D.C. Central Kitchen's Ingredients for Lives on the Rise

By DeNeen L. Brown
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, May 31, 2009

"First you take your six egg whites, some salt, sugar and some sweet coconut and you make sure you spray your pan with oil."

He never thought he would end up here.

"In a separate bowl, you mix the coconut with the powdered sugar."

In this kitchen -- with its industrial-strength cleansers, walk-in freezers, bags of misshapen carrots, distorted tomatoes, trays of macaroons -- Darnell Herndon, 59, learned a new way of life. He never thought a job as an assistant chef in the D.C. Central Kitchen would save him from homelessness, addiction and hunger. Or that his recipe for macaroons would end up published in a cookbook.

He sits in the kitchen, wearing a black chef's hat, reciting his recipe. His eyes are gleaming like a man who has found the secret ingredient for how to survive.

"You fold the coconut into the beaten egg whites. You make sure everything is mixed enough, but not too much, because that will cause bubbles in the egg whites to collapse and the macaroons to fall."

He used the same concentration to pull himself off the streets 12 years ago that he uses now to keep the bubbles in the egg whites from collapsing: Come early. Stay focused on the food.

"I lived upstairs at Clean and Sober Streets and came down to the kitchen every morning at 5:30," he says. "To me the kitchen was like a recovery program -- no alcohol, no drugs. It was a safe zone for me."

Now, here he is on Page 93 of "Feeding the Soul of the City: Stories and Recipes From D.C. Central Kitchen" -- his face on the pages with celebrity chefs. The cookbook was published in December and went on sale in local stores last week. It features recipes and stories from Herndon and other formerly homeless people, as well as famous chefs, donors and others connected to the kitchen.

The kitchen is a nonprofit "anti-soup kitchen" operating out of a four-story gray building in Northwest Washington that also holds one of the country's largest homeless shelters, a drug treatment program and a health clinic. The kitchen provides culinary training and jobs for formerly homeless people.

It takes more than a ton of surplus food from restaurants, hotels and farms and recycles it into more than 4,500 daily meals. The meals are delivered to shelters and nonprofit agencies "free of charge, so that they can use their valuable and often dwindling financial resources to further empower their clients," says Michael F. Curtin Jr., CEO of the kitchen.

The kitchen's mission is to end hunger by addressing the root causes of hunger, an "attempt to shorten the line by the way we feed it."

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