News From the Kitchen
Judy, known around here as “Ms. Judy,” is from Calgary, and she first heard about Liberty’s Kitchen in 2008. She was working for the fire department and missed a chance to go to New Orleans to volunteer with the department in post-Katrina rebuilding efforts. She started a new job a few months later with an electric company, where she received 31 vacation days.
That’s when she knew she wanted to spend part of that vacation time volunteering in New Orleans.
She connected with Liberty’s Kitchen in 2010 and initially committed to spending two weeks in the city, unsure of what her days would hold. She started at Sylvanie Williams, helping out in the cafeteria. She loved the experience so much, she decided to return the next year, this time for a whole month.
And she’s been returning ever since. So, what keeps her coming back?
“The students open up to me. We mostly talk about family; maybe they feel safe with me. Maybe I remind them of their grandma!” says Ms. Judy.
As I’m talking with her, we’re interrupted by students who want to get in one more hug before she leaves. Charles and Otto walk by, exchanging hugs and inside jokes. Ms. Judy laughs and wipes away tears as they talk, exchange quips, and reassurances about keeping in touch.
The students aren’t the only ones who will miss her; the staff also looks forward to her annual return.
“Ms. Judy has become such a beloved part of our family,” CEO David Emond said. “She loves our young people and sees so much potential in them and inspires us all with her commitment to making the world a better place.”
Ms. Judy’s humility and kindness go a long way. She shared that—as part participant and part observer—she has something to learn from the students just by listening to them.
So what advice does she have for people interested in volunteering?
“You don’t try to solve whatever problem they have because you’re not going to. You just let them tell you whatever it is about their lives, whether good or bad.”
We love you, Ms. Judy! See you next time!
– Contributing Writer, Michelle Mathew, Development Coordinator
Hi everyone! I’m Selma Nunez, the Nutrition and Sustainability Coordinator at the School Nutrition Program. I’m excited to announce that our School Nutrition Program is piloting new nutrition initiatives this year that will allow us to further health and wellness for the schoolchildren we serve. We believe that underserved individuals, especially those from low-income backgrounds, and their families, deserve health and wellness as much as any other population. Nutrition is very significant, and it can have positive or adverse effect with regard to health. Our hope at SNP is to both provide access to healthy school food and teach students how to make health-conscious decisions on their own. Furthermore, we intend to use school nutrition as a tool for further professional development for our youth in YDP as they continue to learn, grow, and lead in New Orleans and beyond.
Three new ways we’ll serve our scholars:
1) Local procurement: We’re building direct relationships with local farmers as we source product from them to use in our school meals. In this way, we are able to serve the best and freshest tasting ingredients in season. Ultimately, we plan to integrate visits to local farms as part of our curriculum.
2) Starting an on-site school garden: Last week, we held the official groundbreaking for a garden at Crocker College Prep! Many thanks to partners Sysco and Instar Farms for their help and support. This garden will be the site for nutrition lessons for kids and ultimately, we’ll be able to cook with herbs and vegetables we grow there. More importantly, we and the students will learn more about the ingredients in our foods and have a direct hand in the process of growth.
3) Nutrition education: This summer, I taught a pilot nutrition education course at the Jewish Community Center summer camp. We held lessons with 125 campers, showing them how to prepare healthy foods. It was a lot of fun! This fall, I’m starting a weekly after-school club called “Liberty’s Kitchen Lab” at Crocker College Prep to keep the momentum going with middle school aged scholars. Our first class was about getting to know the students and their current working knowledge around preparing, producing and eating nutritious food. We want to increase their knowledge of and hands-on training with the food process.
The long-term goal is to develop relationships with local farmers for the best regional/seasonal ingredients, encourage ongoing product knowledge through the school garden and build community exposure to different foods, and ultimately to see a decrease in obesity rates of our children as they make better-informed nutritional choices. We’ll apply knowledge and experience in nutrition to implement programs and services that support individuals and their families in their journey to improved holistic health outcomes.
As you can tell, we’ve got a lot going on, so stay tuned for more news from SNP.
~Selma Núñez – Nutrition and Sustainability Coordinator
Our very own Culinary Training Manager, Chef Tasheena, has been named the Catalyst Kitchens 2016 Catalyst for Change! This award recognizes an individual from the CK network whose outstanding service and dedication to empowering lives through job training has made significant impact on individuals, their community, and the field of food service social enterprise. Chef Tasheena was selected out of twenty nominations from across the country and we are thrilled to honor her for her hard work and dedication to the LK mission. Beyond her commitment to our young people, Tasheena is a joy to work with and brings an unparalleled work ethic and contagious laughter to everyday.
Among her accomplishments:
- Increased Youth Development Program applications by 14%
- Increased program graduation rate by 14%
- Increased youth placed in jobs by 33%
- Decreased youth leaving the program by 43%
“When I think of the words “above and beyond,” my mind goes straight to Tasheena. She is selfless and generous, and has fun every step of the way.” — Dave Emond, Executive Director
We sat down for an exclusive interview with our rockstar to hear about the philosophy behind the work.
Tell us about yourself
I’m from New Orleans, born and raised. I’ve been a chef for over 10 years. I opened my own restaurant and it was a great and proud moment, however I had to close the doors. I always knew at some point I wanted to teach. I was very excited at the prospect of working at LK — it would allow me to take everything I had learned, my successes, my failures, and pass it on to teach and enlighten another group of people. It’s one thing to have a skillset, but if you don’t share it, it dies with you. But this way it perpetuates and goes on through what you teach others.
What do you do at LK?
My official job title is Culinary Training Manager – but I always say I’m a chef instructor. In the way that our program is set up, young people come to me after they go through Foundations where they’ve learned a lot of life skills and gotten comfortable with the culture of LK. I’m their first introduction into the weird wide world of culinary. I teach them the basics: how to use a knife, culinary math, sanitation, how to identify a tilt skillet and blast chiller — foundational baseline skills that they can continue to grow on as they work their way through program
What does it mean to you to be a Catalyst for Change?
I feel so incredibly blessed. Every group I work with in my professional and personal life are all people who are agents for change and I feel privileged to work with so many different people. What it means to me is that we recognize that things aren’t always as they should be. We have a responsibility to fight for giving everybody a fair shot. For those of us with the good fortune to have been raised well and educated well and have opportunities, we owe it to those who maybe life hasn’t been as kind to, to reach back and not give handouts but hands up.
For me, it comes down to doing small things with great love. Change is very difficult. It doesn’t come overnight. But it’s surprising to me how simple acts can really change the trajectory of someone’s life. We’re not saving lives in that we’re not running into burning buildings or curing cancer. But it’s these small things: giving that attention to detail and good spirit and cheer. It’s small acts of great love that can have lasting and sustaining impacts on people’s lives. Those small acts when added together, when done all over by different people, those small acts become big acts and big changes happen incrementally through small changes. A journey of 1000 miles happens one step at a time.
Any insights for others seeking to be Catalysts for Change?
I would say just remembering that it sometimes can get discouraging when things aren’t happening at the pace you think they should be, because long-term success takes time and it’s a process. Don’t get discouraged and trust the process. The road is not just a straight line, there are points where you have to veer left or right or turn around and all of that is part of it. Don’t be so hard on yourself. Change is coming. It might seem like it happens “suddenly” but the truth is you’ve been working at it this whole time.
We are so proud to have Chef Tasheena on the team and grateful to Catalyst Kitchens for their amazing support of our work!
–Posted by Nadia Laher, Development Coordinator
Every day, our School Nutrition Program staff is hard at work preparing thousands of healthy and tasty meals for local schoolchildren! We sat down with Head Chef Robert Soper (who’s cooked for celebrities like Johnny Cash and Harrison Ford!) to hear about the highlights and snag his delicious gumbo recipe.
Tell us about yourself!
My name is Robert G. Soper. I was born in NYC and raised in New Jersey. As a young child I became interested in cooking and started cooking at an early age. I got my first job in a restaurant at age 15 as a dishwasher. I worked my
way up through the ranks. I have worked in all types of restaurants from diners to fine dining. I have been a baker, cake decorator, production chef, corporate trainer, sous chef and then executive chef. I love cooking and the satisfaction of cooking for people.
What do you like about being Head Chef?
I like teaching people stuff they don’t know, culinary things. And I like seeing the kids enjoy the food.
What is your hope for the students whom you serve?
That they like it and that they try new things. Because as a child, I never tried new things, and I missed out on a lot.
What is your all-time favorite food?
Lasagna. Homemade. When I was a kid, my best friend’s grandmother would make these huge tables of food. She didn’t even speak English, all she did was cook, and she got so mad if you didn’t eat it. Man, she cooked the best stuff.
Any advice for your readers?
Don’t be afraid to try new things. I wasted a lot of time being afraid to try new stuff. You never know if you’ll like something until you try it!
Check out Chef Rob’s recipe below to whip up some tasty gumbo!
6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) Butter
3 tablespoons Olive Oil
1/2 cup + 2 tablespoons Flour
2 pounds Yellow Onions (diced)
1 pound Green Bell Peppers (diced)
1 pound Celery (diced)
1/3 cup Chopped Garlic
1 tsp Cayenne Pepper
1 tsp White Pepper
¾ tsp Dry Thyme
1/3 cup Cajun Seasoning
1.5 gallons Water
½ cup (4 ounces) Chicken base
3-14.5 ounce cans Diced Tomato
2 pounds Sliced Andouille Sausage
4 pounds Chicken (cooked or raw), chopped
1 ½ tablespoon Tabasco
1/3 cup + 1 tbs Worcestershire Sauce
- Read recipe completely. Do not take shortcuts – think QUALITY.
- In a large pot over heat, melt butter and add olive oil.
- Once hot, whisk in flour to make a deep amber colored roux.
- Add onion, celery, peppers, garlic and dry spices, and caramelize well.
- Whisk in Chicken base and water, add diced tomato. Simmer 45 min.
- Add sausage, chicken, Tabasco, and Worcestershire. Simmer 45 min. If using raw chicken, make sure it is cooked through!
- Taste and adjust seasonings as necessary. Serve over rice.
Yield – about 2 gallons
Nutrition Facts (per 1 cup serving without rice): Calories 207, Total Fat 11g, Carbohydrate 7g, Fiber 1g, Protein 20g, Sodium 616mg, Potassium 461mg