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December 21, 2006

Chef to the homeless

In yesterday's New York Times, there was an article only the New York Times could have done, and I actually mean that in a positive sense. Whatever absurd political views the Times often brings to its news articles, you have to admit that the writing at the Times is way above what's found in other news outlets.

The article I'm speaking of, "On the Soup Line, Endive and Octopus," is one of those Christmas-season articles that make you feel good without unduly playing on your emotions. (hat tip: Mrs. Attila)

Michael Ennes didn't start out planning to be a chef to the homeless.

At one time, Mr. Ennes dreamed of being a starred chef. He was raised on the Upper West Side, and initially made money building restaurants. He turned to the kitchen, cooking in South Beach and the Florida Keys in the 1980s. In 1990, he opened a restaurant on Second Avenue and First Street in Manhattan called Orféo, hoping to attract the attention of food critics. It never did, and the restaurant closed after four years.

Things changed for Mr. Ennes on 9/11. His consulting job with a restaurant downtown vanished, and, like many others, he decided to make good on a longstanding intention to do more volunteer work. So he walked across the street from his apartment to volunteer at Broadway Community. In no time, he was the head chef, making $30,000 a year plus health benefits.
Ennes does a lot of his own shopping, but he also receives donations from top NYC restaurants. He might get buffalo meat one day, octopus the next. And unlike your typical soup kitchen, his serves every customer at the table.
At Broadway Community, everyone gets to eat. There is no humiliating food line to stand in. Volunteers set each of Mr. Ennes's courses in front of the diners.

"When you force people to queue up for food, you encourage pushiness and aggressiveness and hardness," he said. "Sitting at a table and being served encourages community."
It's a great story. Read it all.