For a brief moment panic was setting in and I wondered if they could see it on my face. I had been working on Bracken’s Kitchen for over 4 years with the last 6-9 months focused on getting our recovered food program off the ground and here I was staring at about 30 pans of recovered food. All my creative planning, hard work and efforts had come down to this and I was scared. As I was staring down these 30 pans of food, my most trusted culinary volunteers were waiting for instruction and I was panicking.
The program seemed simple enough, get high quality left over food from hotels and restaurants and use my talent and skill to turn it into something better. Actually I didn’t even have to get the food. Thanks to Mike and Rick from LA Specialty it would be brought to my door. How easy was that. All I had to do was open the “Chef’s To End Hunger Kits” and go to work.
Sounds easy right, but getting there wasn’t so easy. In this food crazed culture we live in I would never have guessed that finding a full time kitchen to work in would take such effort. But then it couldn’t be just any kitchen. It had to be big enough to handle the production plans we have. Bringing in 30-40 boxes of food a week takes lots of storage space. Then there’s the cooking space, refrigeration space and of course some freezer space. Thank God we found Hana Kitchens and all our problems were solved, at least on the kitchen side. There was still the endless other logistical challenges. Who would get our food? How would we transport it? What would we transport it in? Who would help me process it? How are we going to pay for all of this? Running a non-profit isn’t easy, that’s for sure.
As I stood there staring at those pans of food, all of my hard work and efforts flashed before my eyes. Doubt didn’t creep in it came charging in. Needless to say that making the choices and sacrifices I made for Bracken’s Kitchen has caused me much doubt, worry and anxiety over the past few years. And when I say sacrifices, I am really referring to my family and what they gave up. That usually makes my doubt worse. Long gone were the luxuries that my career success afforded them. No longer being able to surprise my wife and kids with little gifts, dining out in nicer restaurants, an occasional vacation or just being able to go to the grocery store without wondering about our budget has often caused me to question my choices.
As I continued to ponder, the doubt was welling up deep inside of me. It was rising and I started to feel like it was going to overwhelm and drown me. What does a panic attack feel like? Was I having one? I wondered could a person drown from the inside. Was I about to lose it? Could the volunteers see on my face the nonstop thoughts flooding my brain? OMG…
Having spent my career working in luxury hospitality I had this unrealistic vision of what recovered food was going to look like. Even though we have tested this process I still had visions of beautiful fillets of salmon, beef tenderloins and fresh vibrant vegetables. The pictures and colors were vivid in my mind. Visions of all the food I prepared and plated in Beverly Hills and Newport Beach over the years was what I would be working with. That was not what I was looking at. So I took a deep breath, tossed a prayer up to the big man and then as quickly as those thoughts flooded in, my culinary training and creativity kicked in.
As I stared down the limp vegetables, dried chicken, rice, beans and even a few tamales I thought, this is going to be a challenge, but a fun one so let’s get too it. I scanned the food choices and started to look at it in a different light. Suddenly I envisioned a roasted vegetable soup, chicken pot pie, chicken enchilada casserole and pans of peanut butter & chocolate bread pudding. The volunteers and I huddled, made a plan and got to work doing what we love, cooking good food.
All good stuff for sure, but I was still faced with one challenge.
What about all these crumbled cookies thrown into that box? I was determined to use every thing and not waste a thing. So all those cookies became a crust for the top of our bread pudding. Who knew?
In the end we prepared over 300 hot, tasty and nutritious entrees, 5 gallons of soup, 50 portions of salad and 250 portions of some “To Die For” bread pudding. Our friends at Someone Cares Soup Kitchen and the Orange County Rescue Mission benefited from the first run of our recovered food program. However, I must make a confession. We had 14 little tamales that tasted like some sort of chicken and goat cheese. Not sure what it was but we did not use those.
With over 40% of all food grown or prepared in the US wasted I for one am grateful for organizations like LA Specialty and the Chef’s To End Hunger program that wil
l help to ensure that perfectly good food does not get wasted.
And just like that I overcame my panic and watched a dream come true.
Up next, our culinary training program where we will start affecting real change in the lives of those who need it most. Culinary and hospitality training that will lead to real jobs, income and an end to the cycle of poverty.
Thank You to all of you who have helped to make it happen. Forever grateful I am..