By: Jan Engoren
Alongtime vision in the making came true on July 12, when Feeding South Florida, part of the Feeding America food bank network, celebrated the grand opening of its state-of-the-art, 5,000 sq.-ft. community kitchen – virtually, of course.
Via Zoon and Facebook Live, celebrity chefs – Lindsay Autry of The Regional Kitchen & Public House in West Palm Beach, Allen Susser of Chef Allen’s Consulting in Hollywood, and Timon Balloo of Balloo Restaurant in downtown Miami prepared the kitchen’s very first meals using nutritious items from Feeding South Florida’s pantry into unique, savory, and creative dishes for the whole family.
The event was hosted by Chef Ralph Pagano of Naked Taco in Coconut Creek, and Chef Randy Fisher of CREaM in Miami.
“This community kitchen is a vision that Feeding South Florida has had for quite some time, and we are so excited to finally present it to the community it via this virtual event,” said CEO Paco Vélez.
“This is just the beginning, because the kitchen will serve the community by providing meals, workforce training, catering as social innovation, an incubator for community support and family cooking classes,” he said.
Chrissy Benoit, general manager for Feeding Palm Beach County says cooking for a large volume of people is a more thoughtful process.
“We dedicate a lot of time to testing recipes from larger crops so that we can utilize them in ways that are both healthy and exciting for our clients,” she says. “This enables me to have a deeper level of connection to our community. Everything we cook is made with care and the food matters in a completely different way.”
“There is a sense of peoples’ needs that drive you, not just a sense of want or desire as in a restaurant dining experience,” says Benoit, who says an emphasis is placed on ensuring these meals are healthy and nutritious.
She says a typical meal might consist of citrus marinated chicken, grilled and served on rice and black beans, fresh Pico de Gallo and fresh baked peaches topped with a whole wheat crust.
Although the kitchen is located in Boynton Beach, it will provide meals to nearly 1.3 million people in Palm Beach, Broward, Miami-Dade and Monroe Counties and will advance Feeding South Florida’s mission of ending hunger in South Florida by serving up to 10,000 meals per day for children’s after-school and summer programs, meals for older adults and medically tailored meals. The kitchen will also provide critical meals during disaster response.
During the pandemic, FSF worked with its parent company, Feeding America, government agencies, school districts, county government and local community partners to strategically deploy food resources and provided drive-thru food distributions throughout the community.
According to their figures, over 40 million pounds of food (33.3 million meals) have been distributed in the four-county area during the pandemic alone, in 14 weeks — a pace that translates to nearly 150 million pounds over a 12-month period.
To put that in perspective, for the entire last fiscal year, FSF distributed 62 million pounds (51.6 million meals).
Not only a production kitchen, the space will also function as culinary training program, social enterprise catering, job training, resume writing and incubator space for graduates of the program, and offer healthy cooking classes.
Sari Vatske, FSF’s executive vice president, says, “It’s great to see the kitchen up and running.”
“It’s important for people to know that we think ending hunger is possible,” she says. “Hunger is only the symptom of a larger cause. We want to train people to be employed and break the cycle of hunger and poverty.”
Due to COVID-19, the start date has been pushed back to later this fall. Vatske says there is currently a waiting list of people eager to enroll.
“People are excited,” she says, noting that their 300 partner agencies are also excited and eager to refer clients.
Vatske anticipates an ongoing need for both donations and volunteers.
To learn more visit www.feedingsouthflorida.org