May 2020: "We all have a role to play. So, dig in or talk to the folks who are out there doing the work and see where they need help".
What happens when a group of chefs get together to provide thousands of meals each week, to those who need it most? A lot of magic, with a side of kimchi radishes.
Community: Central District (and across Seattle)
Chef Tarik is a chef, dj, youth educator, community builder. From dinner pop-up’s, to youth culinary programs, he has found a way to meld his passion for food, with the needs of the community.
Chef Tarik’s cuisine is inspired by the tastes and flavors of his childhood, growing up in a Muslim family and in the broader community, where ethnic foods were the norm.
You are a man who always has A LOT going on. Take us back to January: what were you doing and where were you putting your energy?
We were bringing back our pop-up - Midnight Mecca - for its third season, After Dark for its second season, and then we were going to bring back the community brunch, using the pop-up’s for my classroom and jobs training.
None of that can happen under current protocol, so what are you doing now?
Now, I’m running a Community Kitchen, located at Coyote Central, providing free meals for anyone who needs them. And that’s all I’ve been doing since this all started.
This started as a project to provide meals for restaurant workers. But, once I started digging into the format and the location, and a few other chefs joined the project, it just turned into something bigger:
We all came together as the Seattle Community Kitchen Collective. We’re each providing meals 2-3 days a week so that, any day of the week, you can get a meal.
How are you funding this?
When this all started, we were asking restaurants to donate their refrigerated food, since they couldn’t use it, but then other people stepped up, donating their own funds and food. We pooled it all together to provide what each chef needed.
And, how many meals are you providing?
Collectively, somewhere between 3000 and 3500 meals a week.
Who are you seeing come through the door? Who is coming in for the meals?
It depends on the location but with Melissa at Musang, the majority of her meals go to healthcare workers. Tomorrow we have a boys group coming in. We all see a lot of elders from the community. And, a lot of walk-up’s. I’m across the street from a tiny village, so I often have homeless neighbors come in.
Do you have volunteers who are helping to prepare the foods?
Thanks to the City of Seattle grant, I’ve been able to provide a couple of jobs and our three-person team prepares all our meals.
How long do you think you can keep this going?
I started off cooking Monday through Friday, which was a lot. I think, if I take a week off each month, then I think I can keep this going. I’m going to keep going until I can’t go anymore.
Do you see a world where you can bring back the pop-up’s, even heading into the summer?
The thing about pop-up’s is that they are communal. So, no, I think pop-up’s are done for me...I don’t think I can bring them back.
I’ve been thinking about getting my own space – that’s been on my mind through all of this. We want our own space – like a community soup kitchen. I want to bring all of my community programs in under one roof. I want to be able to teach kids, provide jobs for kids, and provide meals for profit.
Part of the goal for the Community Kitchen model is provide meals for the community, but make a profit to keep running it. So, that’s what we’re trying now.
I’d like to be able to test out other pieces of that model now but we just don’t know what three months from now looks like. Our current reality is what shapes what we do for the public. But once we have a safe environment, we’ll bring the kids back into this. That’s what I’m looking forward to: bringing the kids back into it.
What do you wish the government understood about your situation and what your community/business need?
A little while back, I went with another chef to pick up some of the food that was going to be donated. And, it was insane. It was a warehouse filled with food that they get donated, 6 days a week from grocery stores. How are we looking at food shortages? Why can’t we get enough food to everyone who needs it?
So, we just keep connecting to the right people. How do we streamline distribution so that people who really need food, can get it? Say you’re an elder, or you can’t speak English, or you need to get on a bus but you don’t want to get on a bus right now – why can’t we get them food?
That's been a common theme with other business owners, this question on how we all provide hands-on care and support for folks, where they need it.
We’ve never dealt with something like this, at this scale. Everyone’s unsure and they don’t know what to do. In my mind, we all play a role. Do you want to provide meals, do you want to provide support to the elders? Do that, stick with it. We’re all trying to figure out so much right now: rent, housing, food. So, dig in or talk to the folks who are out there doing the work and see where they need help.
Working with kids, I always get pumped up and want to get stuff done. So, I just want to get stuff done and this work lets me do that.
Have you been talking to the kids in your program? What are they doing and how are they fairing?
Yeah, the rascals are at home. One is baking. A couple of them are working their tails off. But, they’re not in school, they’re not here. They are trying to cook at home – I love that. But, trust me, they want to come back and cook so bad.
What have you learned throughout this?
The community has been watching me go through this transformation. I’ve treated this like a restaurant and have tried to keep it fun. But, it’s also a lot. Compared to a pop-up, I’m really at it every day: 6 days a week, 12 hours a day. But, I think I can run a restaurant now.
And since I get just about anything donated – I have to keep coming up with new stuff: last week we got radishes with their tops. So, I had a nutty idea, why don’t we take the whole radish, with the top on it and marinate it in kimchi for a couple weeks? We’ll pull them out of the marinade, grill them, and serve them with sticky rice.
How can Seattle support this work?
Make a donation to the Community Kitchen Collective. Right now, you can donate to the program, through the individual chef's donation pages:
Check out Chef Tarik's collaboration with Seattle Chocolate, which boldly features Boharat spices (cumin, clove, cinnamon, and black pepper, combined with 60% dark chocolate). You can get it right at the front counter at Uwajimaya or Whole Foods.
Stop by and pick up a meal – pay what you can! See calendar in pic below
Keep an eye out for the re-opening of Coyote Central