Building Community through Food
Sometimes I have a hard time coming to terms with doing what I do. I struggle with working in restaurants that only serve the wealthiest people, creating art that caters to people who have the means to drop a few hundred dollars on a meal. Don’t get me wrong, I love creating dishes, pushing the boundaries, and how else am I going to do that than with wealthy guests? But it’s still a struggle.
I used to work at an organization called Create Common Good in Boise, Idaho. At CCG they work with individuals with barriers to employment (refugees, immigrants, previously incarcerated, etc) and train them in foodservice skills and help them get jobs at hospitals, hotels, restaurants or other foodservice establishments. To fund the program they accept grants and donations, but that’s only a small part of their annual revenue. The rest is funded by a food production company by mass producing bulk products for local food businesses. I love the mission and I love the work they do. I worked there for two years as the Food Program Manager, doing food safety program development, account management and some of the training and I loved the culture of the workplace and the sense of family. But sitting at a desk scrutinizing food safety regulations and creating Excel spreadsheets wasn’t super fulfilling, so I left to pursue the culinary arts.
I lived in Boise for over 6 years before moving to the Bay Area, and though I’m loving my new home, I miss the community that I had become a part of in Boise. So, when CCG invited me back to the CCG kitchen to cook for an event, it was something I couldn’t pass up. On June 2nd I was a guest chef for CCG’s bimonthly Supperclub, a fundraiser and “friendraiser” event. A three-course dinner with special guest speakers, Supperclub is meant to inspire guests to join the CCG family by either volunteering or giving.
It was a wonderful experience to take what I’ve learned over the last 9 months and apply it to a three-course dinner for 30 people. I spent a good part of April and May tweaking my Culinary Clash menu to reflect Idaho more thoroughly. I talked to some farmer and chef friends and was connected to others who helped me brainstorm what would be in season. I was able to work with another previous CCG employee who had also left to pursue his passion - small scale agriculture. He is currently running a small-scale poultry operation and I purchased free-range, organic chickens from him. There’s nothing better than chickens that are so fresh you still need to do some feather plucking. He connected me to another farm where I got all my herbs and flowers. Another friend connected me to a farm that ended up donating a bunch of produce, even though I offered to pay. It was a real testament to the Boise food and agriculture community.
The event itself went off without a hitch thanks to a group of really stellar volunteers helping me on the line and working as servers. In addition, a Board member spoke about the power of CCG and former trainee told their stories. It was great to be back with my CCG family.
For me, food is all about building community. When people sit down to have a good meal, they are there to have an experience, and it is up to us as chefs to guide that experience, to tell a story. If we can inspire people with the stories we tell, we can help to effect change, however small that change might be.