When I think of food, I think of the various elegant, modern food photographs I see on Instagram, Twitter and other social media sites. Or I think of the carefully plated dishes we make at the restaurant. I get an image of a bright garden fresh beet on a white plate with color, texture and an unusual pairing. I think about that berry smoothie I made for my family this morning that did not have enough banana for the perfect sweetness, or the “right kind” of protein powder. Admittedly I acknowledge that I have the luxury to choose what I eat—a luxury that not all people have. And I hate that. How then do we bring these two worlds together—the nurturing abundance of food and the struggle for basic needs—for hungry families and individuals? There is an organization that meets these needs—Lydia Place. Lydia Place is a women’s and children’s shelter. In addition to providing temporary housing, the staff and volunteers have created a safe place where women and children can catch their breath, grow, and thrive through providing education, co-living arrangements for them and their kiddos. And they have a gem of a garden.
Being a chef and a passionate about freshness, my Twofiftyflora team and I were invited to Lydia Place to create an event in the new edible food garden on their property. A garden where mature apple trees stand tall, kale, chard, and other hardy greens shoot up from the ground, heirloom tomatoes burst, rows of peppers, and mounds of herbs hunker down in quirky beds and containers, lining the surrounding main house. The garden signifies a good wholesome life. When I first approached the garden, I felt a smile so big on my face, and it stayed with me all the while we prepared a three-course meal in three hours.
The women there are beautiful. Some seemed very leery. While my small staff and I came on-site to begin our preparation, a few women stood back suspiciously and watched us set up tables, pots, and pans and gave us a very wide berth. Others jumped in right away and offered to help as much as possible. With such a wide range of circumstances and varying personalities, these women in transition were obviously all very different. But the one thing that they all had in common was that none of these women aspired to be there. I could see
that on their faces. Once the soup began to scald, the women and children began to gather around. Some of the women had never eaten food fresh from a garden, and others had a long history with victory gardens that their mothers had grown.
The stories began to pour out just as the onions began to sweat, and the aroma of garlic arose for braising the rainbow chard. Blankets and chairs were set out and grills were fired. We were finally all together and present and participating. We made simple soups, because simple is the best way to showcase fresh vegetables. The freshness comes through when we complement nature, not mask it by over-seasoning things. We made roasted rosemary apples and pizza on the grill. One little guy around the age of five really wants to be a chef
when he grows up. He asked to prep and chop and did it all with sparkly fervor. After each direction that I gave him, he responded, “Yes Chef!” Everybody got to make their own creations. Everybody was dignified.