Some of South Florida's most popular chefs are stepping up to a new challenge - to teach families how to create delicious dishes for under $20 that the chefs would serve in their own restaurants. The Camillus House CHEF Challenge Program, which stands for Cooking Healthy Easy Food, aims to teach under-resourced families how to a cook an affordable meal with fresh and healthy ingredients.
Each month, a well-known chef from the Miami area will teach Camillus families, who are living in permanent supportive housing, how to prepare a nutritious and tasty meal to feed a family of up to four within a limited budget. Each family receives a meal kit complete with all the ingredients they need to join the chef’s virtual class and get live, step-by-step instructions.
“Unlike other online cooking classes, our classes are interactive and taught by chefs who are committed to nurturing South Florida’s downtrodden. We’re seeing families connect and bond, kids trying and loving new foods and healthy habits being instilled in the home,” said Hilda Fernandez, CEO of Camillus House.
The idea came to program founder and Camillus House "Volunteer of the Year 2022" Stacie Archer, who turned her own struggle as a single mother of three on food stamps, into a popular food blog called Seven Plates, where she shares tips on how to budget and stretch food dollars.
As the vision grew for how Camillus House could impact more families and inspire long-term change, so did their partnerships. Camillus House enlisted the help of famed South Florida chef Norman Van Aken a James Beard Foundation "Who's Who in American Food and Beverage" winner, as CHEF Challenge culinary director. He attracts high-profile colleagues willing to plan a recipe and teach the series of cooking classes for the formerly homeless. GlobalPro (Cares Foundation) and FIU's Chaplin School of Hospitality & Tourism Management joined as sponsors.
Florida has one of the highest rates of Americans on food stamps or SNAP, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program totaling over 1 million people or 14% of the state’s population. The residents Camillus House serves through the CHEF Challenge are living on a restricted income and receive the tools and case management support necessary to prosper.
"It brings such joy to my heart to do this," Archer said. "These chefs are so busy in their restaurants, creating highly-acclaimed dishes and yet they're taking time to give back to the community."
The CHEF Challenge is shot once a month and produced at the FIU Chaplin School of Hospitality & Tourism Management. The top 10 U.S. public hospitality school has been addressing food insecurity for years through both its long running food rescue efforts and its new, online Bachelor of Arts in Global Sustainable Tourism degree.
"The CHEF Challenge is another way that our school is helping to combat this issue of food insecurity, while teaching future hospitality leaders that they can help find solutions to this global issue," said Michael Cheng, dean of the Chaplin School.
The current roster of chefs include:
- December 2021 - Norman Van Aken, culinary director - The Recipe: Oven Roasted Chicken with Coca Cola Collards and Cheesy Grits
- January 2022 - Stacie Archer, founder - The Recipe: Carbonara with Winter Greens
- February - Victor Santos of Tinto y Cafe - The Recipe: Chicken Fricassee
- March - Danny Ganem of Fiola - The Recipe: Spaghetti Bolognese
- April - Michelle Bernstein of Cafe La Trova - The Recipe: Turkey Albondigas
- May - Allen Susser of Books & Books Cafe and FIU Hospitality alumnus - The Recipe: Caribbean Curried MahiMahi
- June - Brad Kilgore of Kilgore Hospitality
- July - Cesar Zapata and Aniece Meinhold of Phuc Yea
- August - Michael Beltran of Ariete
- September - Phil Bryant of Ariete Hospitality
- October - Michael Schwartz of Michael's Genuine
- November - Cindy Hutson of Cerveceria La Tropical
- December - Jon Nguyen of Tran An