Thursday, August 27, 2009

Homeless People Learn to Feed Others as Chefs

By Nanci Hellmich, USA TODAY

Chef Cecil Morris Jr., 46, of Mobile, Ala., knows what it's like to be on both sides of the soup kitchen line.

He was homeless and addicted to drugs and alcohol in 1992 when he entered the local Salvation Army's adult rehab center.

After a year in the program, Morris asked the chef in charge of the kitchen to teach him how to cook. That chef gave him the skills he uses today as the culinary arts director at the Salvation Army in his community, which serves more than 400 meals daily.

Morris now teaches other unemployed people his trade. "I believe this is my calling," he says. "I believe I was placed here for a reason. I'm a light to guys who knew me from the street. They see me now, and they see how far I've come."

Across the country, many skilled chefs at homeless shelters and social-service kitchens are offering free culinary arts courses to the homeless, unemployed and underemployed. Most of the chefs teach students the ABCs of working in a professional kitchen — everything from knife skills to sanitation to making soups and sauces. The goal: to help lift people out of poverty and get them back on their feet.

Although there is no official tally on the number of trained chefs working full-time to serve the needy, there may be as many as 500, and an increasing number of them are offering culinary training to unemployed and underemployed clients, says chef Jeff Bacon, 42, of Winston-Salem, N.C. He is on the board of directors for the American Culinary Federation, an organization of professional chefs and cooks.

Sometimes the chefs are volunteers who become employees, and some chefs are "rebounding" from their own problems and want to give back, Bacon says. That's what happened to him.

Bacon spent three years in prison for drug-related offenses, then turned his life around and earned a bachelor's degree in nutrition and food service management. He's now executive chef of the Second Harvest Food Bank of Northwest North Carolina. He's in charge of the preparation of 14,000 meals a month for various shelters and non-profit agencies and teaches a 10-week free culinary arts course.

"God saved me for a reason from the mess I got into, and I would be greatly remiss if I didn't give that back to folks," he says.

He says placing his students in the food service industry isn't always easy because many of them have criminal records and poor work history. At the end of their first year in their cooking jobs, about 65% are still employed, which he says is a commendable number.

It wouldn't be possible to do all this if it were merely a matter of "human function," he says. "It's divine intervention, every class."

Nationwide, other professional chefs are teaching cooking skills to the unemployed:

•Chef Marianne Ali, 52, a former heroin addict, is the director of culinary job training for D.C. Central Kitchen in Washington, one of the first community kitchens to offer culinary classes. She and her staff teach a 12-week course four times a year. About 500 students have completed the program over the past 16 years.

Read the rest of the story here.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Congratulations To Class #55

Congratulations to Class #55 of the Second Helpings Culinary Job Training Program, who graduated August 21, 2009. Pictured above (Front Row, Left to Right): Charlene Saunders, Barbara Lopez, Virginia Mason (a.k.a. "Mama Chef"), and Adell Rudolph. (Back Row): Chef Conway, Nashira Johnson, Trent Riegle, James Washington, Cornelius Cooper, and Charles Gray.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Friday, August 14, 2009

Alice Waters Awarded French Legion of Honor

She's won a James Beard Award and a Bon Appetit lifetime achievement award and has been inducted into the California Hall of Fame. But for Alice Waters, recognition by the French Legion of Honor was really special.

"I learned everything in France," the Chez Panisse chef-restaurateur said in a telephone interview on Wednesday. "An aesthetic. The way I serve a meal. The way I think about food. Period."

Waters received official notice from the Embassy on Tuesday. As "Chevalier," she joins a string of high-profile celebrities in the ultimate French insiders' club; "Harry Potter" author J.K. Rowling, singer Celine Dion and fashion designer John Galliano are members. But there are not many chefs, let alone American ones. That's because chefs and farmers of distinction are generally awarded the merit agricole, said Christophe Musitelli, the French cultural attaché in San Francisco. The last celebrity chef inducted was Julia Child in 1991, he said.

"Alice has brought to this country a way to think about cuisine," Musitelli said. "It's not only the cooking but the philosophy, the emphasis on organic, the support of Slow Food. For us, she's a very important figure."

Oh. And Chez Panisse is the destination for local French foodies.

The date and location of the induction ceremony has not yet been decided, Waters said: "They said we could do it in San Francisco or France. And I thought, 'Oh, France! That would be nice.' "

-- Jane Black

Thursday, August 13, 2009

When The Economy Gets Tough, The Tough Get Cooking

Cutting Costs at Culinary School


When Hubert Sawyers signed up for a cooking class last June, he thought it would help make for great date nights for him and his new wife.

With the economy in recession, people are turning to the kitchen to keep costs down. WSJ's Dawn Fallik visits the Culinary Institute of America in New York, where would-be chefs learn everything from knife skills to sauteing at a beginners cooking class.
Then he got laid off from his job as an executive assistant at a real estate appraisal company. The $58-a-person "Sautéed Salmon" class all of a sudden seemed like an unnecessary splurge for the 28-year-old, whose cooking skills were mostly limited to grilling. But the tutorial turned out to be a long-term money saver: The couple went from eating out at a restaurant four times a week to once a week, utilizing Mr. Sawyer's newfound cooking skills as he sought to find a job.

"My sauté game is definitely on now," says Mr. Sawyers, who lives in Royal Oak, Mich. "We save between $25 and $50 a week. The class made cooking at home a lot easier."

Nationwide, restaurant diners and take-out folks are turning to the home kitchen, hoping to cut costs and save money during the downturn. But many, like Mr. Sawyers, need some help discerning a simmer from a sauté.

At the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y., administrators increased their five-day, $2,095 "Basic Training" boot camp to 14 classes a year, up from 10 three years ago. The Whole Foods in the Soho neighborhood of New York City saw enrollment in the store's cooking classes increase 46% between 2009 and 2008, says a company spokeswoman. The number of classes at that store -- ranging in price from free to $75 -- rose as well, to 247 in 2009 from 184 in 2008. Whole Foods does not collect nationwide data on its stores's cooking classes, but a spokeswoman says there's been an overall rise in interest.

The Kitchen Conservatory in Clayton, a suburb of St. Louis, Mo., is on pace to teach 8,000 students this year, a 6% increase in two years, says owner Anne Cori, noting that many of those new students are beginner cooks.

"People take these classes as a reaction to the recession,"says Culinary Institute spokesman Jay Blotcher. "The boot camps help people make better food shopping choices and encourage them to prepare meals more often at home."

Adds Ms. Cori: "Years ago, our classes were all older women. Now we're getting a lot of young male professionals. There's a change in the type of people interested in cooking."

Chefs and culinary teachers are taking note and adapting their classes to address cost concerns by offering grocery-shopping advice and suggestions on reusing leftovers.

In April, the Kitchen Conservatory launched the "Beef Up Your Budget" class, giving hands-on instruction for making short ribs, brisket and sirloin steak – all cheaper cuts of meat. The class sold out within days. This fall, a new "Frugal Fish" class is on the menu, which will teach students how to make low-cost seafood dishes such as tuna burgers.

Students say cooking classes are a good place to ask rudimentary questions without judgment from family, friends or the foodie standing next to them at the farmer's market. And they say it's worth spending money for a class if it means they can save money by eating at home.

"I'm trying to cut back on the money we spend going to restaurants," says Sigrid Miller Pollin, an architect from Amherst, Mass., who took a two-day, $850 CIA boot camp in June.

She and her husband used to eat out two or three times a week and would spend more than $40 each outing. They hoped the class would help them use their vegetable garden more and order out less.

Ellen and Jeremy Amato took the Conservatory's "Pizza on the Grill" class last May to learn how to better utilize their groceries and not be as wasteful. Much of the food they would buy ended up shoved behind take-out containers and then thrown out, says Ms. Amato.

Although Ms. Amato, 28, was a "dabbler" cook, her husband's idea of a fine meal was a fried bologna sandwich, she says.

"My husband was definitely overwhelmed," she says. "We were chopping onions and he'd never diced an onion before."

Now they spent $50 a week ordering out, instead of $150, she says. They joined a community produce-delivery program, and make most of their meals at home. Ms. Amato does most of the cooking, but her husband, 32, will help with the preparation.

"We didn't really know where to start," she says.

Transplant Patients Push Physical Limits

(CNN) -- If all goes according to plan, cancer survivor Kyle Garlett will compete in October's Ford Ironman World Championship, a grueling triathlon made up of a 2.4-mile ocean swim, a 112-mile bicycle ride and a 26.2-mile run.

And he'll do it with another man's heart pumping in his chest.

"I don't think there's anybody who wouldn't consider me a success story and a survivor," Garlett said.

His medical issues began in 1989 when he received his first Hodgkin's disease diagnosis as a high school senior. In 1995, during his third battle with the cancer, doctors ceased his chemotherapy treatment when they discovered it had weakened his heart.

Two years later, Garlett learned he had secondary leukemia as a result of chemotherapy to treat the Hodgkin's, and three more years of chemotherapy ensued.

And after five years on the waiting list, he received a new heart in 2006.

Now, the 37-year-old savors his body's capabilities.

"It's kind of like the starving person who all of a sudden finds himself in front of a buffet. And now I've got the buffet. I've got my all-you-can-eat plate, and I'm just loading it up," Garlett said.

A heart transplant may seem extremely daunting, but Garlett saw it as a more hopeful operation than his years of cancer treatments.

"Going in for chemotherapy, as a patient you know what's happening. Your body is being poisoned and you know that when you come out on the other side of it, you're going to have given up something," said Garlett, a sportswriter and motivational speaker living in Marina del Rey, California.

"On the heart transplant, though, it was completely the opposite. I knew that from the day of the transplant on, every day I'd be getting stronger. And they were now doing something that was going to fix me, improve my life."

Garlett, who says he's "not a klutz" but "definitely not a natural athlete," trains about 15 hours a week for October's Ironman in Kona, Hawaii. Closer to race time, he expects to spend 20 to 25 hours a week in intense training to achieve his goal of finishing within the 17-hour time limit.

Garlett was invited to compete in the elite event because organizers believe he "demonstrates the Ironman mantra: Anything is possible," said Blair LaHaye, director of communications for Ironman.

LaHaye said a handful of athletes are invited to take part in the event each year, but their inclusion doesn't reduce the number of slots for those who get in by doing well in qualifying events, or by winning a spot through the Ironman lottery. Garlett will compete in a half-Ironman or other long-distance event before Kona to validate his selection.

The training and competition are demanding enough for competitors without health issues. But being a heart transplant patient comes with the extra challenge of getting the organ to beat at an acceptable rate.

"When the old heart comes out, all the nerves are severed. And when the donor heart comes in, the nerves are not connected," explained Dr. Jon Kobashigawa, medical director of the UCLA Heart Transplant Program, where Garlett is a patient.

In a person whose heart is intact, "the brain will tell the heart, 'Let's go, start exercising, let's start beating faster,' " Kobashigawa said. A donor heart, however, relies on circulating adrenaline in order to get it going. As a result, heart transplant recipients must warm up thoroughly to get their heart pumping properly.

The "denervated" heart works about 80 to 90 percent as well as a normal heart, Kobashigawa said, "but through exercise, these patients who do strenuous activities, I believe, do get their exercise capacity almost to the normal range, if not normal."

It's also possible, doctors say, for the donor heart to re-innervate -- or grow nerves onto the donor heart.

Following in his footsteps

Garlett is on a trail blazed by Dwight Kroening, the first heart transplant recipient to complete the Ironman, last year in Canada.

Kroening, now 49, got a new heart in 1986 after his swelled to about twice its normal size for unknown reasons.

He was 26 at the time -- a gym teacher, coach and athlete. At first, running with his students became a struggle. Within days, he couldn't walk up a flight of stairs without stopping to rest. Soon, combing his hair and brushing his teeth became too taxing, he said.

When doctors examined him as a candidate for a heart transplant, they told him his heart was working at 8 percent of its normal capacity and he probably had about two months to live.

Kroening began exercising a week after the surgery, but soon discovered he was incapable of athletic activities that required sprinting, he said.

"I [told my doctors], there's something wrong here. I'm not able to do these things. And they said, 'Of course not,' " Kroening said.

"So being me, I was more or less bound and determined to prove that they were wrong, that I could actually train myself to be able to do these things," he said.

But overcoming those hurdles wasn't easy, even after 22 years of practice. Three-quarters of the way into the Ironman's bicycle leg, Kroening felt ill and fatigued, he said. He questioned whether he would be able to finish.

He did, in 15½ hours -- one hour longer than his target. VideoWatch Kroening compete in the Ironman »

"When we test [heart transplant recipients] on the treadmill, their peak heart rate is around 140 beats [per minute] and they can maintain that for one minute. ... When Dwight did the Ironman, we recorded his heart rate, and he was able to exercise at a heart rate of 133 beats per minute for 15½ hours," said Mark Haykowsky, a professor of rehab medicine at Canada's University of Alberta. Haykowsky studied Kroening for research on exercise habits of heart transplant recipients.

Since the Ironman, Kroening has competed in other events, including a marathon and a triathlon. He may compete in another Ironman next year in Arizona, the state where he received his heart transplant.

"I relate [the Ironman] to what I guess would be like childbirth," Kroening said. "In the process, you're thinking, 'I'll never do this again in my whole life. This is absolutely crazy.' But I think probably about three days later that I started thinking, 'Now this might be something that I might want to do again.' "

'The ultimate price'

Both Garlett and Kroening say promoting organ donation motivates them to compete in these endurance challenges.

Kroening also says he wants to make the most of his "orphaned" heart.

"I wish I could meet my donor family and ... thank them personally," Kroening said. "[I want to let them] know for 23 years, I've been taking good care of their son's heart."

Garlett, too, recognizes his donor's family, who provided the heart of a 42-year-old construction worker who died on the job.

"I never lost sight of the fact that that moment for my family of great joy was only going to be coming ... with somebody else having to pay the ultimate price like that," Garlett said.

"And that always was in my head, and this man who gave me his heart would always be with me."

Friday, August 7, 2009

Suddenly, EVERYBODY's A "Foodie"

Parmigiano-Reggiano is the new Velveeta, prosciutto and pancetta share deli counter space with baloney, and pricey monogrammed kids’ aprons with themes like mermaid, dinosaur and princess are sold on cooking Web sites. If you serve iceberg instead of arugula, don’t be surprised if guests don’t clean their plates.

When did food become so snobby that even people who’ve never cooked a meal know what porcini and paneer are? At least two decades ago, experts say. Now "foodies" - a term coined in 1984 in “The Official Foodie Handbook,” according to Mitchell Davis, VP of the James Beard Foundation - support the Food Network and countless other reality TV shows devoted to food. Chances are, many will be flocking to see Meryl Streep and Amy Adams in “Julie & Julia,” opening Friday, which weaves together the stories of a young food blogger in Queens with the grande dame of French cooking, Julia Child.

Child persuaded Americans to swoon over dishes they hadn’t ever known existed, and she captured the nation’s collective interest in cuisine in her famous TV cooking shows.

As Americans familiarized themselves with exotic ingredients, they became more receptive to buying them. It was a no-brainer that exotic ingredients would fly off the shelves when marketing gurus like Steve Jenkins brought them into the country. Jenkins, Fairway’s cheesemonger and a part owner, introduced Americans to balsamic vinegar in 1978, sundried tomatoes in 1979, and olive oil shortly after that.

“It is really reverse snobbery because these foods are made by generations of peasants for other peasants,” Jenkins says. “Then Americans who are late to the party loot the peasant regions and they espouse peasant simplicity with foods eaten by peasants.”

Now, say some experts, the focus may be shifting from the chefs to the food.

“’Julie & Julia’ would not have happened five years ago,” says food trend watcher Phil Lempert, editor of “Julia was a phenomenal person with a great personality but with her, the food came first. Now it’s the chefs who come first, and then the food. But I think we are starting to move away from cute and cleavage back to real food.”

Mitchell Davis says that the distinction between highbrow and lowbrow is finally beginning to blur, and that a “food snob” is very different today than just a few years ago.

“You used to be a food snob if you knew all the different kinds of truffles and foie gras,” Mitchell says. “Now the snob is the person who’s at the taco truck in Queens or the pizza place in the Bronx. This cultural omnivorousness is central among people who want to distinguish themselves through food.”

As proof of the fact that snobbism is going into reverse, he points to Daniel Boulud’s DBGB Kitchen & Bar, the Bowery restaurant that sells more than a dozen kinds of sausages and burgers.

“This never would have happened five years ago,” Davis says. “A chef of his prominence would never have done that. But chefs and diners love it.”

They also love to know a food’s origin these days, says Dorothy Cann Hamilton, founder and CEO of the French Culinary Institute. “For years, our food has been manipulated by corporations that treat us like a feed lot,” she says. “It’s all about how to get us the fattest we can be on the cheapest food without any real taste. But now food has the attention of the President of the United States and his wife. It’s getting a lot less snobby.”

Food snobbism originated and pretty much stayed in large urban areas, says Barry Glassner, University of Southern California professor and author of “The Gospel of Food.” “It’s easier to get food in the cities,” he says. “And people will pay extra there for higher status food. Because food can be an indicator of a person’s social standing.”

But some experts say we’re in for some culinary changes.

“We have gotten carried away,” Lempert says. “And I think we’ll see that all these people who’ve been so chi chi about ingredients are in for a reality check.”