Full Hearts, Full Plates: Food is Love
Reinhart Chefs Weave a Legacy
Here’s the beautiful truth about food: When made by a gifted chef, it can heal bodies, nourish souls and connect communities. Meet three Reinhart culinarians whose capable hands and giving hearts are making a difference.
Community Servings, evolving from a heartfelt effort in 1990 to deliver dinners to 30 local HIV patients to an award-winning regional program supplying nutrition education, job training and 325,000 meals annually, was a natural fit for Bostonian chef Jeff Merry. He’s spent more than a decade helping out in the organization’s Teaching Kitchen, providing marketable skills to give a second chance to people who have “fallen through the cracks” due to drugs, alcohol or homelessness.
“I’ve been given opportunities that many haven’t, and I’m incredibly grateful to use the skills I’ve built a career around to give back to those in need,” he says.
Merry believes the organization’s focus on “food as medicine,” preparing tailored meals for clients battling 35 different illnesses, further elevates the program.
“Community Servings has been visionary in recognizing food’s power to help restore wellness years before it became mainstream thinking,” says Merry.
Chef Demetrio Marquez’s first holiday meal for a Louisiana group of Wounded War Heroes (WWH) at the end of December also began small, but set in motion an event-filled year of volunteerism. Eager to serve a memorable meal, Marquez spent hours in the kitchen with an able assist from his 80-year-old dad, “my personal hero,” he says. The resplendent spread included Marquez’s signature alligator picante stew, deep-fried turkey and Cajun squash and zucchini casserole.
“Everyone was just sated afterwards,” he says, laughing.
Now very much in demand at WWH, Marquez looks forward to adding his professional touch at activities, ranging from an annual buffet fundraiser to an alligator hunt. He’ll also continue to mentor aspiring chefs at the local high school, calling it “an investment in the future of our industry.”
A former teacher, chef Lou Rice is similarly motivated to encourage the next gen’s best and brightest to enter the profession. This includes students who may not be thriving academically, but frequently shine in the kitchen.
“I’ve seen so many kids who didn’t fit in traditional spots come alive and find their way to a great job and a great life,” says Rice.
His newest passion project, hosting groups from the Ozarks Teen Challenge academy at Reinhart’s St. Louis facility, has proven especially rewarding.
“It’s a terrific opportunity to introduce them both to the industry and a world of unfamiliar foods. I ask only that they try a new dish, and no one has turned me down yet,” he says.
Interested in volunteering?
Contact your local United Way to find agencies needing culinary expertise, seek out smaller, chronically short-handed organizations that do outstanding work or consider offering a career presentation at your community’s high school.
Be inspired by Rice, who says “Working with students is the best thing I’ve done in my career.” A recent encounter with a former student illustrates why.
“He told me he enrolled in culinary school, worked hard and was now an executive chef at a fancy hotel. … and that he wouldn’t be there today if he hadn’t heard my talk,” says Rice.