In mid-July, I had the pleasure of attending this year's TASTE3 conference in Napa, California. The conference, which is presented by the Robert Mondavi Winery, is a meeting of minds on the topics of food, wine, and art. Over the span of two days, a stream of chefs, artists, writers, musicians, activists, and others dish out their ideas in 18-minute helpings. Over the next few weeks I'll provide summaries of some of my favorite talks from the event.
One of the highlights for me was Christine Carroll's presentation about the Culinary Corps, a group of professional cooks and bakers who volunteer their culinary skills to help with post-Katrina recovery efforts in New Orleans and along the Gulf Coast.
A professional chef with a degree from the French Culinary Institute in New York, Carroll got the idea for Culinary Corps while attending an annual conference of the Share Our Strength group in New Orleans. On the last day of the meeting, some of the attendees did service projects around the city. Carroll's group spent the day painting a hallway — and not doing a very good job of it. Sometime during the painting, she realized "We're not painters! We're cooks! Couldn't we do more good in the kitchen?"
After returning home, she set up the Culinary Corps and eventually organized its first project in New Orleans. In the process, she coined the word "culanthropy" to describe the mission of the Culinary Corps (and, of course, other groups). Based on the words "culinary" and "philanthropy," culanthropy is the act of volunteering one's culinary skills to the causes of social justice and culinary heritage.
Here's how Culinary Corps works. When a cook (or nonprofessional who can make a case to the Corps) is accepted onto a trip, they pay a fee to cover housing, transportation within New Orleans, and some of the meals during the week. Transportation to and from New Orleans is the volunteer's responsibility. While on the Gulf Coast, they spend 50 hours doing culinary work, each day with a different organization. Projects could include cooking at a Habitat for Humanity building site; working in the garden or teaching children about cooking at the Edible Schoolyard; or cooking at an emergency food center. It's not all work — participants can also attend lectures and dinners covering the culinary heritage of New Orleans and the Gulf Coast.
In the 16 months of the project's existence, 5 work weeks have been completed, powered by 76 cooks from 16 states, with more than 3,500 meals prepared. A few people have made far more dramatic statements: Carroll reported that several cooks have relocated to the Gulf Coast and at least two have obtained Culinary Corps tattoos.
Carroll's talk had a big impact on the group, as the actions of one attendee illustrates. After one of the sessions later in the day, there was a prize drawing for a high-end grill. A few seconds after the name was announced, the winner called out, "Is Christine Carroll here? Would she like to have the grill for the Culinary Corps?"
"Absolutely!" replied Carroll. Spontaneous gifts like the grill, and premeditated private cash donations help keep the Corps running, so if you like what they are doing, you can donate here.
For more about the Culinary Corps, you can hear an interview with Carroll on the September 1, 2007 episode of KCRW's Good Food (you can download the whole show or listen to Carroll's segment alone on the website).
Photo courtesy of Christine Carroll