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2017 Cook It Forward Grantee Spotlight: Christine Ranieri

Helping Homeless Teens 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 teens 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 Buster Class — 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 adult 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 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 making 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 a couple of 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 got to see “in the field” the budgetary, storage and energy limitations that the youth have. 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. 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.”


A Week to Remember! Houston 2017 Recap


Hello CulinaryCorps Friends and Supporters,

Last Thursday, we wrapped up our 2017 culanthropy trip to Houston, Texas. The week spent together was humbling. Inspiring. Tear-inducing. Laughter-filled. And nourishing on many levels. We could not have wished for a better group of chefs nor a more hospitable line-up of project partners. And we certainly could not have asked for kinder sponsors and supporters…aka YOU!

To give you quick sense of what we accomplished, we wanted to share our trip with minimal words and maximum impact. To that aim, we broke it all down into two categories:

Here’s a curated look at our week of projects via our CulinaryCorps Google photo stream. Click on the info tab in each photo to get a brief description of the project/photo. And leave a comment if you feel so inclined!

Pictures say a thousand words but data says a whole lot more, 500 times that in fact! Here’s a look at the aggregate numbers from this year’s trip:

9 carefully selected chef-volunteers from across the country…

     Including 1 Hawaiian, Aloha!

     560 collective CulinaryCorps volunteer manpower hours across 5 days of culanthropy.

30 pounds of Plant It Forward Farms produce transformed into…

     12 amazing potluck dishes created by our chef-volunteers.

     20 recipes captured for Plant It Forward Farms to use in their CSA boxes.

     $500 worth of Home Depot gift cards donated to the farmer families.

7,000 meals assembled at the Houston Food Bank for delivery to hungry children living in the city.

     And 1,300 pounds of breaded chicken “trayed up” for the following day’s meal.

4 hands-on cooking classes launched for over 70 Camp PHEver campers from ages 3-21.

     Over 140 PHE-free dishes created by the campers themselves using…

             96-feet of spiralized cucumber

             22 pounds of cauliflower rice for our protein-free Poke Bowls

             70 cocktail umbrellas for our Rainbow Hawaiian Shave Ice (It was a Luau after all.)

Over 2 gallons of hand-spun vanilla ice cream made by…

     30 “ice cream scientists” at the MD Anderson Children’s Cancer Center using just…

     12 pillowcases. (Nope, that’s not a typo. It really works.)

     And topped with 300,000 rainbow sprinkles!

$750 worth of kitchen equipment donated to the Houston Covenant House cooking program.

Thousands of heart-expanding moments of inspiration made possible by…

     5 generous corporate sponsors,

     1 super sweet Bake and Gather for Good fundraiser and

     110 amazing individual donors, like you, who helped us meet our fundraising goal!

For all your kindness, we offer our unquantifiable thanks. And we promise to continue cooking it forward throughout the year.

With our deepest gratitude,

Chris Carroll, Executive Director
Christine Ranieri, 2017 Trip Coordinator
and the 2017 CulinaryCorps Chef-Volunteer Team

Our {Amazing} 2017 Trip Sponsors!

We are over-the-moon about all of our sponsors this year! Here they are in no particular order…

Keep an eye out on the Bake and Gather for Good events calendar. It’s a sweet way to support non-profits including ours!

If you need a place to stay in Houston, definitely check out Towneplace Suites, our wonderful housing sponsor.

Or if you’re here and you’re hungry, stop by Underbelly, we promise it’ll be a meal to remember.

All of our shopping will be done at the amazing Central Market, our ingredient sponsor for this trip.

And let’s not forget to give a shout-out to G&B Packing Company for their support too.

Finally, we want to thank our steadfast benefactors, William and Anne Carroll, for contributing our largest single donation this year.

In fact, all of our generous sponsors are rock stars in our book, and we are incredibly thankful for them all.

Now Recruiting for our NEW Outreach Trip to Texas!


Hello CulinaryCorps Friends, 

Over these past six months we’ve been reminded just how lucky we are to have met people like you, food lovers with big hearts, great talents, and the rare ability to put those things into action. 

Which is why we are so excited to announce the launch of our newly designed outreach trip to Houston, Texas this summer!

Thanks to the careful planning of CulinaryCorps alum and co-leader, Christine Ranieri, we will be bringing a team of 10 chef-volunteers to her new hometown from July 8-13, 2017.

In a return to the original trip concept forged in New Orleans, we will be working with different Houston area project partners each day including…

  • farm for refugees
  • The country’s largest food bank
  • A summer camp designed for kids with cancer at MD Anderson
  • And another one for kids with chronic illness
  • We’ll also be exploring Houston’s up and coming food scene
  • Plus, we’ll be making time to discuss the future of CulinaryCorps too!

Please read the trip details (including dates, cost, and project responsibilities) HERE.  

If you are interested in filling a slot, please complete the APPLICATION by April 3, 2017. 

So are you ready to be part of our Houston vanguard? We hope so! Your strengths are as needed as they are necessary…perhaps more now than ever before.

In good food and service,
Christine Carroll, Founding Director

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

A Truly Camp-Tastic Week!


Hello CulinaryCorps Friends and Supporters,

We’re back from Camp Sunshine! And what a camp-tastic week it was. The 2015 team hit the ground running for the third year in a row launching our custom World of Flavors cooking curriculum. They cooked side-by-side with over 200 campers and volunteers during the camp’s end-of-August oncology week. Our ten chef-volunteers worked hard to become diplomats of good food and fun, showcasing culinary lessons from around the globe.

It’s always our long-term goal that participating families gain the skills necessary throughout the week to create meals at home that balance health and wellness with taste and convenience. And from the family feedback we’ve received so far, our time was well spent. We are ecstatic to hear reports of  quinoa at dinnertime and sushi-making parties on the weekend. We believe the “secret sauce” to our programming is the special brand of student engagement our chefs deploy: immersive, fun, hands-on and boundary challenging in the best of ways. It’s our goal that every single camper (from 2 to 92) participate in a recipe’s creation despite any limitations. This year, campers rolled out their own whole wheat-spinach pasta dough, pressed balls of corn masa to make tortillas, whisked eggs to frothy yellow perfection and cranked out mounds of shaved ice to make the Korean summertime treat, patbingsu. The sense of pride in these completed dishes was nearly palpable.

But perhaps the memories that linger the longest are the ones our chefs make when they let the goofiness loose. Our Foodie Olympics brought out just this kind of memorable silliness; Jell-O was tossed at (goggle-protected!) heads, marshmallows were launched into the stratosphere on supersized slingshots, and vegetable odds and ends were used to make beautiful art. Plus, at the end of the week, we encouraged the campers to stretch their newfound culinary muscles in our Third Annual Top Chef Sunshine. This year the challenge was to create a super summer salad, and boy oh boy, did they create some stunners.


We have so many people to thank for another amazing week. To everyone who donated on the behalf of our incredible chef-volunteer team, we appreciate every last dime. Seriously, every cent made us smile. Of course, our rock star sponsors (including the recently added Runaway Dish, an amazing charity pop-up supper club in Louisiana) are no slouches either. Every year we are surprised and delighted when a company steps up to support our work. Thank you HMart, International Culinary Center, ChefWear, and Ford. We could not have done this without you.

For those of you who would rather look at more purty pictures of the week, click on over to our Google photo feed. (Keep an eye out for Taco Matt, a fan favorite the whole week long.) Or if you crave a a slightly different take on the events, Aimee Bariteau, our wonderful Trip Leader, wrote a heartfelt recap of the week over on her blog, Warm up the Pan. First-time participant, Ali Waks-Adams, also captured the joyous intensity of a CulinaryCorps trip on her own blog, Our Maine Course. And for those of you who want some video action, our team was gifted a role in the teen group’s film recap of the week. We think they did an amazing job capturing the spirit of Camp Sunshine.


So here we are, at the end of this year’s trip, and once again we somehow cannot fully express how appreciative we are of the opportunity to turn food into something more than just fuel. For us, our classes are about making connections to our audience, our team, our foodways and ultimately, ourselves. Inevitably, every year it’s us–the chef-volunteers–that gain far more benefits from the trip than we ever bestow. We feel honored that Camp Sunshine and its campers welcomed us for another year of food, fellowship and profound insight. And we pledge to “cook it forward” as we re-enter our real lives in the kitchen…and beyond.

With our hearts full of love and thanks,

Christine Carroll, Executive Director and the 2015 CulinaryCorps Team

Meet our 2015 Chef-Volunteer Team

Meet our team of chef-volunteers for our 2014 Camp Sunshine trip!

Aimee Bariteau (Trip Leader) lives in Cambridge, MA. A graduate of the French Culinary Institute, this will mark Aimee’s fifth trip with the organization, and third as its trip leader. Aimee is also a seven-year breast cancer survivor, and was selected in 2014 as a Model of Courage for Ford Warriors in Pink. Her Oreo-studded chocolate chip cookies are magical.

Margot Greenwald (Co-Leader/PR & Events) is a New York City native and a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America.  She currently works near Tribeca at Houseman Restaurant as a line cook. Houseman has a small kitchen team so Margot wears many hats from filleting fish to baking peanut tarts.  One day she hopes to take her career into the New York City Public School system. When not working, Margot can be found making jams and pies, and checking out new eateries in NYC.

 Shin Kim (Co-leader/Curriculum Coordinator) is passionate about spreading the word about the deliciousness of Korean cuisine and teaches recreational Korean cooking classes throughout the New York City area via her company, Banchan Stories. In her spare time Shin translates Korean TV shows. She has starred in her own online cooking show “Cooking with Shin” that highlights dishes featured in those shows.

Mathieson Jennings (Co-Leader/Kitchen Management) oversees food production at stunning eating emporium, The Market on Market, in San Francisco. A graduate of the Culinary Institute of America, Matt is passionate about sharing his love for food and sustainable practices with others, and is a three-time CulinaryCorps chef-volunteer.


Ali Waks-Adams was born in NYC (Mets not Yankees) and currently lives in Brunswick, Maine where she is the pastry chef at Trattoria Athena, volunteers with Mid-Coast Hunger Prevention Program and has been on television promoting the trip. Ali attended the International Culinary Institute in Philadelphia. Her refrigerator and pantry hold many many many condiments and spices from many many many countries.

Chanel Gaude lives in Lafayette, Louisiana. She has been working in kitchens for four years, and recently left her position as Sous Chef at Village Cafe. She is a dedicated volunteer for several local fundraising dinner series including Pig and Plough Suppers and Runaway Dish.  When she’s not working, you can find her outside tending to her two acres of land, kayaking or camping.

Janice Provost is the long-time executive chef and owner of Parigi in Dallas, Texas, a farm-to-table restaurant that blends Italian, French and American cuisine. She co-founded Cafe Momentum, a non profit restaurant that teaches at-risk young people the restaurant business, and gives them the skills to find employment in the food and hospitality industry.  She and her husband (of over two decades) love to travel, especially to France and the Mexican Riviera.

Jeremy Kohn was born and raised in Queens. He’s been working in the restaurant business since he was 15 years old getting his start as a soda jerk at Johnny Rockets. He graduated from Johnson and Wales University studying culinary arts and food service management. Jeremy is currently the Sous Chef in charge of catering at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.

Lauren Issaeff  grew up in Denver and completed the Italian culinary program at the International Culinary Center. Soon after graduation, she moved to San Francisco to work for The Culinary Edge as recipe and product developer. She’s now back Denver working in culinary PR. Lauren always wanted to be a camp counselor so she’s really looking forward to her week at Camp Sunshine!

Perri O. Blumberg is a recent grad of the Natural Gourmet Institute in New York City, and former intern at Mercer Kitchen. She is currently a freelance food and wellness writer for digital and print outlets such as SELF Magazine and  Fit Nation Magazine.

CulinaryCorps on the Telly

Ali Waks-Adams has been cooking all over the northeast for years. She’s in Maine now, and is part of our 2015 chef-volunteer team! Watch her make our signature panzanella salad with on The 207, a morning show for Portland’s WCSH 6 NBC. We think she totally nailed it!