Over one billion people across the world struggle to live on less than $1 a day. In an effort to reduce that statistic, Concern Worldwide is partnering with the Live Below the Line project to challenge everyone to live on $1.50 a day from April 27 to May 1. To promote this endeavor, we have teamed up with season three’s winner of “The Taste” and executive chef at Bon Appetit Gabe Kennedy. He traveled with Concern to Haiti to connect with people who live below the poverty line — here is his story!
I arrive in Port-au-Prince and the humidity hits me like a brick, a sheer change from the cold New York winter. I am greeted by the Concern Worldwide team — Crystal, Kieran, and Ricardo. We exchange hugs and immediately the adventure begins.
We hop in the Land Cruiser and jet straight to Grand Ravine, a slum of 20,000 that is one of the most impoverished communities in all of Port-au-Prince. The drive is winding and busy, with people lining the streets to sell whatever they can. Shacks, houses, and various rudimentary structures comprise most of the landscape, making it hard to keep my bearings. We arrive at Grand Ravine and local liaisons guide us through a village of shacks where each and every person is trying to carve out their existence, while the forces of gangs and the elements make themselves known every step of the way. (Learn more about Grand Ravine and Concern’s impact here)
We meet a 23-year-old woman, Nerline, who is attending a small culinary school thanks to the help of Concern. She leads us through the town. The work that Concern is doing in this community speaks volumes and cannot be denied as beneficial. The system is complicated, there is no easy fix; but the holistic and integrated approach seems to be working.
We arrive at her house. It is a small dwelling of two rooms. The concrete floors are clean. Eight people live here. I am still trying to figure out where they all sleep. She begins to open up, discussing her dreams and desires and I am taken aback by the fact that she does not want to leave. It makes me question everything. Why would she not want a better life? Is it because this is all she knows?
We continue to meander through the streets, stopping to say hello to street vendors, looking at Concern’s programs and connecting with Grand Ravine residents. It’s nothing less than amazing. It is now time to venture to Nerline’s cooking school.
After a brief car ride, we arrive at the school. I hop up the stairs to see 12 women in chef whites sit in desks facing a table set with a red vinyl table-cloth. They are eagerly awaiting the class. The pressure is now on — time to teach. The kitchen is not much of a kitchen. No running water, one stove which needs to be lit with a match, and only one pot insight. It is filled with rice. My mind starts racing as how to best teach these quiet students.
The initial idea was to teach these women how to prepare eggs benedict, a dish that uses cheap ingredients and transforms them into a delicious and often expensive menu item. The translator tries his best to explain what we are about to do and the madness begins.
I vigorously whisk the egg yolk in a glass bowl to show them how to make the sauce. I teach some basic knife skills, like how to chop an onion. The ladies slice and toast the bread. I teach them how to cut the avocado with a spoon and how to properly poach an egg. The runny yolk is something that could not be more foreign, and apparently off-putting. After coaxing them a bit I get them to taste the food. They are surprised and delighted and continue to eat. Mission accomplished.
Now it is my time to learn. I get to experience some of Haiti’s national rice dishes: rice, beef tasso, and mashed eggplant. The techniques are simple, but produce incredible flavor. The rice is delicious, the beef is best described as a braised short rib that was turned into jerky, and the eggplant was incredible, by far my favorite.
We depart the cooking school. This country could not be any more different than my every day life. I could not be further from home, but spending time in the kitchen and connecting through food made me feel right at home again. The day was a success. I never would have been able to communicate with these women if it was not for food. The opportunity to bond through the medium I love is ineffable.
I finish the day with a beautiful meal, filled with gratitude, reflecting on how truly lucky I am.