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‘Somebody also needs to feed the first responders:’ Local chefs learn how to respond to disasters

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Posted at 6:27 PM, Nov 23, 2021

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — Tuesday’s chilly 40-degree temperatures didn’t stop over a dozen chefs from learning how to make a large pot of paella at Grand Rapids Community College. They were on the patio deck near the library, bundled up in hats, gloves, and coats taking turns stirring the paella rice and adding the vegetables.

“Today we’re doing training with World Central Kitchen, which is an organization that comes and basically [does] rescues during disasters both nationally and internationally,” said Sasha Ahmed, a chef, and instructor at GRCC. “So, we’re getting training in case anything happens where we need to kind of jump in and serve our community.  Hopefully, that doesn’t happen but at least we’re prepared if it does.”

World Central Kitchen put on the two-day training event where chefs from GRCC and elsewhere in the city learned how to cook and prepare large quantities of food as a team. They said it’s not just about feeding those who are suffering but people who are serving as well.

“One of the big things that we’re learning is that somebody also needs to feed the first responders so they can keep doing their jobs and have the energy to continue to serve people,”  Ahmed said. 

Tuesday, the chefs focused on paella-making. However, Monday they made sandwiches.

“They made about 510 sandwiches in about 50 minutes [or]  53 minutes, which is extremely impressive,” said Alejandro Perez, the international chef lead at WCK. “I just want to add they had nothing prepped ahead of time. It was opening boxes, [making] sandwiches and the concept of this activity is just to see how they work under pressure and as a team.”

Chefs on Monday set up tables in the hallway of the culinary building and created a conveyer belt of bread, adding meat and cheese for wrapping them and placing them in lunch bags with apples.

“Sandwiches are a very crucial part of what we do,” Perez said. “They have around 2.5 to 3 ounces of protein plus two slices of cheese, some heavy, sweet, amazing ketchup-mayo, which really keeps everything nice and humid.”

Perez said the group was the fastest he’s worked with so far. In real-life emergencies, they’ll be expected to make 25,000 sandwiches or more.

“This group has definitely been one of the most coordinated and organized,” he said. “For half of the group not knowing each other, some of them do work together but we also have people that are 1) not chefs and 2) they don’t know anyone in the group. The fact that they manage to work together in the way that they did, it’s highly impressive.”

The sandwiches from Monday were given to students at GRCC's student center. On Tuesday, students and faculty lined up to get a take-out container of paella. Many commented that it was delicious.

Ahmed said she had fun during the event. She always wanted to give back to the community. Now, she knows of one way she can serve should the opportunity arrive.

“The nice thing with World Central Kitchen is that in addition to this training we’re doing, anytime there’s a disaster and they have to activate somewhere they’re always looking for local volunteers,” Ahmed said. “So, even if you can’t cook, you can come build sandwiches, or put apples in lunch bags and anybody can help.”

***If you'd like to volunteer with World Central Kitchen, click here.***

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