Local chefs train to run disaster relief kitchens

Grand Rapids

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — A sandwich assembly line is not the kind of place you would normally find chef Jennifer Fillenworth.

Fillenworth is an executive chef at Root Farmacy in Grand Rapids and an adjunct instructor at Grand Rapid Community College’s Secchia Institute for Culinary Education. She, as well as a few dozen other local chefs, joined the sandwich line Monday to learn the ins and outs of helping people when they need it most.

“People often times don’t think about food and nutrition and how do we feed people when they go through this dramatic experience, so that’s where we come in,” Fillenworth said.

Keeping people fed when everything else is falling apart is the goal of the two-day disaster training held this week at GRCC by World Central Kitchen, an international relief agency that brings food to victims during disasters across the globe.

“Chef relief training is basically a crash course from zero to 100, everything that has to do with disaster kitchen activation —from volunteer management to distribution to assessing the need to the food, nutrition; every single aspect,” chef Alejandro Perez, an instructor with World Central Kitchen, explained.

The assembly line tested the skills of the chefs, challenging them to make more than 500 sandwiches in less than an hour. The sandwiches were donated to a local food bank.

But there’s more to helping feed the masses than slapping some meat between two pieces of bread.

“We need to be prepared for disaster in many different ways, and there are so many steps to take before you even start cooking food,” Fillenworth said. “How do you even supply food? Is there a way for trucks to come in with shipments of food? Do you have to utilize local restaurants that can no longer serve that food and kind of buy out what they have on hand?”

After 20 months of restaurants riding the pandemic roller coaster, Fillenworth said the class is even more important.

“So this is just a little bit more in case something big does happen, how can we be even better to respond because we didn’t have any preparation last time when COVID hit and we had to shut down. We just had to think on our feet,” she said.

By the time the two-day training is over, the chefs will have the tools they need to respond to just about any disaster from earthquakes thousands of miles away to a tornado right here at home.

“You’re giving people hope,” Perez said. “You’re giving people happiness with food.”

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