkov, a former Nasdaq trader who gave up his career and joined a monastery. Now known as Brother Nikanor, he hopes that the recession will lead others to question their values.

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