Cook It Forward

2017 Cook It Forward Grantee Spotlight: Celia Lam

Exploring Farms and Food Waste in Japan

In celebration of our 10-year anniversary last year, we here at CulinaryCorps HQ decided to create a new and meaningful way for the organization to grow its mission via the Cook It Forward initiative. Cook It Forward is a micro-grant program open to CulinaryCorps alumni providing $555 in seed funding to help launch an outreach project of their own. This is our small way of giving back to the over 100 chef-volunteers who have given so much over the past decade to make our organization a delicious success.

Celia Lam, chef and food waste evangelist, is our second grant recipient for 2017. Working with a variety of project partners, Celia launched a highly ambitious culinary voluntourism trip to Chiba, Japan. Leveraging her network of local farmers, food artisans and culinary experts, Celia led a group of 10 participants into fields, farms, breweries and beyond to give them a first-hand glimpse into Japan’s organic farming practices. In addition, this trip explored the growing issue of food waste in Japan and emphasized the importance of zero waste cooking via hands-on cooking classes. Please read on for all the amazing details!

Project Title: From Field to Cup to Plate: Exploring Food Waste and Sustainable Agriculture in Chiba, Japan

Alumni Grantee: Celia Lam

A cook, teacher and advocate for sustainable food, Celia is also the co-Founder of Salvage Supperclub, a food waste initiative that began in NYC in 2014 whose aim is to inspire people to think differently about the edible food in their lives. She studied holistic nutrition at the Institute of Holistic Nutrition in Vancouver, BC and currently consults on wellness and food waste projects around the world.

Location: Chiba, Japan

Community Partners:

    • Terada Honke Brewery
    • Hidamari Farm
    • Miyamotoyami Farm
    • Brownsfield Initiative
    • Slow Food Kujakuri (a local chapter in Chiba)

Mission: To raise awareness about food waste and inspire change in behavior by connecting people to the food culture and community of Chiba, Japan via an immersive two-day trip. The trip highlights include harvesting “ugly produce” from a local farm, a visit to an artisanal sake production facility, and cooking a zero waste family-style meal alongside participants. 

Project Description

In an effort to immerse participants in the ethos of zero waste cooking, Celia created a self-contained trip that explored various facets of the movement. The itinerary included:

  • Tour of the Terada Honke Sake Brewery
    • The group learned about the history and preservation of traditional sake production and its byproduct sakekasu (which they used to cook with later on in the trip) 
    • Afterwards, the participants enjoyed a private sake tasting and dinner by brewery chef, and Terada’s wife, Satomi

  • Visit to Local Farms and Miso Lab with Wild Herb Foraging Adventure
    • Hidamari Farm (Sosa City, Chiba, Japan)
      • Participants visited an organic vegetable farm with local chef and farmer, Yasuhiro Ota

  • Miyamotoyama Farm (Satoyama, Chiba, Japan)
    • Participants toured the rice and soy bean farm and visited the family’s small miso production lab
    • The group also went herb foraging in the Satoyama mountain region with farmer and Slow Food Kujakuri member, Koyulu Saitou
    • Everyone was treated to an impromptu communally-made lunch with the family

  • Mindfulness Stay at Brownsfield Initiative Community
    • Participants were treated to an overnight retreat at the Sagrada Kominka guesthouse, a traditional 200 year old Japanese home best known for promoting sustainable practices and homesteading culture led by macrobiotic chef, Deco Nakajima, and photographer Everett Brown. The next morning began with a mindfulness activity, followed by a macrobiotic breakfast made with local, organic foods from the farm. 

  • Zero Waste Cooking Workshop
    • To gather ingredients for the meal, there was a “salvaged treasure hunt” at Brownsfield Initiative for recovered food items from the local store and farm which were used as the meal’s primary ingredients.
    • Guests were also invited to contribute items such as unused spices and edible products past their “best before” dates.
    • A multi-course meal was prepared in tandem by Celia along and the trip participants


Project Metrics

10: total participants

30: pounds of food rescued

9: recipes created for the farm-to-table zero waste meals

      • Yuzu Vegetable Ramen
      • Rainbow Salad
      • Odds & Ends Pickles
      • Beautiful Beetroot Onigiri
      • Imperfect & Roots Greens Salad  
      • Millet Risotto
      • Roasted Diakon  
      • Ginger and Cirtrus Tea 
      • Gluten Free Brownies

13: different “food waste” products salvaged and incorporated into the finished dishes including mushroom stems, sake byproduct, past-dated foods, and ugly produce.

Food For Thought

On the success of the project…

“In Japan, the importance of organic farming, let alone food waste, is not well known. In my observations, urban centers (e.g., Tokyo which is 1.5 – 2 hours away) have very little awareness of the local food systems in the surrounding countryside. Like most major cities, access to food is easy, cheap and convenient. Because of this trip, a new understanding of food waste was uncovered and a deep respect was gained for the community members we met and learned from. We were all deeply inspired by their dedication to making good food and drink from traditional practices.”

On language barriers…

“As Japanese is not my native language, this was a big challenge facing the trip since I had relied on translators to assist with logistical planning…all of whom had to back out of the trip last minute! Without them, seemingly simple tasks like picking up groceries became an adventure. We ended up with some incorrect products – e.g., mirin instead of vinegar – however we just used our mistakes as part of our zero waste cooking workshop to teach students how to improvise. It was actually a good reminder for me of why I started this project in the first place. It underscored mindfulness in the moment, being grateful for what we have, and the fact that what you have can always be enough!”

On going with the flow…

“The co-cooking activity was originally designed to be very structured with preset recipes and curriculum. However due to unanticipated changes, we adapted and instead had an impromptu cooking session using what we had. It ended up working beautifully as the group created a vibrant, heart-felt meal which we all enjoyed outdoors.”

On reflections from the participants…

“At the end of the trip, a female participant who studied culinary arts told me she was used to cooking from “perfect” recipes and that she was uncomfortable at the beginning of the zero waste cooking exercise. But she quickly realized that with a bit of direction and some suggestions from the group, she was able to create a delicious meal without a recipe. Overall, the group of participants conveyed they didn’t realize the scope of food waste and also how organic farmers account for only 1-2% of Japan’s total agricultural output.”

On small moments of impact…

“A couple who participated on the trip recently connected with Koyulu, one of the farmers we worked with, and arranged to purchase veggies to support his farm and supply their own family of boys with healthy food.”

On next steps…

“I’m beginning to plan a similar local initiative around a food rescue event in Bangkok. I have a meeting with a woman who is part of a local food recovery organization in town. It’s all very exciting as it’s the first I’ve heard of anyone doing this sort of work here.”


2017 Cook It Forward Grantee Spotlight: Christine Ranieri

Helping Homeless Youth Find A Seat at The Table

In celebration of our 10-year anniversary last year, we here at CulinaryCorps HQ decided to create a new and meaningful way for the organization to grow its mission via the Cook It Forward initiative. Cook It Forward is a micro-grant program open to CulinaryCorps alumni providing $555 in seed funding to help launch an outreach project of their own. This is our small way of giving back to the over 100 chef-volunteers who have given so much over the past decade to make our organization a delicious success.

Today, we are excited to share the outcomes of our first grant recipient, Christine Ranieri. A chef, Registered Dietician, and Houstonian, Christine proposed the creation of a cooking class series for homeless youth ages 18-21 in partnership with the local organization, Covenant House. She worked for nearly a year crafting and launching lesson plans, recipes, and even a grocery store tour. We were truly amazed by the big things she accomplished on such a small budget. Please read on for the outcomes of her ambitious (and delicious) efforts.

Project Title: Covenant House Rites of Passage Cooking and Nutrition Education Program

Alumni Grantee: Christine Ranieri, MS, RD, LD

Christine Ranieri is a culinary school trained chef and a Registered Dietitian. She is currently the Program Manager of the Bionutrition Research Core at MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, Texas, where she designs and implements clinical feeding trials for researchers examining the links between diet and cancer along the cancer continuum.

Location: Houston, Texas

Community Partner: Covenant House Texas

Mission: To deliver nutrition education, and to increase budget meal planning knowledge and cooking proficiency in homeless youths.

Project Description

Covenant House Texas (CHT) has been providing shelter for homeless youth aged 18-21 in Houston, Texas since 1983. They are one of a few service providers in Texas specifically addressing the needs of this age group, with a mission to provide a safe haven while also providing the youth with necessary skills, training and emotional support for them to become self-sufficient adults. CHT operates a short term crisis shelter, a shelter for pregnant and parenting teens, a transitional living program called Rites of Passage (ROP), and an apartment living program for graduates of the ROP program. CHT also provides free medical care, mental health services, substance abuse services, education, job development and vocational training, life skills and spiritual classes, amongst other support services.

With the input of CHT’s medical director, Dr. Albert Hergenroeder, and the clinic’s nurse-manager, Winnie Ombese, and the help a University of Houston dietetic intern, Brittany Link, I developed a six class cooking program that ran from October 2016-April 2017. The classes were held in the ROP building’s recreation room and kitchen, with the exception of the grocery store tour, which was held at a nearby Kroger. The classes covered the following six topics.

  1. October: Sugar Busters Class — Overview of sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs), hidden sources of sugar in the diet, and best alternatives to SSBs.
  2. November: Breakfast Cooking Class — how to read a recipe, cook eggs, and kitchen safety (knives, hot surfaces, pot handles, and how to store food to maintain freshness and avoid cross-contamination).
  3. January: Grab ‘n’ Go Lunch Cooking Class — mason jar salads, DIY cup o’ noodles, and portion sizes for adults and children.
  4. February: Grocery Store Tour — emphasis on stretching SNAP benefits while maximizing nutrition with shelf stable foods.
  5. March: Healthy Snacks — shopping on a budget, food safety and sanitation (focus on personal and kitchen sanitation, cooking temperatures and proper cooling and storing).
  6. April: Dinner Cooking Class — veggie kebabs, cornmeal crusted veggies with dipping sauce, and two methods for cooking chicken.

Project Metrics

90: total attendees throughout six sessions

10: total toddlers in tow!

12: total recipes prepared

22: fruits and vegetables included in recipes

2: recipes including chickpeas

21: individuals who had never tasted a chickpea before

24: wide-mouth mason jars used for DIY cup o’ noodles

Food For Thought

On the success of the project…

“I think that this project was a successful pilot to determine the best type of nutrition and cooking program to run with this population. There is the undeniable positive impact of getting together in a safe space to prepare and eat nourishing food.”

On making logistical mistakes early on…

“The first activity, a talk about sugar sweetened beverages that did not include any food samples, drew about 12 participants from both the ROP and the crisis housing programs. For the next month’s breakfast class, I prepped for 18 but at least 25 participated. My intern and I were completely swamped, and every last scrap of food was consumed! It was awesome but stressful. Thankfully, the ROP staff helped organize the youths and some of their children into groups, and my primary focus could be on teaching and keeping everyone safe in the kitchen. However, I’m really glad that this happened early on, as it made me streamline the recipes, and recognize that their actual kitchen was not appropriate for teaching. We moved into the dining area for future lessons.”

On the risks of tweaking your vision mid-project…

“Because of the change of venue, I was a bit disappointed that our cooking lessons turned into more assembly projects (threading veggie kebabs, layering cup o’ needles and assembling mason jar salads) that my intern and I would finish cooking in the kitchen. But regardless, at each event, the youth and the counselors told us that they had a lot of fun, and there were always people who tried a new food.

On peer-to-peer leadership…

“There were a few attendees who worked in fast food restaurants, and there were several wonderful opportunities for them to take the reins and lead a small group of their peers.”  

On the reality of budgetary constraints and healthful supermarket choices…

“On our grocery store tour, I was able to gather first-hand knowledge of the budgetary, storage and energy limitations that the youth have at Covenant House. For example, one participant asked, “Is the microwave ravioli in a can good for me? They fill me up, and when they go on sale, I can afford to buy a lot of them.” This was a teachable moment not only for the youth in attendance but for me and my intern as well. While we were both aware of the monetary barriers to healthy eating, this was the first time we needed to weigh the pros and cons of a can of Chef Boyardee in real time. Ultimately, I came down in favor of it. I explained that while there are more healthful choices out there that could be explored, it is a filling, shelf stable, affordable, and pleasurable meal to be enjoyed sometimes, especially when inexpensively supplemented with a piece of fruit, carrots, or canned beans.”

On the sustainability of this pilot projects…

“This project has great potential to be sustainable. In fact, last year I helped  Winnie Ombese and the Covenant House grant writer submit an initial application for a two year grant from the Aetna Foundation for funds to remodel the ROP kitchen, and purchase supplies for two years of cooking classes and for portable group cooking stations. Unfortunately, we were not chosen to submit a full application, but the brainstorming sessions were very valuable and the work will continue.”


Cook It Forward: A NEW Micro-Grant Program for Alumni

Hello CulinaryCorps Alumni, Friends, and Supporters!

In anticipation of our 10-year anniversary later this year, we here at CulinaryCorps HQ have been hard at work creating a new and meaningful way for the organization to grow its mission. Today we are very pleased to announce the launch of our brand new Cook It Forward initiative. While not a traditional outreach trip, we believe this new program will create similar ripples of good through good food.

So what is it, exactly? Cook It Forward is a micro-grant program open to CulinaryCorps alumni providing $555 in seed funding to help launch an outreach project of their own. This is our small way of giving back to the over 100 chef-volunteers who have given so much over the past decade to make our organization a delicious success.

Why $555? Because our goal is to fund 5 alumni-driven projects, in 5 months with 5 hundred dollars each. Simple. And while this may not seem like a whole lot, it has the potential to be mighty. We know this from experience. In 2006, CulinaryCorps got its start with a micro-grant of $500 from the Geoffrey Roberts Foundation. With the help of each and every one of you, this small grant snowballed into an organization that has helped hundreds of people by feeding, teaching, and sharing good food.

If you have participated as a chef-volunteer on a previous CulinaryCorps trip, FAQs about the Cook It Forward program along with a link to the application can be found HERE. Applicants will be reviewed on a rolling basis until up to five grants have been distributed. If you dream it, we can help fund it. So please consider applying today.

And if you have not participated on a trip but would like to support our micro-grants, please consider making a donation by choosing Cook It Forward as your program fund. All contributions, big or small, and will help keep this program running for years to come.

Please stay tuned for updates about our Cook It Forward success stories on our website. We cannot wait to share all the good news amid the amazing outreach with you, our favorite fans.

In good food and service,

Christine Carroll and the CulinaryCorps Executive Board