By Punch Correspondent Attie Poirier
The flutter of camera shutters accompanied a rhythmic chopping of knives during a recent afternoon shift at DC Central Kitchen. Onlookers stand on tippy-toes and squeeze into narrow camera angles to watch Washington Wizards players and culinary students poach potatoes and (somewhat frantically) chop green peppers earmarked to flavor stock and garnish fresh greens and salmon salads. Elsewhere in the kitchen, volunteers prepare macaroni and cheese dishes–a Friday treat for area school kids.
Though adding 6 six-foot-plus basketball players to the line admittedly crowded the kitchen, the industrial-sized operation prepped away to keep up with DC Central Kitchen’s ambitious two-fold mission. The nonprofit provides healthy meals to area agencies that serve the needy by using a student kitchen staff learning culinary trade skills that will allow students to build a career post-graduation. Chaired by celebrity chef Jose Andres, the kitchen churns out about 5,000 meals a day–nearly 2 million meals a year—while educating and securing food and beverage positions for its nearly 100 students annually.
Claiming “Mom’s Gumbo” as his favorite food, Wizards first-year guard Garrett Temple enjoyed slicing veggies with some of the kitchen’s gumbo contest winners, noting that he “might have to get some tips from them” if he ever wants to try to compete with mom’s Louisiana-style home cooking. Despite the fun kitchen antics, Garrett recognized how vastly DC Central Kitchen serves the community.
“This is not just a soup kitchen; this is a place where people come to learn a craft,” explains Garrett. “A lot if these people have had some trouble in their past but they are here learning to make it better. Not everybody can play basketball or become a doctor, but these people love to cook, they come here to learn to do it better and to start a career.”
Volunteering at DC Central Kitchen is one of several Wizards’ community activities he has participated in since arriving in DC on Christmas Day, and the experience clearly made an impression on him. “It’s great being out here, seeing what these people do every day,” he adds. “They’re helping others and also learning the skills they need to get their life on the right track.”
Culinary instructor Rock Harper, who recently joined the staff after years of serving as a volunteer, seconds Garrett’s observations about the kitchen’s impact in DMV. “The best part is that it’s my job to be such a visible part of the community. I’m humbled by the fact that I get to help people on a daily basis,” he says, noting that the organization’s mission motivates him each day.
And that inherent motivation doesn’t change when the kitchen’s overcrowded. “Today there are lots of people and cameras, but chefs are busy and we still need all of this [prep] work done. When people get to see these guys take the time to give back to the community, it’s great,” Rock acknowledges.
“In our minds it’s not just about helping out. It’s about doing the right thing and serving the community that gives so much to you,” explains first-year Wizard Martell Webster, whose family also hosted an adopted family at practices and holiday celebrations last December, Santa costume included. “This career is short-lived; it’s over in a glimpse really. I just want to make the most of it and do my part to make a lasting impression.”
For more about the day, check out some more snapshots below!
As a Punch Correspondent, Attie contributes stories from the local philanthropic, cultural, foodie and and professional scenes. She always enjoyed visiting family in the D.C. area while moving around as a kid, and decided to make D.C. her home after graduating from the College of William and Mary in Virginia. Attie works as a management consultant at a federal government agency and likes dedicating some free time to giving time back to the dynamic D.C. community that she loves. When not working or volunteering, she can often be found playing or refereeing community sports or enjoying good food and great wine in the company of friends and family. She is a travel, photography and art enthusiast who loves to learn what makes others tick. Follow her on Twitter at @attiep21.