News From the Kitchen
Once a year, some of the biggest names in the New Orleans restaurant scene gather together to honor individuals within the hospitality industry who are doing remarkable things. Hosted by the Louisiana Hospitality Foundation, the Sixth Annual Gold Medal Chefs Gala was held at the Morial Convention Center’s La Nouvelle Orleans Ballroom on a sultry August evening.
My name is Ahmaad Lott and I am 23 years old. I joined the Liberty’s Kitchen team back in March as a YMVP (Young Men’s Voices Have Power) intern, an internship program sponsored by the Kellogg Foundation. I work with the Youth Leadership Council (YLC) to develop alumni programming and also work with our Youth Development Program to explore youth advocacy, gearing up for our very own town hall meeting in September.
I was invited to attend the event along with YLC member Andryan Lagarde and alum Kenisha Charles in support of our very own David Emond who had the honor of receiving the Archie Casbarian Humanitarian Award.
We had a great time and enjoyed a five-course dinner created by Chefs Michelle McRaney of Mr. B’s Bistro, Wilfredo Avelar of Meril, Brandon Felder of Centerplate, Brian Landry of Borgne, and Karen Anderson of Dickie Brennan’s Steakhouse. On the menu: chilled roasted corn soup, fried rock shrimp salad, sugarcane glazed Kurobuta pork belly, lemongrass short rib, and for dessert: bananas foster cheesecake. While the food was certainly a high point of the night, the atmosphere of the event, equal parts philanthropy and revelry, took things to a new level.
The day after the gala, I had the chance to talk with Dave about the previous night’s proceedings. When asked how winning the award relates to his work at Liberty’s Kitchen, Dave was humble, shining the spotlight on the staff and participants of the program for the work they’ve done.“When I got the call letting me know that I received the award I immediately wanted to deflect that attention to the people in our organization that are doing so much work every day because I think the award is really a reflection, not so much of what I have done, but of the work that Liberty’s Kitchen does in the community and the impact that we’re achieving.”
According to Dave, a humanitarian is “someone who believes in the dignity and potential of every human being and who makes an effort to recognize that dignity and develop that potential.” While inspired by bold and resilient humanitarian figures like Barack Obama and Mother Teresa, Dave points out that you don’t have to be famous to be a humanitarian. “You just have to show up and do the work, roll up your sleeves, have that commitment, have that passion. The people that inspire me the most are the people I work with every day. I really felt like I was accepting the award on behalf of [them] and the young people that are working so hard to make a positive situation for themselves out of what in so many cases is a really challenging environment that they’re forced to live in.”
I, for one, think that the Archie Casbarian Humanitarian Award was well earned, not only for Dave, but for the Liberty’s Kitchen’s family as a whole.
“I’d like to quote one of our graduates, who said: “Liberty’s Kitchen is like having all the aunts and uncles you could ever want.” For lots of reasons that we don’t have time to get into tonight, too many of our young people aren’t being noticed. That’s where we come in. Let’s all agree to be those aunts and uncles, seeing the potential of our next generation and helping them develop it. If we can all commit to this, we will build a better New Orleans for everyone.”
Congratulations again on receiving the award, Dave!
— Posted by Ahmaad Lott, YMVP Intern
There are so many people working hard behind the scenes to make sure Liberty’s Kitchen runs as smoothly as possible, and we want to give them credit! We were able to sit down with our Baking Instructor Michelle to ask her how she ended up at Liberty’s Kitchen and why she loves what she does.
Tell us about yourself.
I’m from Gramercy, LA, a tiny little Cajun town in St. James Parish. I moved to New Orleans officially this past August, but before that I lived all over the place. But now I’m back in Louisiana and I love being here!
How did you come to work at Liberty’s Kitchen?
While applying for a consulting position at a firm in Seattle, I gave a presentation on how the identity and culture of NOLA is shaped by local food NGOs like LK. I didn’t get the job, but presenting on it was the catalyst that inspired the move back home.
Where did you get your passion for food and baking?
My parents are Indian immigrants, so as a kid I was eating a mixture of Indian food and Cajun food. They were both physicians, so health was a huge factor in what I was allowed to eat. I didn’t have cable, and I didn’t have sweets– My parents preached the idea of “everything in moderation”. Teaching at LK has allowed me to teach what I learned from my childhood and later in life to the people in the program who maybe didn’t have the same lessons about health and nutrition expressed to them that I did growing up.
Being able to teach a tangible skill, like baking and cooking, is a great feeling; helping people every day and seeing immediate and long term results is why I love LK and everything that I do. It is amazing when you are baking cookies with the students, and then they are able to share them with everyone. When I hear them say “Okay, look what I did– I made this,” I know that what I am teaching is actively helping in their time here at LK.
What’s your favorite thing to teach?
I love teaching the students about healthy alternatives to food that they have grown up eating. I recently sat down with some students and helped them plan out a dinner menu that they could cook together. I first asked them what they wanted to eat, and then I helped them tweak it to create a more nutritious version; instead of fried chicken and fried vegetables, they roasted a whole chicken and roasted the vegetables with it. They came back after the weekend and told me they loved it!
One of my favorite healthier recipes is my banana bread. Instead of butter and oil to make it delicious, I add yogurt! It gives it an amazing texture and adds a little bit of natural sweetness, so I don’t have to use as much sugar!
Thank you Michelle for sitting down and talking with me! We love all of our staff and all they do for our young people. Give Michelle’s banana bread recipe a try and let us know what you think!
Michelle’s Banana Bread Recipe
Makes One loaf
Shelf life: 3 days or can be frozen
- 2 ½ cups bananas, pureed
- ½ cup plain yogurt
- ½ cup canola oil
- ½ cup granulated sugar
- 2 eggs
- 1 ¾ cups flour
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- ½ teaspoon salt
Mix dried ingredients in a medium bowl. Set aside. Whisk bananas, yogurt, and oil in a large bowl. Add sugar, vanilla, and eggs to the banana mixture. Add dried ingredients to the liquid ingredients, mixing until just combined. Cover loaf pan with oil and a light layer of sugar, add ingredients to the loaf pan. Bake at 300 degrees for 45 minutes. Test with a fork to make sure it is cooked through. Let cool and enjoy!
-Posted by Hana Rabin, Development Intern
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!
Our School Nutrition Program staff has worked hard all fall to start the school year off right, preparing thousands of healthy meals every day for local schoolchildren. Co-Production Managers Susan and Brandon joined our LK family in August and are a true Dream Team, bringing to the table skills in talent development, production, and communications, as well as an endless passion for SNP! We sat down with them to learn more.
Tell us about yourselves.
Susan: I am from El Salvador, a beautiful country I love and hold dear, but it has a lot of social and safety issues. Because of those issues I came to the United States in 2005 to follow my dream to better my range of opportunities and life choices. In the process of following that dream, my daughter is benefitting immensely from these new opportunities that I only dreamt of her having. I have worked in the restaurant industry since 2006 and have since transferred my kitchen abilities into the world of management and training. I believe that my culinary and managerial skills can be used as a tool for social change.
Brandon: I am originally from New Orleans and have traveled in different cities such as San Francisco, Atlanta and New York. I went to culinary school at the Art Institute of NYC. I connect fully with the mission of helping others which is the focal point of Liberty’s Kitchen.
What is SNP?
Susan: The School Nutrition Program is a branch of Liberty’s Kitchen that touches the lives of more than 1,500 kids and their families on a daily basis by nurturing them and fulfilling their need for a healthy, balanced diet. We believe good nutrition will facilitate kids’ success in academic performance as well as outside of school. One of our main objectives is to feed them with three to four meals on a daily basis with as much food made from scratch as we can, using local fresh products while following USDA guidelines. We aim to create menus that are both delicious and nutritious.
We hope to touch the lives of these kids not only through providing a balanced diet but also by being part of an integral education that will lead them to make better meal choices outside of school. To fulfill this goal, we are starting to work hand in hand with New Orleans College Prep to create and implement educational programs like: farm to school, composting, and school gardening whereby both Liberty’s Kitchen and the schools can educate kids on the importance of each project.
What’s your favorite part of your job?
Susan: My favorite part is providing our team members with the right tools for success and seeing how the tools I’m giving them helps them work towards positive changes in their lives.
Brandon: I love feeding the children and menu development.
Where do you want SNP to be one year from now?
Susan: We know SNP will continue being a source of empowerment, betterment, and a tool for social justice and nourishment for our community. We are working to grow and give more people a chance to join this project. I see SNP making more job creation, education, and training opportunities possible. Just as importantly, it will keep bettering the lives of children through providing the nutrition they deserve and that they will receive through our special menus and educational activities.
Brandon: Agreed. It’s our goal to expand our program to other schools using the systems we have implemented.
Anything else to include?
Susan: Just a little quote: “The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.” –Gandhi