Jane Cave

Every meal prepared by the team of professional chefs and volunteers at Miriam’s Kitchen, a D.C.-based advocacy organization for the homeless, is made with an abundance of fresh, healthy ingredients, imagination, and love. The staff uses whole grains, healthy proteins, and seasonal, local, organic fresh fruits and vegetables.
“It’s important to us that our guests experience the same dignity, respect, and quality that a patron at a restaurant would receive,” chef Emily Hagel said. Miriam’s Kitchen has provided meals and social services to more than 5,000 homeless individuals annually for the last 30 years.

Hagel and the other chefs and kitchen volunteers see holidays as special opportunities to show their dedication. Valentine’s Day dessert is no exception. “I plan my menu around the produce and other ingredients on hand,” pastry chef Ann Brown said.

“I want everything I make to have a healthy component. Fruit, whole grains, and nuts are typically included in my desserts.” This year she plans a heart-shaped Whoopie pie inspired by a recipe from Martha Stewart Magazine.

How will Brown add a healthy twist? She will begin by creating a whole-wheat chocolate batter to which she will add quinoa, a protein-packed grain with South American origins. Then, instead of a heavy icing in the center, Brown will prepare a meringue with raspberry juice “to give it a nice pink color. If we have fresh fruit on hand, I’ll incorporate that, too,” she said enthusiastically.

Holiday desserts are prepared in individual sizes. “We want the guests to feel that we’ve made something special just for each of them,” said Brown, who became a pastry chef after working for about 14 years as a neonatal nurse at Georgetown Hospital. Last Thanksgiving she prepared individual pumpkin pies for guests using pumpkins donated from the White House garden.

The four full-time chefs at Miriam’s Kitchen prepare five- to six-item meals from scratch, creating nutritionally balanced, low fat meals for less than a dollar per person. This is accomplished largely through generous donations from local farmers, restaurant suppliers, grocery retailers, and wholesalers.

“Our meals have to get most of our guests through the next 12 hours of their day until we see them again,” said Hagel. Steve Badt, John Murphy, and Jose Monterrosa join her full-time in the kitchen. Ann Brown is a part-time volunteer.

Miriam’s Kitchen serves about 300 meals a day. Breakfast and dinner are prepared Monday through Friday,with a mid-day care meal added on Wednesday. Hagel describes the kitchen in orchestral terms. “There are four full time chefs who are the conductors of the kitchen. The volunteers play the music.” Together the group slices, dices, cooks, serves, and cleans up in about two and half hours per meal.