Chef Boot Camp, an Opportunity of Life Time

Photo Credit: Ken Goodman

As I was planning my trip to Syria to see my family, I got an invitation from James Beard Foundation to attend chef boot camp.  I was so excited!! If you don’t know the James Beard Foundation, there essentially the Oscars of delicious, healthy, sustainable food.  You see, my restaurant is in South Dakota–which a lot of people think of as a food dessert or a “fly-over state.”  So, I never thought I would be on anyone’s radar, let alone James Beard Foundation (eek!).  I had one dilemma, however: I would arrive from Syria the night before the camp which was held in Glynwood farm in up-state New York, giving me only 10 hours at home between trips.  After few hours of intense deliberation and arguing with myself, I knew I’d be crazy to say no and just prayed I’d have no delays on my way back home.

My trip to Syria before the bootcamp included 3 suitcases, nothing which was for me–it was filled rather with gifts and American goodies my family cannot get. What was for me was one carry-on, packed especially for up-state NY.

At last the day had come: we were flying back to the US. My daughter and I left Syria just praying to make all the connections.  We drove from Syria to Lebanon, took a plane to Frankfort, Germany, another plane to Detroit, where we went through passport and customs, and then went on to Chicago.  It was in Chicago where we got the dreaded news: our flight to Sioux Falls was delayed 4 hours, shortening my layover at home from 10 hours to 6. My daughter, however, has become a pro-traveler, and in Chicago finessed us onto an earlier flight–we made it home 3 hours earlier than we originally anticipated!

My flight to NYC was smooth. James Beard picked me up and drove me to Glenwood Farm in upstate NY: the perfect place for a chef camp. There I was introduced to board members of the James Beard Foundation as my fellow chef boot-campers, flying from all across the nation.

The camp’s hope was for us to become advocates for fresh, healthy cooking. We learned the The James Beard Foundation approach is not only spreading the word about good restaurants and recognizing talented chefs but also to spread their new motto of “good food for good.” As part of our training, we even went through the new Farm Bill, with its cuts to conservation programs and dramatic changes to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). WHAT DOES THIS MEAN?!

We discussed what issues are important to each of the chefs and, additionally, what is our role in our given community.  We were shown the effect of WE(WHAT IS WE?) as a united voice of chefs.  We were to become voices for sustainable agriculture, for local farms, for women farmers, for ranchers, for veteran farmers and voice against food inscurity and for increasing the funding for SNAP.

Of course, all of us there were passionate about cooking succeeding in our businesses, but what we learned is us chefs can play a key role in educating customers about the issues important to us. For me, on top of being an advocate for healthy, in-expensive food and teaching people how to cook, I have always believed no child anywhere in the world should go hungry, especially here in the United States. Every year, I do a fundraising dinner providing 100% of the profits to our local food bank; however, after this camp, I am wanting to do more. Any ideas?

I am so grateful  for the James Beard Foundation for this opportunity to meet wonderful talented chefs and the amazing staff of the foundation. I also loved being able to visit Glynwood farmand (it was beautiful!). Most importantly, however, it was the training to inspire us to be an active part in the crazy food system I will remember, and value, the most.



  1. Victoria says

    Cafe gratitude in Kansas City has a community bowl on their menu that people can order if they need financial assistance to have a meal. They request a small donation if someone can’t afford the full price. Additionally people that are doing well and can share funds can donate towards helping others be able to come in and order the food without cost.
    The concept is great and the food is healthy and provides sustenance much more than a couple of dollars would get at a fast food place which is where a lot of people go to try to get more for their money.

  2. sanaacooks says

    Hello Victoria, What a great idea. My restaurant is closed on Sunday and I am thinking of offering breakfast on Sunday and all the money raised to be giving to school to cover school lunch for low income children.
    Thank you for stopping at my blog and for your comment. Sanaa

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