VISTA Stories: FEBRUARY 2010

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The Multi-Cultural Kitchen

By Robin Burger, Community Liason to NYC Immigrant Communities at Hot Bread Kitchen

For the past six months I have been working with Hot Bread Kitchen, a nonprofit baking enterprise that employs foreign-born women and helps them transform their home baking skills and traditions into a career that can support themselves and their families.  This mission evokes cozy images of a close-knit circle of women connecting with one another and celebrating their diverse heritage through baking and sharing food.  While this value and concept are what inspire everyone involved with HBK—from our bakers, to our staff, our volunteers, our customers, and all of our supporters—the reality of running a successful startup enterprise and effective training program is far more rigorous, challenging and complicated than the fundamental simplicity of the mission may suggest. 

Several weeks ago we were in the kitchen with our full team of bakers, which included two women from Mexico, two women from Chad, and three recently hired women from Morocco. In addition to our regular production of tortillas, lavash crackers, and granola, we were testing some of our bakers’ recipes for the first time. The experimental nature of the day made the dynamic in the kitchen distinctly lighthearted and forced all of us to slow at various moments and pause to investigate one another’s projects.  Despite these distractions we managed to finish production nearly an hour early, and all took a moment to gather near the stove and taste the fruits of our labor: champurrado, a Mexican corn-based hot chocolate, and gateau, an incredible Chadian fried vanilla cake with a texture that falls somewhere between cookie and gourmet doughnut.  I would venture to guess that this was the first time that a Mexican drink met an African cake, and everyone agreed that the two happened to be perfect accompaniments.  We all shared a rare fifteen minutes of eating, joking and giggling that carried us through the rest of our cleanup and was a beautiful reminder of the power that food has to unite people.