This is the first of our posts relaying our day-to-day CulinaryCorps volunteer efforts in Puerto Rico. Thanks for reading, and stay tuned for tomorrow’s adventures!
Bill’s Kitchen is a chef’s dream. The kitchen itself could hold an army, and the walk-in refrigerator is roomier than most Manhattan apartments. But, best of all, the staff have hearts bigger than both combined.
In operation for over 16 years, Bill’s Kitchen was founded in memory of a beloved son lost by the HIV/AIDS epidemic. From a few dozen homemade meals made each month in the 1990s, to thousands of meals created each week in the aughts, Bill’s Kitchen remains committed to nourishing those living with HIV/AIDS: mind, body and soul.
With the CulinaryCorps volunteer team assembled and ready for action, we started our day with a taste test. The Bill’s Kitchen staff informed us that although some of their dishes are very popular with the clients, others have lost favor over time. Our task was to identify what was going wrong in those recipes (was it the flavor? the texture?) and then fix it. Or, if the staff agreed, replace the recipe with something new for the monthly meal line-up.
But there was a catch:
Every dish created had to be capable of being frozen first, and then reheated (usually in a microwave in the client’s house). What’s more, all dishes had to be low in sodium, spice, and fat (aka: no butter, little oil, and no bacon). From a chef’s dream . . . to a chef’s worst nightmare.
Nevertheless, with the encouragement and help of the two full-time cooks and five full-time nutritionists on the Bill’s Kitchen staff, the CulinaryCorps team pitched in to start recipe testing and creation. In short order, the joint crew had created a brand new portfolio of dishes:
- Fresh Basil Marinara Sauce
- Pasta Nicoise with Tuna and Red Potatoes
- Lentil and Mint Soup
- Quinoa, Bean and Corn Salad with Red Pepper Dressing
- Basil, Parsley and Walnut Pesto Chicken Thighs
- Pork Sancocho (Puerto Rican tuber stew)
- Thai Lemongrass-Coconut Soup
- Cilantro and Sunflower Seed Pesto
- Cream of Carrot and Tarragon Soup
- Sweet and Sour Chicken with Pineapple
And just for fun…
- Lemon Mini-Poundcakes
- Butternut Crunch
Amid the chopping, stewing, and stirring, CulinaryCorps volunteers also conducted a series of preplanned workshops to help educate the staff at Bill’s Kitchen about basic kitchen practices, including:
- Knife Skills
- Cooking Pasta and Rice for Freezing
- Pesto Creation
- Thickening Soups
- Baking 101
By the end of the day, things came full-circle as the Bill’s Kitchen staff taste-tested our own recipes. Fortunately, our creative trial-and-error experiments yielded some great successes that, with luck, will be served to the clients of Bill’s Kitchen in the near future.
Best of all, our presence was tremendously appreciated by the resident staff. One of the nutritionists announced to the crowd that in the four months she has passionately labored at Bill’s Kitchen, “Today was the best day.” A smile lit up her face, and we felt it in our hearts.