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Posts by Paul Day
At DC Central Kitchen, we believe waste is wrong, whether that’s waste of nutritious food, productive minds, or even useful kitchen equipment. So we’re always taking advantage of the opportunities out there to make our operations run more efficiently and effectively.
We wouldn’t have these opportunities if it weren’t for our partners, who look to us to be creative and find ways to utilize what could have been thrown away.
As a result of their kitchen upgrade, we are delighted this week to receive a large donation of equipment from our friends at the IMF and Sodexo including:
- 2 double stack convection ovens
- 1 Alto Sham Combi Oven (this is a really important, expensive piece enabling us to improve the quality and healthiness of our meals)
- 1 flat top griddle
In addition, we received a brand new blast chiller from our friends at CoBank. This is an essential item that will improve how we package and deliver meals.
The value of these donations will save DC Central Kitchen tens of thousands of dollars in equipment costs and productivity.
We’ve learned a lot over the years about how to get the best bang for our buck. Here are some ways we’ve improved our meals over time.
New Cooking Methods
Roasting vegetables is out, which shrinks and adds fat to our offerings. Now we’re steaming our veggies, retaining much more of their nutritional value and size.
Using Our Equipment More Effectively
We used to rely on mixing all of our ingredients in one 65 gallon kettle. That often limited us to serving soups and stews. Now we’re preparing our ingredients separately, blanching and steaming our veggies, and reserving the kettles for mass quantities of starches. This makes a more appetizing and more dignified meal for our clients.
More Balanced Portions
We’ve been adding more seasonal vegetables to our meals and creating a healthier, more balanced plate for our clients.
Integration of Menus
We’re taking what we’ve learned from making healthy, scratch-cooked school meals and applying this insight across all of our meal production. By improving our bulk ordering across all of our menus, we’re reducing costs and increasing our efficiency.
More Raw Ingredients
Over the years, we’ve moved from using mostly prepared food in our meals to more raw ingredients, which ensures we’re producing the freshest and healthiest meals for our clients.
We’re getting more of our seasonal vegetables from local farms and the veggies we’re using in our meals are fresher and tastier than ever!
The most common misconception about DC Central Kitchen is that we’re a soup kitchen. Here are 4 ways we are very different.
DC Central Kitchen doesn’t serve meals. Unlike a soup kitchen, no one lines up at our door to receive a meal. Using recycled food from the community and an army of volunteers, our main kitchen in the basement of the largest shelter in America produces 5,000 meals every day that are distributed to nearly 100 partner agencies around the city. The meals we produce help defray food costs of the agencies we serve, allowing them to focus more of their limited resources on their unique programming.
DC Central Kitchen is not a feeding organization. Simply feeding more people is not our goal. Food is a tool, a gateway, to make people’s lives better. With every meal we distribute comes a message of empowerment. Through our 14 week Culinary Job Training Program, we’re shortening the line of hungry people and breaking the cycle of dependency by providing real opportunities for people to make their lives better through hard work.
Our volunteers work alongside the people they are helping. This is different than a soup kitchen, where volunteers are working behind a sneeze guard barrier. At DC Central Kitchen, our volunteers chop and dice alongside students and graduates from our 14 week Culinary Job Training Program, which includes men and women just out of prison, individuals who were formally homeless, and people that once suffered from addictions. It’s not just about chopping and dicing. We’re challenging stereotypes about “the poor” and “the hungry” in the process.
We’ve pioneered social enterprise. We don’t get by pleading for pennies. Through our healthy meals for DC Public Schools, in-house catering business, and partnership with corner stores to provide fresh produce, we’re generating 60% of our own revenue, becoming more sustainable, and providing innovative solutions to combat hunger and promote health in the community. All of our social enterprise projects employ our culinary graduates at living wages and provide more opportunities for those who were previously dependent on society to give back.
Adults who were unemployed, in prison, or homeless just a few months ago are cooking their way to success through DC Central Kitchen’s Culinary Job Training Program. Their first challenge? Whipping up empanadas that will be judged by professionals in the restaurant industry.
The Culinary Job Training Program is just one of the DC Central Kitchen programs that benefits each year from Sound Bites, an outdoor food and musical festival on May 19 at the 9:30 Club. The event will feature dishes from such notable restaurants as El Centro, Bar Pilar, Pearl Dive Oyster Palace, The Hamilton, and many more.
Beyond the event, restaurants featured at Sound Bites are getting involved in other ways. Chef Anthony Lombardo from 1789 and Lori Scott, Sales & Marketing Manager from Gordon Biersch, will meet students and provide career advice during the students’ cook off on May 8. Lombardo is an active supporter of the Culinary Job Training Program and Gordon Biersch recently raised $7,800 for DC Central Kitchen from their Navy Yard location opening.
To prepare for the cook off, students, who work in teams, are expected to research empanada recipes and bring them to team members for collaboration. Teams have two days to choose, practice, and tweak the dish for the competition.
The cook-off occurs during week six of the 14-week program, which trains students for careers in the food industry, including all facets of work in a professional kitchen. Additionally, students attend self-empowerment sessions and graduates are assisted in an intense job search to obtain full-time employment at local restaurants, hotels, caterers, and other hospitality businesses.
“We couldn’t do our work without our partners in the restaurant industry,” said Paul Day, Communications Manager for DC Central Kitchen. On April 24, chefs from four participating Sound Bites restaurants visited DC Central Kitchen on Heritage Day, a hands-on cooking demonstration that provides culinary skills and career guidance to students in the program.
“This program provides a unique opportunity to encourage an open dialogue about personal challenges and then we help the students develop strategies for dealing with them,” said Marianne Ali, Director of Culinary Training. “We use food preparation to prepare students for future careers, but also to teach life skills.”
For students like Shania, the program provides a unique opportunity for growth. “It has been challenging in every way,” she said. “It’s helping me with the constant battle to break out of my old patterns.”
For others, the program teaches discipline. “I’ve learned to accomplish a lot of things, like being more responsible, and to not let my attitude disrupt my future,” said Lawrence. “I am learning how to ask for help.”
Here’s another chance to help feed the SOUL of the city!
We’re proud to announce expanded volunteer opportunities in the afternoon on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. These new shifts will allow volunteers to play a greater role in meal production at our 425 2nd Street kitchen, assisting staff in producing 5,000 meals each day for over 100 different partner agencies.
The new 1 to 4 PM shift starts on May 1st. Head over to our volunteer registration site to sign up for the new shifts through the end of the year.