Community 3 Chefs on What it Takes to Nourish a Community

by the editorial team at Citi | April 01, 2021

Citi collaborated with No Kid Hungry and World Central Kitchen to interview three prominent chefs and hear their perspectives on giving back to their communities, resiliency, female empowerment and equality.

Since 2014, Citi has been the leading and long-standing partner of No Kid Hungry to help end childhood hunger in America. With Citi’s support, No Kid Hungry has been able to provide millions of meals to kids in need. Together with Citi Foundation and a matching donation program, Citi provided $7 million last March to support No Kid Hungry’s emergency Food Distribution Programs across the U.S. in response to food insecurity during the pandemic.

World Central Kitchen (WCK) is a nonprofit that provides food to nourish communities in times of crisis and beyond. At the onset of the pandemic, Citi provided over $2.5 million to support World Central Kitchen’s #ChefsForAmerica relief effort, which activated restaurants across the country to provide more than 50 million meals to vulnerable communities and frontline health care professionals.

Citi had the opportunity to speak with a few of the chefs — Duskie Estes, Sofia Deleon and Isaac Toups — who have dedicated their time to help support their local communities and make a true difference amidst the pandemic.

Chefs cooking with purpose

Duskie Estes is a California-based farmer, rancher, chef and food justice advocate. She currently has a farm, runs the Black Pig Meat Co., and a food truck called The Black Piglet.

Originally from Guatemala, Sofia Deleon moved to the U.S. for school and, after earning a degree, an MBA and exploring corporate jobs on both coasts, she quit her job to bring a piece of home to her current home of Philadelphia, PA. In 2014, Deleon founded and opened El Merkury offering Central American street food inspired by Mayan staples. Community is core to Deleon’s approach, as evidenced by her various collaborations with local food relief efforts.

Isaac Toups is chef and co-owner of Toups' Meatery with his wife Amanda. Located in New Orleans, LA, their restaurant has been serving sophisticated Cajun cuisine to dedicated patrons since it opened in 2012, and they made it a point to help their neighbors in need after Hurricane Katrina and during the pandemic.

Duskie Estes

Duskie Estes. Photo courtesy of Nick Wilson.

Tell us about your role with Share Our Strength's No Kid Hungry campaign or World Central Kitchen. How did you get involved with either organization and why is the work important to you?

 

Estes: From 1992 to 1995, I worked for Share Our Strength and helped launch their Cooking Matters campaign, which teaches families to cook and shop for healthy meals on a limited budget. After relocating to Seattle, WA, I helped organize Share Our Strength’s Taste of the Nation events. In 2019, I rode 300 miles as part of the Chefs Cycle for No Kid Hungry — after not having been on a bike for over 20 years!

During the pandemic, Farm to Pantry received a grant from Share Our Strength to fuel our work. As a chef, I thrive on immediate gratification: You cook the food, they eat the food, they like the food, they tell you. It’s pretty simple. At Farm to Pantry, we harvest in the morning and deliver to families facing food insecurity in the afternoon. Seeing a fragrant ripe peach or a gorgeous head of lettuce land on everyone’s table is an incredible reward. A peach can change your day.

Deleon: I first heard about World Central Kitchen in 2018 when there was a massive volcanic eruption in Antigua, Guatemala. WCK mobilized quickly and brought food to the people that had lost their homes. I was in awe at what an amazing organization WCK was and remained extremely grateful for how WCK had helped my country.

Fast forward to 2020 when the pandemic hit, I had the opportunity to work directly under their #ChefsForAmerica program, making thousands of meals each week for the Sunday Love Project, an organization that helps feed Philadelphia’s homeless and vulnerable populations. We continued working together for #ChefsForThe Polls, making food for the essential workers counting the votes in the Convention Center during the recent presidential election. Despite the pandemic, partnering with WCK has been among the most rewarding experiences, for both myself and my team.

Late last year, there were two massive hurricanes that hit Guatemala. Again, the first ones to help were the heroes at WCK. It is an organization that helps those in need across the world.

Toups: We started working with WCK in May of 2020. We had been helping feed our communities in need since March of 2020, but WCK’s help and much needed funding, allowed us to continue on and to expand our efforts even further. With WCK’s support, we were able to bring back many of our staff members and even hire additional support. We will never be able to adequately express our gratitude for the much-needed assistance at this difficult time.

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Despite the pandemic, partnering with WCK has been among the most rewarding experiences, for both myself and my team.
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Gender equality is a focal point in the movement for women’s rights. What does the movement mean to you?

Deleon: I come from a family of strong women. At a time when women were expected to stay home, my grandmother (who had lost her husband) was able to build a logistics and gas station business, all while raising six daughters. My mother is also an entrepreneur who has worked for as long as I can remember. She instilled in me the belief that women can do anything as long as they set their minds to it.

Though I was lucky to have had such a great support system, I am also cognizant that I come from a country where gender equality is not the norm. In Guatemala, women have less access to education and to higher paying jobs than men. In other countries, the situation for women is much worse. While women have come a long way, there is still so much left to do across the board.

Toups: I am a husband and a father of two beautiful daughters. Women's rights are human rights. I will continue to work hard and do my part to achieve true equality for every single woman in America and across the globe.

Estes: Every day should be women's day. Every day we should seek to assure access is not determined by the color of your skin or your sex or gender or your economic position. When I was in middle school, women made 69 cents for every dollar earned by men for the same job. Now it’s 81 cents to the dollar. We’re making progress, but it’s not enough.

Sofia Deleon

Photo courtesy of Sofia Deleon.

An article from the Center for American Progress reports that the gender wage gap has only closed by 4 cents in more than a decade. What responsibility do you think both men and women have in closing the pay gap to achieve pay equity? What are some of the crucial steps that need to be taken in the service industry in order to close this gap?

Deleon: Simply put, everyone – regardless of gender – needs to normalize the fundamental concept of same pay for the same position. In my restaurant, compensation is tied only to tenure and to performance, and is uniform across gender.

Toups: Wage transparency is crucial. We need to dismantle what is left of misogynistic culture and instead, empower and encourage women in their leadership roles. Some of the most impressive and inspiring chefs that I've ever known and worked with have been women.

Estes: Currently, women run fewer restaurant kitchens as executive chefs (less than 6.3%) than they do Fortune 500 companies as CEOs (just over 6.6%). We can all be aware of doing more to close that gap every day. I love when women help women. Support female-led businesses — your dollar matters.

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Wage transparency is crucial.
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Women are experiencing disproportionate levels of unemployment during the pandemic. The Center for American Progress, reporting on data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, found that during the pandemic, women have lost a net of 5.4 million jobs — nearly 1 million more than men. What does that mean for the restaurant industry?

Toups: It's a travesty for our industry. I have watched my wife juggle work and homeschooling our kids for the last year. The restaurant is undeniably better when she is able to be here. The pandemic has challenged the ways in which my wife and I balance work and being parents. Many women do not have the luxury of working from home and have been forced from the onset of the pandemic and sometimes against their will, to sacrifice their professional careers.

Deleon: One of the world’s oldest industries (feeding people) has had to change the most and in the shortest amount of time. Many restaurants have not been able to survive these changes and have had to close as a result. In these situations, women – who are usually at the bottom of the pyramid – have been the first to be fired. Roles need to change. When the media highlights more minority and women-owned businesses, it makes a difference. It translates to greater awareness from the public, a better educated consumer, and more opportunities for women and for minorities.

Estes: I see three major hurdles: access to capital, media coverage, and family/work balance. Celebrated and recognized women chefs find capital difficult to secure if their business partners don’t include men. Additionally, over 80% of food media is coverage of male chefs; restaurant awards historically favor men. This disparity contributes to the difficulty in accessing capital, since funders appreciate media recognition and validation.

Lastly, many families have had to make tough choices during the pandemic: who will stay home to care for sick parents or to help kids with remote learning. Women, who routinely earn less, haven taken on this role.

Isaac Toups

Isaac Toups. Photo courtesy of Romero & Romero photography.

How is the service industry supporting and giving back to the local community, specifically the most vulnerable?

Deleon: From the start of the pandemic, restaurants that remained open felt an obligation to support frontline workers as best we could. As more people lost their jobs and food insecurity grew, restaurants, like ours, shifted operations to include feeding those most in danger and partnered with amazing nonprofits like WCK. We have made tens of thousands of meals for the Philadelphia community. We have used food to connect with the community in a time of need.

Toups: My team and I sprang into action immediately. We have been feeding our local communities every single day from 3-5pm since March of last year. We do it because we want to and feel a sense of responsibility to give back, especially to the most vulnerable. Our industry is full of some of the most empathetic humans. I'm inspired by my fellow chefs constantly.

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We have used food to connect with the community in a time of need.
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Estes: During the pandemic, one in three people in Sonoma County, CA, are facing food insecurity. Many restaurants have turned to making meals to feed the hungry through programs like WCK. This has been brilliant and a truly inspiring effort on behalf of the industry to come together to support our communities in need.

Citi is proud to be a partner of Share Our Strength’s No Kid Hungry campaign and World Central Kitchen. Learn more and take action here.