Tom Hall, Executive Chef of Green Spring Valley Hunt Club, volunteers with World Central Kitchen to help prepare meals in the wake of natural disasters.
I’ve had the pleasure of working in country clubs for the last 13 years and wouldn’t change my experience for the world. But with the world facing so many current challenges, I often wonder if I can use my cooking skills to better help those in need.
Over the last year and a half, I’ve been fortunate enough to spend some time helping an organization that is near and dear to my heart. It’s called World Central Kitchen and it’s a not-for-profit, non-governmental organization devoted to providing meals in the wake of natural disasters. It was founded in 2010 by chef José Andrés.
My first opportunity working with WCK was with Chef for Feds during the government shutdown in January 2019 and more recently with Chefs for America a few weeks ago.
Chef Andres and WCK have always stepped up to the plate when people are in need of a meal. Whether he’s helping provide meals in Puerto Rico or the Bahamas after a hurricane or feeding firefighters during wildfires in California, he was ready to go no matter what. I find that deeply inspiring and humbling.
With the recent spread of COVID-19 throughout the world, it comes as no surprise that Andres and WCK have been some of the first to jump into action and help out anywhere they can. When the Diamond Princess cruise ship docked in Japan, WCK stepped in to help feed those on the ship. One of the people who was called upon to help out with the cruise ship operation was Matt Adler, who I had met and stayed in touch with after the government shut down. Adler was vital to the Chefs for Feds operation and also helped out in New Orleans after Hurricane Barry. Over a two week period, WCK helped prepare breakfast, lunch and dinner for those quarantined on the ship.
Adler’s experience with WCK and cooking in the time of COVID-19 would prove important when he was asked if he could help set up the Washington, D.C. Kitchen once the United States started shutting down. To help Adler run things in D.C., another WCK veteran was called into action, Jeffrey Barrientos. Barrientos helped endlessly with the Chefs for Feds operation, as well as, helping in the Bahamas after Hurricane Dorian. Together, Adler and Barrientos started feeding people out of the kitchen at Think Food Lab.
Not long after, they outgrew that kitchen and moved the operation over to Nationals Park which allowed them to increase the number of meals they could produce. On top of being able to feed more people, this allowed all of the volunteers to follow proper social distancing protocols.
I knew that I wanted to get to D.C. and help out in any way that I could. I managed to find a day that I could get down there and made the journey to Nationals Park. After getting my temperature checked, washing my hands, and grabbing my gloves and face mask, I found myself in the kitchen helping prep food for the 7,500 meals needed for the day. There were two kitchens with less than 10 people in each so that we could follow CDC guidelines. By early May, the team had expanded to a third kitchen and was producing around 10,000 meals a day, 6 days a week. While I’m not sure I’ll ever need to feed 10,000 people a day, my experiences in volunteering with WCK proved beneficial when my world was also turned upside down by COVID-19 at Green Spring Valley Hunt Club (Owings Mills, Md.).
A few days before our scheduled annual shutdown, the state of Maryland had its first confirmed cases of COVID-19. Before we knew it, everything was closing. Even though our club was planning on being closed for a much needed kitchen repair, we decided to open up and offer carry out meals for our members, much like those provided by WCK.
We wrote a menu that we would be able to execute with our outdoor grill and smoker as the inside equipment was not available for use. The local grocery stores were nearly empty, leaving some without many options for a meal. I remember reading about Jose Andres arriving in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria and the challenges he faced. We were in a much better situation than he was so I knew we would be able to accomplish our goals. We continued to cook meals with our outdoor setup for almost two weeks until we were finally able to move back indoors.
Volunteering for a group like WCK was rewarding in so many different ways. I was able to see a disciplined organization that operated in the most efficient way possible. There is no way to put together thousands of meals every day without every move being well calculated. I also got to see a team that cared so intensely and deeply about how the food tasted and looked. The entire crew at WCK wants every detail to be perfect—from how it tastes to how it’s plated, every meal matters.
This mindset is consistent throughout the team and it rubs off on everyone who signs up to help. I also find that it’s incredibly refreshing to go from the person who everyone comes to for answers to being the person asking the questions. It’s not often that you find yourself going from the chef of your kitchen down to commis in someone else’s. You really get to see if you actually practice everything you preach to your crew.
In a time where more people than ever could use a helping hand and a hot meal, I encourage you to use your skills to help those around you. You’ll walk away at the end of the day feeling good about helping out, perhaps make some new friends, and learn a few new things, too.