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Christopher Kimball’s Milk Street | Milk Street Faces

Christopher Kimball’s Milk Street | Milk Street Faces

The stories of the people who feed us
  • Sam Fore, Tuk Tuk Sri Lankan Bites,Lexington, Kentucky

    “People might not know what dark roasted curry powder is, but they sure as hell... read more
    “People might not know what dark roasted curry powder is, but they sure as hell know how to eat a rib,” says Sam Fore, who in 2015 combined her heritage and a love for entertaining into a successful pop-up series called Tuk Tuk Sri Lankan Bites. “It’s people’s first exposure to Sri Lankan food because it’s not common in the States, and they really love it.” A child of the South with parents who immigrated from Sri Lanka, Fore combines her influences into unique but accessible dishes, like her take on fried chicken. “It’s brined with what would have been in a chicken curry, the cinnamon, cardamom and all the spices. ... Or curry spiced ribs with a dark roasted curry powder.” When the pandemic put her pop-ups on hiatus, the former website designer became technology director for The LEE Initiative, which fellow Kentuckian Edward Lee founded to promote diversity and training in the restaurant industry; it’s now running relief centers for laid off restaurant workers in 19 cities. “There’s starting to be an understanding of these differences among communities of color, of the nuance where you can’t lump everything together. It’s growing into a real watershed moment of change in the industry, and timing-wise I don’t think I could have done this any better.” — Sam Fore, Tuk Tuk Sri Lankan Bites, Lexington, Kentucky as told to Albert Stumm (Photo by Clay Williams) ... less
  • Nate Hisamura, The Conservatory, Eugene, Oregon

    “I don’t often talk about my background,” says Nate Hisamura, a mathematician-turned-barman who last year... read more
    “I don’t often talk about my background,” says Nate Hisamura, a mathematician-turned-barman who last year opened a speakeasy, The Conservatory, in Eugene, Oregon. “When I do, customers are very surprised. There’s an assumption that if we’re there, we must not be educated. Or we must want to be an actor.” Hisamura earned a master’s in applied mathematics for neuroscience, then completed his doctorate work in math education. “I became a bartender at twenty,” he says. “It was for economic reasons, but also for the curiosity. First, I was slinging drinks at a dive bar, but then I started to learn about mixology. … I loved the craft, but not the industry.” In March, the pandemic forced Hisamura to close his bar. “I’m not actually mad about it. ... It might be something fortunate in my life. When I opened the speakeasy, I was getting home at 3 a.m. I was feeling burned out. COVID forced my hand, but I was already looking for options to get out.” Hisamura now is considering various teaching positions to rejoin academia. “In the industry, you’re acting. I overdo my personality when I’m behind the bar. I often feel fake. But teaching, I feel like that’s actually me. COVID ripped the band-aid off.” — Nate Hisamura, Eugene, Oregon, as told to Carmen Sherlock (Photo by Gavin Doremus) ... less
  • Frances Tariga, Catch Steak, New York City

    “There is a lot of ignorance in kitchens. I call them out or just fire... read more
    “There is a lot of ignorance in kitchens. I call them out or just fire them in front of everyone so they know there is no room for discrimination in the restaurant. You have to accept that you have a freaking lesbian leader. If my sexuality bothers you, then don’t work in New York,” says Frances Tariga, who still oversees a staff of 125 after the coronavirus shutdown as chef de cuisine of the massive Catch Steak in New York City. Previously, she worked for the royal family in Dubai, as a private chef for two ambassadors, and consulted for restaurants in her native Philippines. “Everyone knows I’m a tough (expletive) in the kitchen. There’s no mercy. Also I’m Asian, and we weren’t that compassionate the way I grew up. There’s no gray area.” Which still leaves plenty of room for helping others, particularly those just starting out. She’s raised money in the past for gay youth organizations and makes a point to hire young women looking for a break in the restaurant business. “I love my people. When someone wants to be a cook, I teach them.” — Frances Tariga, Catch Steak, New York City, as told to Albert Stumm (Photo courtesy of Frances Tariga) ... less
  • Cody Hopkins, Grass Roots Farmers’ Cooperative, Clinton, Arkansas

    “Farmers cooperating and having a food system that’s not consolidated, where farmers have more of... read more
    “Farmers cooperating and having a food system that’s not consolidated, where farmers have more of a stake in the supply chain, creates more resilience in the food system,” says farmer Cody Hopkins, CEO and founder of Grass Roots Farmers’ Cooperative, a Clinton, Arkansas-based network of family-run farms. The group helps its farmers have more ownership over distribution by partnering with small-scale processing facilities and connecting them directly with customers. “I grew up surrounded by the Tysons and large industrial agriculture, but also in a really poor community… A big part of what drives me to do this is my experience growing up in rural America...So much of rural America is these extractive businesses that are taking resources out of [local communities] or extracting them to great value or to stockholders or folks in other parts of the country,” he says. “Now we have a base of customers across the country supporting small farmers. In these times that are so divided, especially the urban-rural divide, it’s a really interesting way to bridge that divide.” — Cody Hopkins, Grass Roots Farmers’ Cooperative, Clinton, Arkansas, @grassrootscoop as told to Alison Spiegel ... less
  • DeVonn Francis, Yardy, New York City

    "We’re prioritizing Black and queer farms to redistribute wealth back into their businesses and their... read more
    "We’re prioritizing Black and queer farms to redistribute wealth back into their businesses and their communities. And also to give people a chance to experience food through our eyes,” says DeVonn Francis, owner of Yardy, a Brooklyn-based event and production company that’s pivoted with the times. “We’ve always been equipped as a Black-owned business and a Black- and brown- and queer-led business to create new ways and new modes of navigating difficult times,” Francis says. Yardy recently launched both a meal delivery service offering prepared food and groceries, as well as a free meal program to serve underserved communities. “How we reach people has changed, but it’s not about changing our value sets... For the free meal program, we’ll hire a certain amount of Black and brown youths to cook the meals with us, so they’re also learning how to make the food, not just receiving food. And it’s all food that I would want to eat—that we would serve regardless of the situation. That’s a really special thing that I wanted to see out of it,” Francis says. “Joy and celebration can be very radical gestures.” — DeVonn Francis, Yardy, as told to Alison Spiegel (Photo: Courtesy of Yardy) ... less
  • Ariana Malushi, Balkan Bites, New York City

    “I called everyone I knew who had a frozen product and asked, ‘How do you... read more
    “I called everyone I knew who had a frozen product and asked, ‘How do you ship this? Do you use gel packs? Do you use dry ice? Where do you get your containers?” recalls Ariana Malushi, co-founder and CEO of Balkan Bites, a catering, pop-up market and wholesale business specializing in bureks, or phyllo dough pastries with sweet or savory fillings. “When coronavirus happened, all of my revenue streams stopped. It was devastating and I didn’t feel like I had any control. Was it even safe for my aunt and I to be together?” she says of her head chef and business partner. The pair started baking together to preserve Malushi’s late grandmother’s recipes, and started Balkan Bites two years ago. In the span of a week, they transformed their business into a direct-to-consumer frozen food distributor. "Basically, people were just messaging us on Instagram, then we set up an online store and the orders kept coming, mostly from people from the Balkan community. Now, we’re seeing a huge interest from all over the country from all different backgrounds, and it’s really amazing because that was really our goal—to share our culture with the world and to unite people around the table.” Ariana Malushi, Balkan Bites, as told to Alison Spiegel. (Photo courtesy of Balkan Bites) ... less
  • Javier Amador-Peña, El Colombiano Coffee​, Boston, Massachusetts

    “I say in every cup of coffee is a story,” says Javier Amador-Peña, a former... read more
    “I say in every cup of coffee is a story,” says Javier Amador-Peña, a former graphic designer who owns El Colombiano Coffee in Boston. He sources his beans from small farms in the north of his native Colombia, including several run by single mothers. “I try to tell people the story about not only the beans, but whatever is behind those beans. ... I started with nothing, going to shows and farmers markets and fairs, and people started noticing my coffee. So here I am, four years later.” Only weeks before the coronavirus hit, he partnered with fellow farmers market regulars Lavender Bee Baking Company, who bakes nut-free pastries, and Light of Day Records, a vintage record pop-up, to open a cafe, Monumental Market. “The vibe of the space is really nice, like where everyone knows your name. We’re not Cheers but someone that comes in every day to get coffee, we get to know you. We’re seeing the progress. This week was better than the week before and that one was better than the week before. By August we should be operating full time.” — Javier Amador-Peña, El Colombiano Coffee, Boston, Massachusetts, as told to Albert Stumm. ... less
  • Adam Rowe, Ralph's, Burbank, California

    “I couldn’t stay home. I felt like there was an opportunity to help people,” says... read more
    “I couldn’t stay home. I felt like there was an opportunity to help people,” says Adam Rowe, an art director in Los Angeles who got a job shopping for people’s groceries at Ralphs supermarket in Burbank in mid-March. “I spend eight to nine hours a day shopping for people, so I think about them and I think about what their diet’s like, and I love that everyone loves Oreos, Cheez-Its and Lay’s potato chips,” he says. “When I first started, no one was making eye contact in the store. Fast forward five weeks, my shopping cart is jammed packed like the Leaning Tower of Pisa, I’ve got a tower of La Croix and bubbly that’s about to fall over and this woman walks up to me and says, ‘Are you okay?’ And I’m like, ‘Yeah it’s all right. I got it under control and I understand people are supposed to social distance.’ And she’s like, ‘Look. You’ve been shopping for me for the past four weeks, it’s my first time in the store and I just want to say thank you. I had no idea how much you guys were dealing with.’ And I thought that was really great. It just takes that one moment or person.” — Adam Rowe, Ralphs, Burbank, California, as told to Alison Spiegel (Photo credit: Adam Rowe)
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  • Caitlin Cullen, The Tandem, Milwaukee, Wisconsin

    “We try to make (the meals) approachable because half the people we’re serving are kids,”... read more
    “We try to make (the meals) approachable because half the people we’re serving are kids,” says Caitlin Cullen, who closed her Milwaukee restaurant, The Tandem, to focus on a partnership with World Central Kitchen to provide between 350 to 450 free meals a day. “We try to jazz up the standards and always try to sneak in some kale or something healthy. I don’t know, we’re just cooking our (butts) off.” Cullen is leading a group of more than 20 restaurants to provide the meals, paying other restaurants $10 a plate so they can keep their lights on, as well. “A lot of folks coming are not on traditional food assistance. It’s a lot of service industry people, people working at the mall and movie theaters who have bills that when the world is working, normally, they can provide for themselves. But unemployment’s backed up, food assistance is backed up, so we’re trying to take that one concern off your plate, what you’re going to eat, for the day.” — Caitlin Cullen, chef-owner of The Tandem, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, as told to Albert Stumm (Photo by Adrianna Grace). ... less
  • Rev. Dr. Heber Brown, III, Black Church Food Security Network, Baltimore, Maryland

    “When a big box grocery store up and leaves a Black community, oftentimes the neighborhood... read more
    “When a big box grocery store up and leaves a Black community, oftentimes the neighborhood doesn't have any recourse. They don’t have a voice,” says the Rev. Dr. Heber Brown, III, speaking about the Black Church Food Security Network. The group helps churches grow vegetable gardens on their land and connects communities directly with Black farmers through church-based farmers markets and an online directory of Black farmers. “We recognize that food charity alone was never going to get to the underlying situation that had Black communities hungry in the first place. ... We are challenging the social arrangement that keeps, in our case, the Black community at the bottom of the totem pole with respect to having the power to determine and decide what they want in their own neighborhood. And I’m so glad that the hundreds and thousands of people around the country are marching in the streets. Because what they’re marching about, in part, is power dynamics. Just like we created the Black Church Food Security Network during a time of social unrest five years ago,” he says, referring to the Baltimore uprising in response to the death of Freddie Gray, “something else is being born right now that will make a long-lasting difference.” — The Rev. Dr. Heber Brown, III, Black Church Food Security Network, as told to Alison Spiegel (Photo credit: Shannon Winston) ... less
  • Fernando Arroyo, Acámbaro SIN Hambre, Acámbaro, Guanajuato, Mexico

    “Immigrants need food. Some don’t have papers and to the government, the person is invisible,”... read more
    “Immigrants need food. Some don’t have papers and to the government, the person is invisible,” says Fernando Arroyo, a Mexican chef currently working for chef José Andrés's World Central Kitchen at Nationals Park in Washington, D.C. “I lived in New York for five years, working as a chef at Fonda with Roberto Santibañez. I moved to Washington D.C. in February to work at Santibañez’s restaurant, Mi Vida, and three weeks later the restaurant closed.” Concerned about so many of his undocumented colleagues, he started volunteering for Andres, and was offered a job after a week. “We make thousands of meals every day to help all these invisible people,” he says. “I also opened a community kitchen in Acámbaro, Guanajuato, where I am from. ... I send my brother part of my paycheck every week and he cooks every day for people in my community. My friends give him fruit, chicken, anything. I make 6,400 meals every week with my friends and family. Everything is bad right now. But I try. I try because I am human.” Fernando Arroyo, World Central Kitchen and #ACAMBAROSINHAMBRE, as told to Alison Spiegel (Photo credit: Greg Kopit) ... less
  • Anthony Caldwell, 50Kitchen, Dorchester, Massachusetts

    “I grew up in public housing. Didn’t have much. I’ve seen a lot. I went... read more
    “I grew up in public housing. Didn’t have much. I’ve seen a lot. I went to prison multiple times. The last trip is where I got introduced to cooking,” says Anthony Caldwell, chef-owner of Dorchester fusion restaurant 50Kitchen. “The culinary educator, who was also a correctional officer, that man took chopped parsley and sprinkled it over a plate and it blew me away.” After working in various kitchens around Boston and running his own catering business, Caldwell opened his first brick-and-mortar restaurant in February this year. “Three weeks later, we were forced to close because of Covid. But I can tell you that I’m not concerned. I trust God. He didn’t bring me this far to leave me...I’m currently working with CommonWealth Kitchen, providing 400-500 meals per week through this entity called Common Table.” When schools reopen, he’ll launch a program called A Day in the Life for students at nearby Helen Y. Davis Academy. “They’ll spend the day with me, I’ll teach them the basics of cooking... And at the end of the end of the school year, I’ll bring them mystery boxes and they’ll have to show me what they learned.” Anthony Caldwell, 50 Kitchen, Dorchester, Massachusetts, as told to Alison Spiegel (Photo credit: Annette Grant). ... less
  • Makini Howell, Plum Vegan Restaurants, Seattle, Washington

    “One of the good things about working in this industry is you’re always forced to... read more
    “One of the good things about working in this industry is you’re always forced to think outside the box and to think quickly. When there’s rapid fire tickets and it’s really busy, that’s a certain type of person. You learn to move quickly, think quickly and adjust quickly. So all of that came into use when I realized we had to adjust super fast in order to stay alive,” says Makini Howell, chef and owner of Makini Howell Plum Vegan Restaurants in Seattle. So when she had to close her flagship restaurant, Plum Bistro, for in-person dining, she took the opportunity to give it a long-planned “facelift” and employed some of her cooks to help. “I didn't want to lose the people that I had because it had literally taken me the past decade to amass them and it’s a really strong team. So we switched gears. Some of the cooks were also construction workers, so instead of having to let them go, I was able to keep them on as staff members and they did the construction work in the restaurant.” — Makini Howell, Plum Vegan Restaurants, Seattle, Washington, as told to Alison Spiegel (Photos: Elizabeth Rudge; courtesy of Makini Howell) ... less
  • Cindy Mojica, Silver Fork, Chicago, Illinois

    “Food is one of those things that transcends everything, it’s the one thing we have... read more
    “Food is one of those things that transcends everything, it’s the one thing we have in common, and this gives people a safe space to have them walk away with something they can use in the real world and not just in our happy queer bubble,” says Cindy Mojica, a cooking instructor at Silver Fork, a need-based culinary training program at Chicago’s LGBTQ Center on Halsted. Mojica naturally teaches things like knife skills and how to break down a chicken, but also helps students build less tangible skills. “From day one, even before we get in the kitchen, we talk about self-awareness and accountability, about saying it’s OK that you don’t know something and ask a question. It’s better to know that about yourself. And also how to work as a team, how to handle stress and conflict.” Those latter skills come in handy maybe a little too often for graduates. “The restaurant world has a reputation for toxic masculinity with lots of gay jokes, and as woman of color, I’ve heard it all. When we can create this space to work on those soft skills, they learn how to advocate for themselves and how to work that into professional setting to say ‘Hey, I’m not ok with those jokes.’” — Cindy Mojica, Silver Fork at Center on Halsted, Chicago, Illinois, as told to Albert Stumm (Photo by Steven Cory Solomon) ... less
  • Gregory Gourdet, Departure, Portland, Oregon

    “I feel that in five years, 10 years, 30 years, hopefully whatever is going on... read more
    “I feel that in five years, 10 years, 30 years, hopefully whatever is going on now teaches us a lot about humanity and society, and the generation after us can grow up in a better place because we went through this now,” says Gregory Gourdet, director of culinary operations at Portland, Oregon, restaurant Departure. “Mentally I’m good. I don’t want to give up. But emotionally, I’m broken. Ever since George Floyd was murdered, I’ve cried every single day.” In January, Gourdet stepped back to focus on his first restaurant and upcoming cookbook, “Everyone’s Table: Global Recipes for Modern Health." "The book has been an amazing distraction. ... This is a moment in history and it’s going to take some time. This has sparked a lot of conversation and a reckoning in the white community. What happens with police brutality, that’s the other half of the equation." — Gregory Gourdet, Departure, Portland, Oregon, as told to Alison Spiegel (Photo credit: Eva Kosmas Flores) ... less
  • Colleen Moriarty, Hunger Solutions Minnesota, Minneapolis

    “I’m feeling how hard it is to talk about this. It’s really overwhelming when I... read more
    “I’m feeling how hard it is to talk about this. It’s really overwhelming when I start to think and not just react,” says Colleen Moriarty, executive director of Hunger Solutions Minnesota. “The enormous tragedy of George Floyd being murdered before our eyes threw the community into chaos. But from chaos rolls the value of the community. We’ve been talking with local agencies and there’s been food distribution via an informal network. Like thousands of people in Minneapolis, I went to Lake Street and cleaned up. I brought a broom and a dustpan and I tried not to look up too much because it was so heartbreaking. For miles and miles, the buildings are burned out. The glass is smattered. There’s graffiti everywhere. I met my old boss, the former mayor of Minneapolis, at the murder sight, and we just stood together and cried. But I think the vibrancy of the city and the diverse corridor of Lake Street will be honored in the rebuilding. We are a strong, diverse community and we need to honor and cherish that. We need to rise out of this culture of hate that’s established itself. We’re better than that. The whole world is better than that.” Colleen Moriarty, Hunger Solutions Minnesota, as told to Alison Spiegel (Photo Credit: Hunger Solutions Minnesota) Milk Street Faces shares the stories of the people who feed us. Know a story we should share? Message @jm_hirsch #milkstreetfaces ... less
  • Tanya Holland, Brown Sugar Kitchen, Oakland, California

    “Often it feels like with some colleagues, ‘So you only think about us around Kwanzaa... read more
    “Often it feels like with some colleagues, ‘So you only think about us around Kwanzaa and February and Juneteenth,’ and it gets a little old. Like, oh, here it comes again,” says chef Tanya Holland, owner of Brown Sugar Kitchen in Oakland, which combines soul food classics with a California focus on local, quality ingredients. “I’m happy that the dialog is open and that the heightened awareness of the absence of black representation is there. So it’s good. I just hope that we continue.” She expects her restaurant will be busier today thanks to customers making the effort to support black businesses, but acknowledges she didn’t always appreciate the significance of the holiday. “Juneteenth has not always been on my radar because I grew up in an era when the history of African Americans was not taught in a constructive way. We just were looking forward and not looking back,” says the French-trained chef who also speaks Russian. “Ironically, five years ago I was brought to Kazakhstan to commemorate the 150th anniversary of Juneteenth with the State Department as a culinary diplomat. That made me think about it, that I was born 100 years after emancipation of the slaves. A hundred years is not that long ago. My great-grandfather lived to be 100. So, if you think about in that context, it’s a very meaningful, very important date.” — Tanya Holland, Brown Sugar Kitchen, Oakland, California, as told to Albert Stumm (Photo by Smeeta Mahanti) ... less
  • Sandy Jean,Hali'imaile General Store, Maui​, Hawaii

    “I can’t wait to hug people again. Remember hugs and kisses?! And, 'Here, taste this... read more
    “I can’t wait to hug people again. Remember hugs and kisses?! And, 'Here, taste this! I’m shoving food in your mouth?!' That’s what human beings are all about,” says Sandy Jean, a bartender and server for 13 years at Hali'imaile General Store in Maui, Hawaii. “I choose to believe that when we get to reopen, what the new normal might be is going to be even better than before—more planet conscious and kinder toward humanity, and therefore everyone will be more grateful.” The restaurant tried switching to takeout, but it didn't work. “We quickly realized this quality of food isn’t meant to be eaten to-go. It’s designed to be enjoyed within moments of coming off the line, when it's cold or hot or stacked or whatever. It’s like we had one arm tied behind our back.” So now, since the restaurant is only selling meal kits and pantry items on their online store, she waits. “I miss everybody, all our regulars. We’re like a Maui version of Cheers.” — Sandy Jean, Hali'imaile General Store, Maui, Hawaii, as told to Albert Stumm. ... less
  • Adrian Miller, Soul Food Historian

    If we get people to sit down, break bread and talk, get to know each... read more
    If we get people to sit down, break bread and talk, get to know each other, we can build the relationships to tackle the really tough things,” says Adrian Miller, the James Beard Award-winning food historian and author of “Soul Food: The Surprising Story of an American Cuisine.” “Food is a powerful tool for reconciliation because a lot of people get their first exposure to another culture through food. There’s no substitute for interaction, but it could open a door that people might go through.” A former lawyer who worked in the Clinton White House, Miller says the distinction between what is and isn’t soul food is less stark than it used to be. “Soul food tends to be spicier or more seasoned … but for much of the culture, spicy food used to be considered vulgar. People saw black cooks had a heavier hand with red pepper, and in an era of balancing that against the French aesthetic it was not considered high class at all. The legacy of how French cuisine dominated the way people thought was the right way to cook, anything that didn’t hew to that was considered less sophisticated or improper. Now those barriers are coming down.” — Adrian Miller, soul food historian and author of “Soul Food” and “The President’s Kitchen Cabinet,” as told to Albert Stumm (Photo by Bernard Grant). ... less
  • Vel Scott, Vel's Purple Oasis Garden, Cleveland, Ohio

    Food injustice is racial injustice,” says Vel Scott, founder of the Purple Oasis, a two-acre... read more
    Food injustice is racial injustice,” says Vel Scott, founder of the Purple Oasis, a two-acre community garden in the heart of Cleveland that includes 50 fruit trees. “I call it food injustice because of things that are allowed to penetrate the neighborhood, fast food and corner shops who sell everything that we don’t need… There is the killing of people with bullets and there’s killing generations of people with the food that infiltrates our community.” She was spurred to learn healthier ways of cooking years ago during a six-week trip to West Africa after her husband had a health scare. She then took what she learned—building flavor with spices, herbs and different cooking techniques, rather than relying on meat and lots of fat—and began offering vegetable-based cooking classes in the garden and at community centers around the city. “I keep sharing the benefits of healthy body, healthy mind. We can’t do anything if we don’t take care of ourselves. You’re not going to be able to fight and march and make change unless you have a healthy outlook.” — Vel Scott, Purple Oasis Community Garden, Cleveland, Ohio, as told to Albert Stumm (Photo by Purple Oasis). ... less
JUNE 2021
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