GOOD

People Are Awesome: A “Chopped” Champion Lends His Culinary Skills To Give Others A Second Chance

Nearly half of his students—many of them homeless—get hired after taking his culinary program

Photo by Jean Trinh

We’ve relaunched a GOOD online series, “People Are Awesome,” where we feature good people doing great things—and seek their advice, inspiration, and ideas. This week, we talk to D. Brandon Walker, a chef who is giving back through culinary training.


On any given day, you might find Chef D. Brandon Walker whipping up gourmet dishes like steak adobo, crepes, or house-made onion rings stuffed with steak. But what makes these beautifully plated meals extra special is that they’re not being served at a fine-dining restaurant; instead, they’re placed in front of homeless individuals at the Bread and Roses Café in Venice, California.

Walker has been the executive chef of the sit-down restaurant run by the St. Joseph’s Center for the last decade. At Bread and Roses, volunteer waiters serve guests free meals at tables covered with tablecloths and vases filled with fresh flowers. The cafe also serves as a training ground for future chefs enrolled in the center’s Culinary Training Program (CTP), something that is run by Walker as well.

The program accepts students with varied backgrounds—including people who are homeless, fighting addiction, formerly incarcerated, youths in the foster system, and veterans—and puts them through a 10-week course that includes externships at some of Los Angeles’ hottest restaurants.

“I would say 50 percent of them get hired at the externship placement,” Walker says. “If they don’t [get] or choose not to be hired there, then we’ll go ahead and do a job search with them until they’re working.” Walker, who is a “Chopped” champion and runs Commis Catering company, is currently in the process of opening his own restaurant called The Mar Vista this fall with one of his CTP graduates, Jorge Rivas (former executive chef at Blue Plate Oysterette). Walker plans on hiring CTP externs at his eatery, and also donating excess food and supplies to Bread and Roses.

“Honestly, when I got [to Bread and Roses], I said, ‘I’m going to do two years and I’ll move on,” Walker says. “But it was so rewarding [so I stayed]. I never had to question whether or not I was making a difference.” Walker was able to take a break from his busy schedule at the center to share with GOOD what inspires him the most.

Who is your hero?

My mom. My mom raised me and my brother the majority of the time as a single parent after my dad passed away when I was 9. So now being full grown and having my own family, I can appreciate how amazingly hard that must have been for her. To keep two boys on track and keep us out of jail was pretty amazing.

What book most inspired you?

James Baldwin's Another Country. It reminds me to wake up and embrace the future. He is an amazing storyteller; I try to tell stories with my food!

What’s been the most inspiring news story from the last month?

I was really inspired by the Simone Manuel story coming out of the Olympics, [with her being] the first African-American to ever win an individual medal in swimming. That was huge to me. And maybe a future headline that hasn’t happened yet that I’m really hoping to see: “Trump Loses.”

What is a piece of advice you’d like to share with the world?

No matter where you’re at or what you’re doing, make sure that you’re part of the solution and not part of the problem. Be part of the solution. Be mindful of that. Look at whatever you’re doing and say, “Am I part of the solution or am I part of the problem?” I think that’s a good personal inventory.

What’s the best advice you’ve received?

Specifically as a chef, Thomas Keller [of French Laundry and Per Se] told me to make sure to sharpen my knives, to have really sharp knives, and that’s been an excellent piece of advice.

What’s the worst advice you’ve received?

I hope that it’s not to open a restaurant. I hope I’m not sitting here a year from now and saying that was definitely the worst decision.

What’s the last thing that made you laugh out loud?

My kids. My youngest daughter—the six year old—she’s insane. She was just doing a funny dance this morning. She’s the comedian.

If you could be anywhere else in the world right now, where would it be?

I would be at Rock Quarry, Kauai. That’s my favorite beach. . . .[There’s] this dirt road that goes down to this ridiculous beach that has this big lagoon inlet, a point where the waves break left. And I’m a goofy foot (in surfing), so I love that and the lagoon is amazing. The kids can kind of chill out by the lagoon.

What gives you hope?

My students. I’ve seen so many of them surprise me and overcome humungous obstacles in their lives. So, it puts it all in perspective. If they can do it, that’s pretty awesome.

Food

The healthcare systems in the United States and the United Kingdom couldn't be more different.

The UK's National Health Service is the largest government-run healthcare system in the world and the US's is largest private sector system.

Almost all essential health services in the UK are free, whereas in America cost can vary wildly based on insurance, co pays and what the hospitals and physicians choose to charge.

A medical bill in the US

One of the largest differences is cost. The average person in the UK spends £2,989 ($3915) per year on healthcare (most of which is collected through taxes), whereas the average American spends around $10,739 a year.

So Americans should obviously be getting better care, right? Well, the average life expectancy in the UK is higher and infant mortality rate is lower than that in the US.

RELATED: The World Health Organization declares war on the out of control price of insulin

Plus, in the U.S., only 84% of people are covered by private insurance, Medicare or Medicaid. Sixteen percent of the population are forced to pay out of pocket.

In the UK, everyone is covered unless they are visiting the country or an undocumented resident.

Prescription drugs can cost Americans an arm and a leg, but in the UK, prescriptions or either free or capped at £8.60 ($11.27).

via Wikimedia Commons

The one drawback to the NHS system is responsiveness. In the UK people tend to wait longer for inessential surgeries, doctor's appointments, and in emergency rooms. Whereas, the US is ranked as the most responsive country in the world.

RELATED: Alarmingly high insulin prices are forcing Americans to flock to Canada to buy the drug

The New York Times printed a fair evaluation of the UK's system:

The service is known for its simplicity: It is free at the point of use to anyone who needs it. Paperwork is minimal, and most patients never see a bill. … No one needs to delay medical treatment until he or she can afford it, and virtually everyone is covered. …

According to data from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the United States spent 17.2 percent of its economic output on health care in 2016, compared with 9.7 percent in Britain. Yet Britain has a higher life expectancy at birth and lower infant mortality.

Citizens in each country have an interesting perspective on each other's healthcare systems. UK citizens think it's inhumane for Americans have to pay through the nose when they're sick or injured. While Americans are skeptical of socialist medicine.

A reporter from Politics Joe hit the streets of London and asked everyday people what they think Americans pay for healthcare and they were completely shocked.

Health

Bans on plastic bags and straws can only go so far. Using disposable products, like grabbing a plastic fork when you're on the go, can be incredibly convenient. But these items also contribute to our growing plastic problem.

Fortunately, you can cut down on the amount of waste you produce by cutting down on disposable products. And even more fortunately, there are sustainable (and cute) replacements that won't damage the environment.

Coconut bowls


Cocostation

Who says sustainable can't also be stylish? These cute coconut bowls were handmade using reclaimed coconuts, making each piece one of a kind. Not only are they organic and biodegradable, but they're also durable, in case your dinner parties tend to get out of hand. The matching ebony wood spoons were polished with the same coconut oil as the bowls.

Cocostation Set of 2 Vietnamese Coconut Bowls and Spoons, $14.99; at Amazon

Solar powered phone charger

Dizaul

Why spend time looking around for an outlet when you can just harness the power of the sun? This solar powered phone charger will make sure your phone never dies as long as you can bask in the sun's rays. As an added bonus, this charger was made using eco-friendly silicone rubber. It's win-win all around.

Dizaul Solar Charger, 5000mAh Portable Solar Power Bank, $19.95; at Amazon, $19.95; at Amazon

Herb garden kit

Planter Pro

Put some green in your life with this herb planter. The kit comes with everything you need to get a garden growing, including a moisture meter that helps you determine if your herbs are getting the right amount of food to flourish. All the seeds included are certified to be non-GMO and non-hybrids, meaning you can have fresh, organic herbs right at your fingertips.

Planter Pro's Herb Garden Cedar Planter, $39.00; at Amazonedar Planter, $39.00; at Amazon

Reusable Keurig cups

K & J

Keurig cups are convenient, but they also create a ton of plastic waste. These Keurig-compatible plastic cups are an easy way to cut down on the amount of trash you create without cutting down on your caffeine. Additionally, you won't have to keep on buying K Cups, which means you'll be saving money and the environment.

K&J Reusable Filter Cups, $8.95 for a set of 4,; at Amazon

Low-flow shower head

Speakman

Low-flow water fixtures can cut down your water consumption, which saves you money while also saving one of the Earth's resources. This shower head was designed with a lighter flow in mind, which means you'll be able to cut down on water usage without feeling like you're cutting down on your shower.

Speakman Low Flow Shower Head, $14.58; at Amazon

Bamboo safety razor

Zomchi

Instead of throwing away a disposable razor every time you shave, invest in an eco-friendly, reusable one. This unisex shaver isn't just sustainable, it's also sharp-looking, which means it would make a great gift for the holidays.

Zomchi Safety Razor, $16.99; at Amazon

The Planet
Instagram / Leonardo DiCaprio

This August, the world watched as the Amazon burned. There were 30,901 individual fires that lapped at the largest rainforest in the world. While fires can occur in the dry season due to natural factors, like lightning strikes, it is believed that the widespread fires were started by loggers and farmers to clear land. Brazil's president, Jair Bolsonaro, cites a different cause: the actor Leonardo DiCaprio.

DiCaprio wasn't accused of hanging out in the rainforest with a box of matches, however President Bolsonaro did accuse the actor of funding nonprofit organizations that allegedly set fires to raise donations.

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The Planet