2019 Calais Trip

Our Trip Ends. Our Journey Begins. [#cookforcalais recap]

Dear CulinaryCorps friends and supporters,

5,400 meals. 

That’s how many hot plates of food our team helped cook last week at Refugee Community Kitchen in Calais, France. In terms of trip output, this is by far our organization’s all-time high.

Though if I’m being honest, it feels like a drop in the bucket. Half a drop, really.

I’m not undermining the amount of culinary muscle we gave to the RCK operation. Collectively, the six of us peeled hundreds of pounds of carrots, sliced a literal ton of onions, and made hummus and vegan aioli in batches big enough to bathe in. We even scaled up a sticky toffee pudding recipe to feed 1,300 as a way to use up a pallet of donated dates; a rare treat for the refugees facing yet another bone-chilling evening. All in, I’d call it a Herculean effort on our part.

The truth is, we pulled an oar for just four days. Refugee Community Kitchen has been rowing at full speed for four years.

Our “Herculean effort” is replicated seven days a week, 365 days a year, by an ever-changing roster of volunteers, most of whom are recent college graduates with no prior professional kitchen experience. The conditions are hard. The methods are inefficient. The work is unpaid. The funding is grassroots. Yet there they are, black-chef-coated and rosy-cheeked, cranking out thousands of meals in what is essentially an open-air warehouse of a kitchen. To date, nearly 18,000 RCK volunteers have made over 2.6 million meals. A truly jaw-dropping, awe-inspiring stat. So last week, at the end of just one of RCK’s typical 12-hours-a-day work weeks, our team came home depleted of warmth, of energy, of spirit.

But we came home

To a roof, a shower, a meal of our choosing, a pillow, a promise of a better day. The mainly Kurdish refugees we served last week in both Calais and Dunkirk (as well as Brussels) do not have these luxuries, or any luxuries at all. There is no new home to go to. No old home to return to either.

They are stuck in a limbo so far from our own frames of reference it’s virtually impossible to understand the conditions without bearing witness. 

Some journalists call it “sleeping rough,” since the thrice-weekly police raids rob these displaced humans of any shred of comfort. Tents, sleeping bags, tarps, and sanitation are all stripped away several times a week through police force. These men and boys, women and girls—and babies too—are left to sleep under bushes, in makeshift shelters, or on beds made of nothing more than woven branches. They come out of the fading light to the RCK meal distribution points, and they slip back into the surrounding woods as the sun sets. There is no real “camp” to speak of, no home base. The only constant is the one meal delivered by RCK to get them through the long night, and day, ahead.

Despite all this, there were still smiles.

I personally scooped out rice during a distribution in Dunkirk to the 550 refugees living in a nature preserve framed by a small lake, a pretty setting for such ugly circumstances. We stood outside in a muddy parking lot dishing out basmati rice, Afghani beans, chopped salad, and sticky toffee pudding, all served school-cafeteria style behind rickety folding tables. The line was mostly calm punctuated by brief bursts of chaos when a few brazen men would get caught “zig zagging” (a.k.a. cutting), angering those waiting patiently. With every scoop, I said hello softly. Smiled warmly. Without fail, I received the same response in return. Warm smile, kind greeting. My heart broke into 550 pieces.

Then I scooped too much rice.

Rice was literally the only thing I could give so I ladled generously as a sort of penance. There was a flow to the service that lulls you into a sad, shuffling routine so when one man unexpectedly reached across the table and gently plucked the spoon out of my hand, I froze. We didn’t discuss this happening during our orientation. Was this against protocol? But with a flick of the wrist he scraped half the rice on his plate back into the serving dish from where it came. He handed me back the spoon gesturing to the long line snaking behind him, and without one spoken word he said very loudly “I’ll take less so that all can eat.”

And in this simple gesture, I found a shred of hope in what is otherwise a hopeless situation. 

Despite incomprehensible conditions sucking the humanity from their marrow, there is still grit, grace, generosity, and gratitude dwelling in the immeasurable depth that is the human spirit. Every smile I served is a story of despair and hope in equal measure. Every smile is an opportunity for us, as humans, to help.

Every smile is proof that even half drops can eventually fill the bucket. We all just need to commit to doing one small thing.


The thanks runs deep.

Of course, this trip could not have been realized without our amazing project partner Refugee Community Kitchen and our incredible team of chef-volunteers. As previous trip leaders, Aimee, Jeremy, Viviana, Jessica, and Dantee were each the epitome of the CulinaryCorps ambassador—professional, personable, knowledgeable, flexible and hardworking beyond comprehension. I consider it an honor to have cooked beside them all this week.

And the work we did, and the donations we made, would not have been possible without YOU, our supportive donors. I’d say the thanks comes from the bottom of my heart, but it’s deeper than that. The bottom of my soul is more like it. Your contributions not only helped with trip logistics but also purchased a whole host of donations including ingredients, kitchen equipment, and other basic supplies for the RCK kitchen. All of these things made it out in some way to that rickety folding table on that muddy lot.

In addition, we are ever thankful to our steadfast trip sponsors including Enprovera and G&B Packing Company who have been steadfastly contributing to help fund our work. Finally, our gratitude is immeasurable to both the Carroll and the Botta families for their incredible generosity year after year after year.


But this letter only conveys a small fraction of our experience.

For those of you who would like to see pictures of our trip, a photostream can be found HERE.  If you prefer hard stats, our trip in numbers can be found HERE. If you’d like to read the recaps of individual CulinaryCorps team members, please click HERE. Their words are as powerful as their actions. And finally, for those of you who want to help in your own small way, please click HERE for a list of organizations in Calais desperate for volunteers, donations, or both this winter.

And while this year’s CulinaryCorps trip has come to an end, our journey has just begun. Throughout this year and next, our team will be working together to develop trips, events, and other programming to lend our continued support to this growing global crisis. Please stay tuned.

Yours in good food and service,

Christine Carroll and the 2019 CulinaryCorps Team

PS: The words in the header are the result of our “One Word” challenge at the end of the trip. Each chef-volunteer was tasked with picking one word that defined their trip experience. Small words that speak volumes.

Words From The Heart: Trip Recaps From Our Calais Chef-Volunteers


During our final dinner together in Calais, our trip leader asked us to sum up our experience at the @refugeecommunitykitchen over the previous five days in one word. Having just spent the evening serving food to the refugees in Dunkirk, I couldn’t quite come up with anything.

However, on the 3 hour drive from Calais to Paris as I was trying to process everything we had done and seen, the word finally came to me: Humbled

Our team spent four days in the warehouse kitchen helping the other long-term volunteers produce food for 1200-1800 people each day. We spent 11-14 hours each day chopping, slicing, stirring, carrying, pitting, scrubbing, washing, cleaning, and of course, baking.

Each of us joined a team to distribute food in either Calais or Dunkirk. We stood in the cold and rain for about 3 hours serving food to ~500 refugees.

It was an intense, exhausting, and cold week for our team…both physically and emotionally draining. But it was only four days in the four-year history of RCK (who has only ever missed serving lifesaving meals three days since its inception).

I look in amazement at the long-term volunteers who have spent weeks, months, even years working in the kitchen making this quantity of food every day regardless of the cold weather…I am humbled by their dedication, compassion, and selflessness as they put their own lives on hold to help others

As I left distribution in Dunkirk, I went back to our hotel for a hot shower and a comfortable bed. I look in awe at the refugees who have been “sleeping rough” for who knows how long with no end in sight. Men, women and children who sleep outside with no protection from the frigid cold, blustery wind or pouring rain. I am humbled by their fortitude, endurance, and perseverance as they live each day in dangerous conditions with the hope that they can find a new place to call home.

#culanthropy #culinarycorps #cookingforcalais #humbled



DAY 1: We kicked off our day in the Warehouse, home to the @refugeecommunitykitchen daily food production for nearly 2,000 mixed refugee encampments in Dunkirk, Calais, and Brussels. Many people have asked me who makes up the refugee population and they are Syrians, Kurds from Syria and Iraq, West Africans, Eritreans, and Pashtuns from Pakistan and Afghanistan. The numbers are constantly in flux as refugees move in and out and the camps are raided/evacuated by crowd and riot control police.

Fresh salad, curries of all kinds, and fragrant rice is produced and distributed daily by RCK’s volunteers. Today our team assisted with the production of lentil and parsnip curry with fried lemons, basmati rice infused with curry leaves, and a salad of fresh lettuces with beets. We also produced the volunteer meal which included a noodle, broccoli and cabbage stirfry with fresh cilantro, a cabbage, apple and celeriac slaw, and guacamole with tortilla chips.

After we rocked out the dishpit, scrubbed and organized the kitchen, we put more than 100 kg of chickpeas on to soak for tomorrow’s main and hummus.

Tomorrow we are also working on a few special cooking projects for RCK (including sticky toffee pudding!) and we will start to join the food distribution to the camps.

DAY 2: Today was an exhausting but productive and emotional day @refugeecommunitykitchen. Team @culinarycorps started the day on several projects, including making 100 liters of hummus, shopping for the ingredients for sticky toffee pudding then scaling all the mise en place, breaking down all the racks in the walk-in, washing all the shelves and floors, and then reorganizing all the production, clocking time in the dishpit, picking parsley, and spending time on the hot line learning the base for the curries.

In the afternoon/early evening some of us went out on food distribution in Dunkirk, where we served rice, chickpea curry, a green salad, water, and hot sweetened tea to approximately 500 refugees – primarily Kurds. There are no official “camps” due to raids, forced evacuations, etc, though there are specific distribution areas for food, as well as care from medical volunteers and other support from the Red Cross. The refugees are “sleeping rough”, which means they are sleeping outside with nothing to protect them from the weather. It was horribly windy and very cold, and it poured rain. We fed primarily young and adult men, but also some women and children.

DAY 3: @culinarycorps rocked out a busy day of vegetable prep at @refugeecommunitykitchen including cases of onions, leeks, garlic, ginger, cauliflower, potatoes and sweet potatoes, plus cooking off nearly 250 kg of broad beans for the Chorba on Thursday.

Two more of us went out on food distribution in Calais, serving approximately 400 refugees a warm meal of rice, sweet potato and leek curry, fresh salad and bread. The hummus and vegan mayo (made with aquafaba) were both huge hits!

The team also took a quick field trip to the Metro, a restaurant supply store nearby. After a full kitchen clean up, the team stayed late at the Warehouse to bake off the date cakes and made the toffee for the sticky toffee pudding which will be packaged and served to the refugee population tomorrow.

We ended the evening with a “picnic” dinner in the hotel room of French cheeses, pate, saussicon sec, bread, baby carrots, strawberries, and a glass of French wine.

Tomorrow is a big day of distribution in Brussels, and is also Chorba day. @ Calais, France

DAY 4: Today was @culinarycorps final day of service at the @refugeecommunitykitchen Warehouse. We finished baking off our second batch of date cakes and glazed them with toffee sauce. We cut and packaged 1,300 individual portions for distribution to the refugees at Dunkirk and Calais. We peeled and sliced nearly 400 pounds of onions, cut pumpkins for tomorrow’s pasta, and prepped lettuce, cucumbers, and tomatoes for the salad. I spent a good amount of time minding/stirring the pots of chorba and Afghan beans (made with the broad beans cooked yesterday along with red kidney beans). We cleaned, and manned the dishpit.

Some of us went on distribution to Dunkirk where we served more than 450 refugees in the bitter cold.

Our brief time here is but a blip in the nearly 4-year story of RCK’s commitment to serving thousands of people lifesaving hot meals 7 days a week with dignity and compassion, with a completely volunteer staff of amazing young people who put their own lives on hold to do this incredibly hard work. I leave here feeling both despair and hope.


Now that I’ve had a few days to digest… I’m still not 100% sure where to begin. For this year’s @culinarycorps trip, six of us spent a week volunteering at @refugeecommunitykitchen. Before I left for this trip I was trying to explain why I was doing it to some of my cooks. Why I would use vacation time to go to work somewhere else. I told them that as hard as we work, with long hours, bad backs, few thanks, it is important to keep in perspective that everything we strive for is to provide luxury to people. But we have the ability to use our skills to do more.

I spent my time this last week chopping onions, stirring rice, washing pots, and other seemingly mundane tasks. But every part of this was not so someone could impress a client or woo a loved one. I briefly got to be part of an organization who grinds every day (for over 4 years now) just to make sure that people have a meal to eat, something that might help keep them warm for the many cold nights to come, something to give them strength until they can hopefully be reunited with the people they love.

On the one evening that I went out to actually serve food I wasn’t exactly sure what I had to expect. But it wasn’t clear to me exactly how much like me these “refugees” would be. I don’t want to go on and on about the conditions these men, women, and children are braving just to survive. I just want to say thank you to @refugeecommunitykitchen for letting me be a part of something so obscenely important. I want to say thank you to my friends who take time and put aside all they have to volunteer with @culinarycorps. You people will never stop inspiring me.

And I want to remind you all to cherish the luxuries that you may not even remember to consider. I hope none of you EVER have to fight for a meal. I couldn’t be more grateful to be able to come home to @sam_krouse and all that we have. If you can, whatever you can, please find some way to chip in to organizations like these. There’s no shortage of people in this world who need just a little bit of what you can spare. #bethechangeyouwanttoseeintheworld #culanthropy @ Calais, France


It takes me a while to process my feelings and thoughts in general. However, when reflecting on my time at RCK @refugeecommunitykitchen , the three words that constantly come to mind are: love, intense, and humbling. Why love? I think love is the ultimate state of mind when faced with dire situations. Our role during this time is just to listen and serve unconditionally. The refugees that I interacted with were very pleasant for the most part. I knew some of them were having a bad day, but I should not hold that against them. At all. One interaction was rather unpleasant, but I knew they needed someone to vent to. They are in a place where only hope can keep them alive. Listening, serving, and bringing hope are all characteristics of love. 

Their environment- both physically and mentally is absolutely intense. The current climate in France is cold and rainy. I don’t know where these people seek shelter. Especially the family I helped serve with the 10-12 year old boy. His life is forever changed; not fully knowing the joys of childhood. I can only imagine how much growing up they had to do in so little time. 

Humble. I am beyond humbled with this experience. At one point I felt very guilty for “coming home” to a room and shower; “coming home” to a group of friends to have dinner and chat about our day; “coming home” to relaxing and unwinding. Their lives are at a constant 100%. They are always hitting the ground running – quite literally as they are chased off by police on a daily basis. 

Organizations like RCK provide an opportunity for people like me and @culinarycorps with any assistance. We were a very small drop in the bucket, but that help provided loads of motivation for both parties. We provided guidance and some heavy lifting to the long term volunteers. We provided extra hands as the organization loses volunteers during the winter months. Ultimately, we provided extra ears for those that needed to be heard.

Of course, I would like to serve with this organization again, but I also hope this situation ends very soon as well. #culanthropy

Our Trip in Numbers: #cookforcalais 2019


☑️5,400 meals made and distributed with our incredible host organization, Refugee Community Kitchen

☑️1,300 pieces of sticky toffee pudding made and distributed

☑️288 volunteer manpower hours served

☑️47,400 miles traveled by the CulinaryCorps Team


Day 1 Update

✅1,200 hot meals cooked for distribution to refugees on this cold and rainy night. (Menu = A lovely lentil and parsnip curry with fried lemons and coriander created by RCK’s lead cook, Rosie, basmati rice with bay leaf, fresh salad with roasted beets and homemade dressing, and loads of hot black tea and sugar).

✅100 volunteers fed by the CulinaryCorps crew using odds and ends scrounged from the walk-in. (Menu = cabbage slaw with lemon and dates, stir fried noodles with fresh cilantro and Napa cabbage, guacamole with homemade tortilla chips.)

✅ Pots washed and dried. And then even MORE pots washed and dried.

✅ Kitchen scrubbed, swept, and reorganized for tomorrow.

✅ Lessons learned about how to cook, love, and give from the heart. ♥️

✅ Day 1 done and dusted! Now it’s time to .

PS: Thank you @refugeecommunitykitchen for being such incredible hosts! @ Calais, France

Day 2 Update

☑️ 90 liters (about 200 pounds) of homemade hummus made by the CulinaryCorps crew.

☑️ 1,200 meals made with love in the RCK kitchen including spiced basmati rice, chickpea red curry with dark chocolate (a wonderfully inventive dish by Floyd, a longtime RCK volunteer), chopped salad, and plenty of sweet hot tea on yet another cold and wet night.

☑️ 16 kilograms of Medjool dates pitted for tomorrow’s surprise dessert.

☑️ 2 trips to the local restaurant supply store to buy over $1k in food and equipment donations.

☑️ 1 walk-in fridge emptied, scrubbed, and reorganized.

☑️ 500 meals served in the Dunkirk Camp by CulinaryCorps volunteers reminding us how food can nourish not only the body but the mind and soul. Feeling tired but thankful. Onwards to Day 3! @ Calais, France

☑️ In our free time, washing loads of dishes in the dish pit.

Day 3 Update

✅ 60 liters of lemony vegan aioli made from the chickpea water saved from yesterday’s hummus (Surprisingly, an oft requested and favorite condiment of the people we are serving and the volunteers too.)

✅ Another 1,200 meals made for distribution to refugees in the area including lemon and curry leaf infused rice, leek and sweet potato curry, fresh salad with shredded carrots, and hot tea on yet another bone chilling night.

✅ Hundreds of pounds of carrots peeled, leeks chopped, sweet potatoes cubed, cauliflower prepped, and fresh ginger pureed. Plus 200 pounds (maybe more!) of onions sliced.

✅ 1,000 servings of sticky toffee pudding baked by the CulinaryCorps team using donated dates languishing in storage and some good ‘ol chef ingenuity when we realized the mixer didn’t work.

✅ 400 meals delivered and served by two of our CulinaryCorps chefs with the RCK distribution team

✅ Endless thanks for the roof over our heads, the hot shower at our fingertips, the meals of our choosing, and the freedom to return home whenever we wish. Things we’ll never, ever, take for granted.

Day 4 Update

 ☑️ 1,800 meals made for the Dunkirk, Calais, and Brussels camps under the guidance of the @refugeecommunitykitchen rockstar volunteers. Menu = Afghani beans with tomato and garlic, shorba soup with potato, fluffy basmati rice, and salad with beautiful Chioggia beets plus hot sweet tea and plenty of condiments (including the CulinaryCorps hummus) to customize each plate.

☑️ 1,300 pieces of sticky toffee pudding cut, bagged, and distributed to the refugees as well as all the volunteers in the RCK kitchen and warehouse. A rare sweet treat on yet another bone chilling day.

☑️ 22 pounds of custom-blended garam masala made to infuse some CulinaryCorps love into next week’s curries.

☑️ Hundreds of pounds of produce chopped including pumpkins, tomatoes, carrots, and onions. So. Many. Onions.

☑️ Hotel pans cleaned, giant pots dried, floors squeegeed, walls washed, and tables scrubbed.

☑️ 550 meals distributed to the (mainly) Kurdish men, women and children living in the Dunkirk Camp by CC volunteers from 4:30pm until dark. Each refugee accounted for by the spoon they received to eat their meal.

☑️ Tears shed. Hearts open. A trip over. A journey just begun.

Refugee Relief: Three Ways You Can Help Right Now

Many of you have asked how you contribute time or funds to the refugee work currently being done in Calais, France. Below is our shortlist of organizations doing good work in the area who are in need of your time, donations, or both:

MAKE FOOD! with Refugee Community Kitchen

Overview: All-volunteer kitchen creating and delivering hot, nourishing meals once-a-day for the refugees of Northern France. Serving food with dignity and love.

Duties: Vegetable washing/prep, light food prep (aka salad), dish cleaning, kitchen cleaning, meal distribution.

Volunteer Requirements: No previous kitchen experience required! All levels of culinary experience welcome. However, if you do have previous professional kitchen experience (especially in large scale cooking like cafeterias, catering, etc) and can commit to at least two weeks of volunteer time, they are always looking for kitchen leads to do some of the culinary heavy lifting like making the main dishes and/or rice. But even one day is appreciated to help prep and chop the mountain of produce they prepare each day.

PLAY WITH A CHILD! with Project Play

Overview: Dedicated to working with refugee children in Northern France via play-based, toy-filled tents set-up in local refugee communities.

Duties: TBD depending on expertise and previous work with at-risk childhood populations.

Volunteer Requirements: None but previous volunteer work with children preferred.

CHOP WOOD! with The Woodyard Calais

Overview: The Woodyard cuts, bundles, and distributes wood to the refugee communities in and around Northern France. Wood is used to cook, dry clothes, heat water to wash and to keep people warm during the winter when temperatures can drop to below -5°C in northern France.

Duties: Volunteers will assist with the setting up and running of the yard including; distributions, preparing wood for distribution, working alongside other associations. Being handy with a saw is a plus!

Volunteer Requirements: None but previous volunteer work with children preferred.

PS: If you are interested in joining our next CulinaryCorps trip to Calais, please fill out this VOLUNTEER INTEREST form and we’ll be in touch when trip details are available. Please note, no trip is currently planned as we’ll be gauging interest and need in early 2020.