Culanthropy: Two years ago, the New York City chef Christine Carroll was painting a New Orleans high school with a post-Katrina volunteer group when she realized that she was no painter. But she could cook; so could everyone she knew. And New Orleans needed nourishment. Once home, she started organizing CulinaryCorps, a charity that recruits squads of chefs and culinary student for weeklong trips to New Orleans, where they might be asked to cook dinner for a Habitat for Humanity crew one night and the still-stoveless residents of the Lower Ninth Ward the next.
Mornings are spent volunteering: teaching elementary-school kids about growing vegetables or helping to recover flood-damaged cookbooks from venerated restaurants. The focus is not just on feeding the hungry but also on keeping the city’s food traditions alive. “We give them our version of shrimp and grits, and then when they come back for seconds, they share their secret family recipes,” says Carroll.
Of the 75 chefs who have gone through the program, two have moved to New Orleans to make culinary philanthropy — or “culanthropy” – a full-time project. Next year, Carroll says, she hopes to take her Sauciers Sans Frontieres idea to places like Appalachia and Puerto Rico.
June 2008 Trip
A wonderful synopsis of our June 2008 trip in the Washington Times by writer and CulinaryCorps alum, Julie Schwietert-Collazo.
The site has been quiet these past few months but certainly not for lack of things to write about. This summer has proven to be quite a watershed experience for CulinaryCorps and we are happy to finally find the time to report on it.
In July, we traveled to Napa Valley to speak at this year’s TASTE 3 conference, Robert Mondavi’s summit at the intersection of food, wine and art. Sharing the vision of Culanthropy and the mission of CulinaryCorps with an audience of food and wine experts was both heart-warming and inspiring. For those of you not familiar with the conference, it is safe to say it is the best kept secret of the food/wine world. Run beautifully and efficiently, the three-day event affords participants experiences like no other. The setting alone, COPIA , is worthy of a trip. After the talk, we were overwhelmed as person after person came up to us with a smile, hugged us tightly and said “thank you”. A few days later we were delighted to be on the front page of the Napa Valley Register.
Next, we were invited to speak on Voluntourism.org, a website founded by David Clemmons that helps travelers find a way to give back while exploring their destinations. Our hour-long webcast had us discussing New Orleans, our unique model of engagement and the challenges we face as as an organization that hosts chefs that are both visitors and volunteers.
And lastly, we were delighted to be interviewed by The William & Mary Alumni Magazine. Our alma mater in Williamsburg, VA and where we first got our start cooking albeit for very social reasons; to win the hearts of our freshman hall mates with fresh blueberry muffins.
Our third day started on the farm, picking bountiful blueberries at Pearl River Blues. Amy Phelps’ 5-acre plot put us all in a magical trance as we got to see first hand what it meant to truly be a steward of the land. We departed with three full flats of her violet beauties and a belly-full of her sister’s famous “last minute blueberry cake” – a butter meets blueberry delight.
It was then off to cook for “The Taste of Gulf Coast” event. As soon as we arrived at Gulf Hills Hotel, we sprung into action, creating a makeshift kitchen in the hotel’s hallways. After three-hours of working with beautiful produce and products from across the state, we created a fabulous menu and successfully transformed the ballroom with cooking demonstrations of local edibles. The menu included heritage beef sliders with Sweet Home Farms cheese, Fried Quail Eggs and Billionaire’s Bacon, Herbed Crepes with Crawfish in Mornay Sauce, Blueberry Shortcake on Pecan Biscuits with Local Honey, Goat Sausage and Peppers Mini Subs, Smoke Quail Tartines with Goat Cheese, Pecan Pesto Potato Salad and Pimento Cheese with Pickled Beets. We served over 125 guests and helped raise over $1,000 for Slow Food Mississippi and Alabama to help support their farmers markets efforts across the two states.
The night ended with some of the best smoked pork in the country at Ocean Springs’ own, The Shed.
Our final day had us up with the sun and arriving at Cafe Reconcile in time for prepare breakfast for the students. We prepared a simple morning meal of cheesy scrambled eggs, cut fruit, grits and sausage and sat to share in the meal with our partnering kitchen crew for the day. The students at the Cafe worked in tandem with CulinaryCorps to create a themed specials menu featuring French bistro favorites. Our prix fixe menu included a spinach salad with warm bacon vinagrette, a classic vicchysoisse, croque madame and crepes suzette for dessert. We were also able to find some time to teach a pasta-making workshop as well as conduct mock interviews with the students in preparation of their Level 1 graduation this weekend. The entire CulinaryCorps team was impressed with these young men and women and their commitment to the kitchen. We are excited to track their trajectory in the culinary world.
A quick presto-chango and we were pressed and coiffed for the Opening Gala at the Southern Food and Beverage Museum. Tasked with being the “grease” for the event, we found ourselves looking after VIP guests (Chef Paul Prudhomme), sending out canapes and making sure all the talented chefs at the event were looked after. In between our tasks, we were able to enjoy the fantastic setting and educational content of the city’s newest (and tastiest) museum while mingling with some of the hard-core foodies of NOLA. It was a perfect way to bring together so many various pieces of our “culanthropy” efforts.
To come together one last time around the table, we ate our weight in pig at the always-delicious (and always over-the-top) Cochon. We toasted to the work we accomplished in a short period of time and the smiles (and friends) we accrued over the week. And while the communities we visited are certainly rebuilding, relief and continued support will never be turned away. It is with this sense of paying our strengths forward, that we departed with hope (and lots of Louisiana hot sauce).
Rested and fueled on Cool Brew (our favorite form of liquid caffeine while we’re traveling in the city), day three was out of the gate with a trip to the Crescent City Farmers Market. The Uptown location was bursting at the seams and stalls overflowed with peaches, bok choi and berries. The crew happily made their way back to the vans with long beans and tiny plums in tow.
Inspired by the market bounty, we landed at the Edible Schoolyard New Orleans ready to begin our mise en place. April, the school’s chef/forager, had everything we needed to get the “Edible Field Day” underway.
The teams had a little under two hours to transform the raw ingredients and outdoor garden space into activity centers for the students. The 90 5th/6th grade students we worked with had not yet had the opportunity to fully experience the garden so we were tasked with not only making the afternoon tasty but educational as well.
Each station incorporated the basic tenets of their unit lessons. With limited resources but with magical impact, Thomas, Sharon and Leslie created an Ancient Roman home. Their acting abilities certainly matched their culinary skills as they played the parts of lounging senator, diligent wife and hand-washing slave. The students were truly captivated by the information and wooed by the traditional foods of the Roman mensa.
Francisco and Annie were tasked with recreating an Ancient Greek marketplace or Agora. They quickly captivated their crowd with foreign foods that “actually tasted good.”
Kate and Jeremy presented a game of medieval whimsy as they led a rousing game of “False or Feast”…a food-centric pictionary game with an historical edge. If the teams guessed six drawings correctly, they won a chance to create (and devour!) their own mini-peach tart.
Irma, Jeff and Sandy brought science to life as they explained the concept of cooking with steam (and the health benefits of cooking without oil) by demonstrating dumpling making. Each student had a chance to hand fold a few and nibble a couple with the homemade ponzu sauce.
Every chef was blown away by the enthusiasm, energy and kindness of the students, teachers and staff we worked with. When asked at the end of the day what is something that they learned from this event, one young girl said “that you should never be afraid to try something new.” We couldn’t agree more.
The day came to a close with po’boys, snowballs and an impromptu glass blowing demonstration…you just never know what New Orleans will throw at you! And that’s exactly why we love it.
Soon after touching down for CulinaryCorps trip number five, we were on our way to creating a delicious week. Our version of the name game had us sharing an edible introduction. Our table quickly began to groan with bbq sauce, Tastycakes, Vermont Common crackers, bourbon pecan cookies, jerky, mango chutney and personal deliciousness that was both touching and humorous. Unfortunately, we missed out on a homemade blueberry jam. We hope the airport security supervisor responsible for its confiscation is enjoying a slathered scone this evening.
Our mission was made clear that evening as Ashley Graham from Share Our Strength brought us on a recovery tour of the city.
Our trip ended at the New Orleans Cooking Experience where Poppy Tooker and her husband, Nicky, were waiting for us with the tastiest, most succulent, Belle River crawfish you could ever hope to suck. The spice made our lips tingle but that didn’t stop us from eating the tasty morsels hidden within the boil itself…corn on the cob, andouille sausage, potatoes, garlic and a welcome surprise…edamame.
We were up early this morning to enjoy our first cup of chicory coffee of the trip.
Then an impromptu stop at P&J Oyster where owner Al Sunseri donated a GALLON of freshly shucked Louisiana oysters. A treat to bring with us to Habitiat Humanity’s Camp Hope. When we arrived, we met our AmeriCorps NCCC kitchen mates and created a truly global menu. Vegan tamales, chicken stir-fry, German Chocolate cake…
…chilled red pepper soup, baked catfish, mashed root vegetables with roasted garlic, spinach fritatta, lemon bars…and those heavenly fried oysters!
It was a meal fit to feed 250…and feed them we did! We capped off the evening with a traditional Creole-Italian meal at the stronghold of red sauce and red beans…Mandina’s. Sara Roahen, author of Gumbo Tales, made both excellent menu recommendations and insightful conversation. Here’s hoping that the next 48-hours is as tasty and rewarding!
Many thanks to my little sis, Allie C., for working CulinaryCorps into the annals of National Geographic!
We proudly graced the e-pages of National Geographic Traveler’s intelligent traveler blog. We’ll consider it a good luck omen at the start of our trip. Have a peek by clicking here.
The new team convenes in New Orleans this Sunday and if internet access allows, we’ll be trying to keep you up to date on our events all week.
Until then…do good, eat well, and stay hungry!
Click here to check out a great article by author Julie Schwietert featuring CulinaryCorps in Matador Volunteer – an online publication that seeks to promote the incredible work being done by grass-roots organizations and NGOs worldwide, and to connect people with volunteer programs and opportunities that make travel matter.
We are thrilled that both Julie and her husband, Francisco, will be joining us as volunteers during our upcoming June trip. Francisco is a private chef here in New York City and we hear he has some amazing Cuban specialties up his sleeve. Both Julie and Francisco will be helping to document the trip for our upcoming speaking engagement at this year’s TASTE3 conference in July. Check out the couple’s amazing photography, writing, music and adventures on their website Collazo Projects.
In seven short days CulinaryCorps cooks from around the country arrive in New Orleans, marking our fifth trip to the city. The itinerary this year is bursting with amazing partnerships both new and old. A quick snapshot of the week includes:
Sunday, June 1st: We begin with a Recovery Tour of the wards with Share Our Strength liaison Ashley Graham, then kick off our culinary education with a crawfish boil and calas demonstration led by Poppy Tooker, the Slowfood LA convivium leader.
Monday, June 2nd: Our volunteer efforts start off with gusto as we cook dinner for over 500 volunteers at Habitat for Humanity’s Camp Hope. After service, we head to dinner at the legendary Mandina’s and will be joined by Gumbo Tales author and New Orleans cuisine connoisseur, Sara Roahen.
Tuesday, June 3rd: No visit to New Orleans is complete without an early morning trip to the Crescent City Farmers Market. After a quick shop, we continue on to Edible Schoolyard NOLA where we will be launching an “Edible Afternoon” for the 5th and 6th grade classes of Samuel Green Charter School. The students will participate in six culinary stations, including Ancient Roman bread making and butter churning. The day ends with dripping po’boys from Parasol’s and dripping sno-balls from Hansens.
Wednesday, June 4th: Our morning starts early as we head off to the Mississippi Gulf Coast. Our first stop is Pearl River Blues Farm where we will help farm-owner and egg extraordinaire, Amy Phelps, harvest her crops in exchange for a farm-fresh lunch. Shortly thereafter, we arrive at the Gulf Hills Hotel to prepare small plates for over 150 guests at “A Taste of Mississippi” — a fundraiser for the MS Slow Food convivium, confidently championed by Diane Claughton. We will be using locally sourced ingredients to create a menu of over a dozen items, including heritage beef, smoked local quail and, of course, Amy’s amazing blueberries. Once we pack up, we head off for BBQ galore at the MS pulled pork emporium, The Shed.
Thursday, June 5th: We begin at dawn preparing breakfast for the student of Café Reconcile. Our chefs will work side-by-side with the students to create a special “Bistro Menu” for that afternoon’s lunch service as well as launching a mini-workshop on homemade pasta and ravioli making. A quick change of attire and we head to The Southern Food and Beverage Museum to lend our manpower to their Gala Opening — a much-anticipated event for the entire city. The day concludes with a pork-centric meal at the beloved Cochon.
Friday, June 6th: We say goodbye, but hopefully not for long.
We were recently invited to join FohBoh, the new on-line networking community for culinary professionals, and happily jumped on board. Founder Michael Atkinson posted our latest recruitment announcement on their homepage blog – a huge boon for our June trip. The most recent comments made us smile…
At 12:40pm on Apr 15th, 2008, Jim said…
Thanks for highlighting the CulinaryCorps and its mission, which is more important than ever. I recently spotted a news reference to the organization (although I cannot recall where…) and briefly browsed their site. Your post prompts me to learn more about their invaluable work.
From the perspective an epi-curious resident of Planet Earth, I’ve rarely seen such a beautiful convergence of meaning: food, culture and culinary collaboration all happening in a unfamiliar community context in which everyone learns and grows. Brilliant!
At 6:39pm on Apr 15th, 2008, Diane said…
Sounds like a fabulous way to combine education with charity and still get out of town for a whole new perspective. There’s nothing like going someplace else to help other people you don’t even know, even for a short while. This kind of thing opens our eyes and broadens perspective.