Lasagne and Eggs: The Secret History of MK’s Breakfast Program

Lasagne and Eggs: The Secret History of MK’s Breakfast Program

Thirty-one years ago this week, Miriam’s Kitchen served its first meal — a simple breakfast of eggs, grits and toast, served to 45 homeless individuals.Even though he hasn’t been here for all thirty-one years, Chef Steve has been here for an awful lot of them. Today, we’re asking him to tell us the secret history of Miriam’s Kitchen’s breakfast program.

Tell us something about this program that we wouldn’t believe.
Back when this program started we were actually often serving powdered eggs and milk….putting hot dogs in the eggs, and using canned fruits and vegetables. Can you believe that?? Today, our volunteers would chase me out of the kitchen if I tried to do that. They care about our guests just as much as we do, and they’re just as demanding about healthy choices!

Any culinary experiments you won’t be repeating?
Before the dinner program started, we’d serve lasagna and stir-fry alongside the eggs and pancakes every day. We had the ingredients, we had the volunteer energy and many clients said it was the only full meal they would have all day. We let our guests choose which item they wanted, and most wanted the lasagna next to their pancakes. So we offered it! After the shift, the volunteers who laughed at us for serving lasagna at 7:00 am were craving lasagna by 8:00!

If you make a mistake when you’re cooking for your family at home, do you ever scream at yourself? (Asking for a friend…).
When we’re cooking at home, my wife and kids will sometimes tell me, “don’t treat us like your volunteers.” But in all seriousness, what I wanted to bring to MK when I started over 13 years ago was restaurant-level quality and focus. Everyone benefits. The guests get an awesome homemade meal and the volunteers get a challenging, empowering and rewarding experience that compels them to get involved with our mission to end chronic homelessness in D.C.

What’s the best comment or compliment you’ve ever received from a guest?
When we first served kale smoothies, some of our guests weren’t on board with the idea. But we continued serving them, because they’re so nutritious. And believe it or not, by the third time, I was actually overhearing people tell one another, “You’ve got to try this!!”

Several years ago, you had an awakening about this program. Can you share that with us?
I always wanted to serve great meals that honored people’s dignity. But I’d sometimes see the same people at breakfast, year in and year out, and they really needed help. That’s when we realized that great meals could be the connection between our guests and our case managers. It inspired us to make the program better and better. As we hired more case managers, I was determined to make Miriam’s Kitchen a destination for people in need, so that they’d not only get a great meal, but – more importantly – become comfortable enough with Miriam’s Kitchen as a place of belonging, where they could feel safe accepting the help they needed from our awesome case managers. And that was the rationale for adding a dinner program in 2010.

What meals are you proudest of at MK?
The meals that make me proudest aren’t the ones served at MK. They’re the ones that our guests prepare for themselves, once they’re safe and stable in their own homes. This year, we’ve helped connect 43 of our guests to housing. Sometimes I think about them in their own kitchens, trying out a recipe or enjoying something they made for themselves…maybe trying something out that they used to enjoy at MK. That’s what makes me, Chef Emily, Chef Ciji and Chef Jose so proud.

You serve some really impressive ingredients at breakfast – cured salmon, savory biscuits, fresh homemade fruit sauce with crepes – but it turns out that many guests also like the simpler items. What items can people donate to MK if they want to support the breakfast program?
Believe it or not, we go through 75 boxes of cold cereal every single week. And ground coffee….lots of ground coffee! If you want to help support our breakfast program, definitely visit our Amazon Wish List to make an in-kind donation!