Social kitchens feed the soul of their community

"First we eat, then we do everything else." - M.F.K. Fisher

Photo Credit: Michelle Hamstra

Social kitchens feed the soul of their community

Written by: Jerry Davich
March 7, 2018


Food has the ability to ease sorrow, celebrate joy, dissolve differences, open doors and unlock hearts. It also has the capacity to unite a community through the culinary arts, using the time-tested recipe of inclusion, teamwork and camaraderie.

Cooking meals together is as primal as eating together, as human as breathing. For eons, we’ve nourished our souls while sharing meals around the flames of fellowship.

The phrase “breaking bread” has less to do with sustenance and more to do with the substance of togetherness. The meeting of minds. The sharing of ideas. The synergy of education. It’s a rite of passage that has stretched into the 21st century.

These days, social kitchens and other food-oriented programs offer their local communities an all-you-can-eat buffet of such culinary collaboration. Northwest Indiana in particular features several of these opportunities, each of them opening their doors to young novices and seasoned chefs alike.

Their mantra echoes the ageless words of Cesar Chavez, the fabled civil rights activist: “If you really want to make a friend… eat with him… the people who give you their food give you their heart.”

Photo Credit: Michelle Hamstra
Chef Lamar Moore cooks for an event at ArtHouse social kitchen in Gary.

ArtHouse: A Social Kitchen

Located in downtown Gary, across from the U.S. Steel Yard ballpark, the ArtHouse social kitchen stands out like a fresh rose in a long-neglected garden. The sprawling 2,200-square-foot fully equipped facility serves as a Culinary Business Incubator, nurturing food entrepreneurs through every phase of their business development.

“Welcome to ArtHouse—Show Us Your Creativity!” states a sign near the entrance.

Funded initially by Bloomberg Philanthropies and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, and conceived by Chicago artist Theaster Gates, the ArtHouse is a “bread and mortar” platform to connect artists with each other on a culinary-flavored canvas.

“We focus on what we can offer next to help us grow, and to help those who join us grow through their ideas,” says executive chef Lamar Moore during a recent tour alongside Sheila Freeman, ArtHouse’s project director.

Through a reimagined space, ArtHouse provides access to a commercial training kitchen, a pop-up café, and gallery/exhibition space, among other amenities. The structure positively reflects the city of Gary and provides a platform for economic and artistic activity in the downtown area. The site is like a bottomless bowl of gumbo, constantly bubbling with new ideas through food, culture and art.

“We want to show this community that we’re really about digging in and helping it,” Moore says as light jazz music plays in the background. “We care about these people and we want them to leave with a memorable taste in their mouths.”

View portions of Jerry Davich’s interview with Chef Lamar below:

Photo Credit: Michelle Hamstra
Chef Lamar Moore of ArtHouse social kitchen in Gary
Photo Credit: Michelle Hamstra
Chef Lamar Moore of ArtHouse social kitchen in Gary

ArtHouse: A Social Kitchen

Located in downtown Gary, across from the U.S. Steel Yard ballpark, the ArtHouse social kitchen stands out like a fresh rose in a long-neglected garden. The sprawling 2,200-square-foot fully equipped facility serves as a Culinary Business Incubator, nurturing food entrepreneurs through every phase of their business development.

“Welcome to ArtHouse—Show Us Your Creativity!” states a sign near the entrance.

Funded initially by Bloomberg Philanthropies and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, and conceived by Chicago artist Theaster Gates, the ArtHouse is a “bread and mortar” platform to connect artists with each other on a culinary-flavored canvas.

“We focus on what we can offer next to help us grow, and to help those who join us grow through their ideas,” says executive chef Lamar Moore during a recent tour alongside Sheila Freeman, ArtHouse’s project director.

Through a reimagined space, ArtHouse provides access to a commercial training kitchen, a pop-up café, and gallery/exhibition space, among other amenities. The structure positively reflects the city of Gary and provides a platform for economic and artistic activity in the downtown area. The site is like a bottomless bowl of gumbo, constantly bubbling with new ideas through food, culture and art.

“We want to show this community that we’re really about digging in and helping it,” Moore says as light jazz music plays in the background. “We care about these people and we want them to leave with a memorable taste in their mouths.”

View portions of Jerry Davich’s interview with Chef Lamar below:

NWI Food Council
In April 2015, more than 100 like-minded activists including chefs, farmers, business owners, educators and foodservice operators from around the region gathered for the Local Food Summit. On that day, the seed was planted for the Northwest Indiana Food Council, which has since blossomed into a multi-stakeholder alliance to build a just, thriving and sustainable local food system.
The grassroots organization serves seven counties through various projects, events, outreach and networking.

“Our board is made up of 12 volunteers, all who are active in our local food system-farmers, urban agriculture entrepreneurs and local food business owners, to name a few,” says president Anne Massie. “Although we are young, our team has been moving at a quick pace to try and not only make producing and selling food a profitable sector for our region, but to also address food access and insecurity issues.”

The group’s vision and goals are broad, which allows it to focus on the food system as a whole. “We pride ourselves in taking an optimistic, positive approach to our outreach and programming,” Massie says.

The Council involves volunteers on planning committees for events-its latest one, “FED: Food Expo & Discussion,” took place in February at County Line Orchard in Hobart-without expecting long-term time commitments. “But we also do a lot of private, one-on-one work,” she says.

The group partners with institutions to write and execute grants or food-related projects, works with farmers to expand their markets, provides local food sourcing for events, and shares its expertise with public officials, public forums and tourism bureaus.

“We aim to make Northwest Indiana an exciting, welcoming and innovative community to live,” Massie says. “Where farming is a viable career, food deserts are a catastrophe of the past, our relationship to food is once again healthy, and food entrepreneurs enthusiastically call this region home.”

Photo Credit: Christopher Pupillo
Pastor Marty Henderson tells about his urban farm project on the 2017 FarmHop tour in Gary.
Photo Credit: Provided by NWI Food Council
Volunteers from the NWI Food Council help install raised beds and hoop houses for Faith Fam in Gary.

Ivy Tech Culinary Arts

Ivy Tech Community College’s hospitality and culinary arts program is one of the school’s most popular programs, and the largest one of its kind in the country. “Most of our students are either working in this field while attending courses, or they will be in the future in some aspect of the hospitality industry,” says Chef Elida Abeyta, who oversees the Lake County campus program.

The statewide school offers 11 hospitality campuses with more than 3,000 culinary students in Indiana. “Having casinos in our neighborhood has helped us tremendously with job placement,” Abeyta says. “Students do not have to travel to Chicago to get the experience of working in a fast-paced setting from casual dining to fine dining.”

The program, accredited through the American Culinary Federation, has flourished throughout Northwest Indiana by volunteering with different events, partnering with Meals on Wheels, Nazareth Home, Salvation Army and March of Dimes.

“We partner annually with El Popular Chorizo in East Chicago, with our students creating a dish using one of the company’s five chorizos,” she says. “This event is open to the community to taste and sample the products. Students win cash prizes and a scholarship.”

It’s a two-year program, with three degrees in each program: certificate, technical, and associate of applied science. Students can continue their education with a four-year program in management.

“We teach our students the ABCs of the culinary arts,” says Chef Nicholaus Rajski, who oversees the school’s Michigan City campus. “From making mother sauces to pastries to knife-work to cake-making to bread-making. Food truly brings people together.”

Photo Credit: Monica Zibutis
Students in the Ivy Tech culinary arts program prepare a meal at the Michigan City campus.
Photo Credit: Monica Zibutis
Chef Nicholaus Rajski, hospitality administration program chair at Ivy Tech in Michigan City, instructs students in the culinary arts program.

South Chicagoland Food Swap

The first “swap” for the South Chicagoland Food Swap, in the fall of 2017 in Hammond, involved as much heartfelt enthusiasm as it did homemade offerings.

“We have a good time sharing the excitement leading up to the meeting, with the dishes or breads or condiments we may be bringing,” explains organizer Brittany Discher. “Our goal is to get people together, give them a place to share the food they love, and give them the opportunity to try something new. Maybe even meet some like-minded people from our own community.”

Food swaps, which take place across the country, are free, private, recurring events where members share homemade, homegrown or foraged foods with each other. Swaps allow direct trades to take place between attendees, and online RSVPs are required.

“These events are a delicious way to diversify the homemade foods in your own pantry, and to support local farm markets while getting to know the members of your local food community,” Discher says. “Our small group of friends was so excited by the idea of cooking and sharing the foods we love with other people, we decided to see what we could do to start one in our own community.”

The new group swaps every other month at greenCOW Coworking in Hammond, a facility that offers mutual working space. “We package food that we make or grow in one or two portion containers and swap them for other people’s portioned food,” Discher says. “You can bring as little or as much as you want to swap. You leave with the same amount of items that you brought, except it will be an assortment of things you maybe have never tried before, to enjoy it at your leisure. We invite everyone to join.”

Photo Credit: Michelle Hamstra