"Food, like a loving touch or a glimpse of divine power, has that ability to comfort."
No doubt about it. Food is love. It means you cared enough to take the time to plan, shop & prepare a meal for someone else to enjoy!
And then there's Washington, D.C. chef Steve Badt. Comfort-giver extraordinaire. He was a chef at trendy New York & DC restaurants before he decided to chuck it all in 2001 for a job with regular hours that would let him merge his culinary experience with a way to help people.
His future wife had laid it on the line. He had to choose. The wacky hour restaurant business, or her. And that's what led him to his present gig, where he prepares gourmet meals for the homeless, and treats them like they are guests at an upscale restaurant.
His mom still doesn't get what he does. "So...you're serving the homeless? Why did I send you to college?" He's the chef at Miriam's Kitchen, located in the basement of a church about a mile away from the White House. Supervising a crew of volunteers he prepares 6-course gourmet breakfasts for the down and out. These are the folks without the breaks. Many are mentally ill, addicted to drugs or alcohol, jobless, homeless, without a support system or family.
Badt says, "I realized one day that once you're on the street, it's hard to get back on your feet."
"So my energy comes from the fact that - wow, if I can start these guys off with a beautiful meal and a great meal and a nutritious meal, will that increase the odds that maybe they'll get housing, that maybe they'll get off drugs, that maybe they'll have a good day?" Badt explains by way of a question.
And does Badt believe the omelettes with sauteed mushrooms, ham, onions and cheese; stone-ground grits; homemade home fries; green salad; and strawberry shortcake will help his "guests" get a job, find an apartment or get off drugs & alcohol? Absolutely, he says.
He was cynical about the homeless before he became their chef--now that he knows their stories--now that he sees the smiles & positive energy that his "guests" get from the wholesome meals at Miriam's Kitchen, he's convinced that somehow he's playing a significant part in helping his "guests" get back on their feet. "It's just a piece of the puzzle," he says.
I heard Steve's story on Sunday morning NPR, at the end of a week where food, and the comfort it brings, was on my mind. It all started with the coconut bars, Russian tea biscuits & Humphrey popcorn balls that I brought down to Florida. My mother-in-law's "comfort food."
In fact, I can't think of anything more comforting than making a meal for someone you care about or being the recipient of that special meal. Hey it doesn't even have to be meal, just a special treat that says you care.
- My friend Bob's social circle usually just go to restaurants when they get together. When he invited everyone to a home cooked dinner at his house one of his friends remarked, "I can't think of anything nicer you could have done for me than take the time to prepare a meal. Nobody cooks anymore."
- When Son number #2, who is definitely "not from the cooks", shopped, prepared and served grilled fajitas with guacamole, salsa and chocolate chip cookies on Thursday night, I absolutely felt taken care of. Nothing beats coming home from work to a meal that someone else has prepared!
- When friend Fran cooked up an early morning breakfast of frittatas, fruit, whole-grained toast, raspberry jam & coffee on the deck for the Mah Jongg girls we all felt "oh so happy & content".
- The same goes for Dick's home-smoked brisket, the eggs & bagels Brian makes for his mom, Andy's homemade gravlax and marinated olives, Bob's swordfish Involtini, Lester's Barefoot Contessa renditions, Howie's Peach Pie, Babs' brownies, Craig's maple-glazed salmon, and Marge's meals for everyone. Hey this list goes on and on. Food, comfort, hospitality, family, friendship.
Like the Pillsbury slogan says, "Nothing Says Lovin' Like Something from the Oven." What's your idea of comfort food?