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Local chefs join World Central Kitchen at GRCC to participate in disaster relief training

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Two Grand Rapids chefs working together to create the sauce put on the sandwiches that were prepped for those in need. (Anthony Clark Jr./The Collegiate)

More than a dozen local chefs gathered at Grand Rapids Community College Monday, Nov. 22 for the first of two days of a chef relief training program to assist with disaster relief efforts as part of a partnership between not-for-profit World Central Kitchen (WCK) and the college.

Monday’s training featured Alejandro Perez, a chef originally from Bayomón, Puerto Rico, who felt compelled to make a difference in the lives of others impacted by disasters after Hurricane Maria struck his native country in 2017 by joining WCK.

Perez commented on not only what it means to him to have opportunities to give back to those in need, but what it means to create opportunities for other chefs that will ultimately assist a great deal of people.

Chef Alejandro Perez directing the local chefs moments before the sandwich making challenge. (Anthony Clark Jr./The Collegiate)

“Honestly, it’s a very fulfilling thing to do,” Perez said. “I myself was part of the people that were affected by Hurricane Maria, so I know what it feels (like) to be on both ends of a disaster and how important it is to have a meal. There is so much going on after a disaster that you either forget to eat because you have to worry about more important things or you don’t even have access to food.”

The purpose of the relief training, according to the course syllabus, is to “empower participants with the core knowledge and skills needed to initiate and lead community-based responses to local disasters.”

The participating chefs undergo learning objectives created by WCK, are tasked with team-building activities and assignments to continue expanding their knowledge on relief assistance, and are tested at the end of the two-day course in order to officially complete the training.

With just over a dozen local chefs participating in the WCK training, the team was tasked to make 506 sandwiches in 45 minutes or less. Under a great deal of pressure and having no team chemistry built prior, the team was able to complete the task in 53 minutes. However, the group was the quickest sandwich-making group to attempt the challenge in recent years.

“This was the most organized and cohesive group I’ve seen in a very long time,” Perez noted after the completion of the task. 

Spectrum Health Lead Cook Veronica Ballard was proud to be a part of a team that helped to assist those impacted by disaster as many people in the city of Grand Rapids suffer from food insecurity each year.

“I think it’s great,” Ballard said. “I think it sets us up for a great opportunity if the need ever arose. But we know, in this close-knit community (the need is there) and we can react and help the people right here at home.”

The second day of relief training will be Tuesday, Nov. 23. Individuals can join the group at 11:20 a.m. to watch the cooking of a paella dish outdoors on the patio between the GRCC Library and Wisner-Bottrall Applied Technology Center.

“The fact that we can, as chefs, feel that we can make a big difference with just a plate of food is super fulfilling,” Perez said. “On the receiving end, I get chills thinking about it again, seeing all my neighbors, because I did volunteer for World Center Kitchen (in Puerto Rico)… and they saw me coming and knew I had food… it brought the community together.”

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