Metal pots clang over the buzz of the food processor, the whir of the kitchen fan and the sloshing of marinara as Michael Harris prepares a sauce for four giant trays of pasta. He calls it “chef music.”
“That’s the sound of work gettin’ done,” he said. “If you go in a kitchen and it’s quiet, you gotta come in raisin’ hell, ’cause that means work ain’t gettin’ done.”
He and fellow chefs Berry Accius and Willis Webster cooked up roughly a thousand complementary takeout dinners late last week at the Sam and Bonnie Pannell Community Center in South Sacramento’s Meadowview neighborhood. Their “3 Black Chefs” project launched earlier this year to bring low-cost soul food to the community. Now, they’re offering free pop-up dinners on Thursday and Friday nights to combat food insecurity during the COVID-19 stay-at-home order.
“Folks need a break,” Accius said. “People can get their food, but they’re stretching and stretching, so we want to say, ‘Hey, let the troubles of your day get on us and let us support you.’”
Accius says the chefs want “dinner to look like dinner,” and that their menu items — rotisserie chicken with potatoes and greens or pasta with turkey bolognese — go beyond what families might get at school meal sites or soup kitchens.
“In these times, we shouldn’t make it normalized that you just get what you get ’cause it’s free, or because we say so or that’s all we have,” he said. “The dining experience means a lot, with the love that we put in it. It makes the people smile a lot more because, you know, the food was done with love, passion and grace.”
In the kitchen, the chefs banter about seasonings. Accius an expert in Caribbean delicacies, Webster falls back on the flavors of his native New Orleans and Harris likes to fuse his Southern and Chicago roots with California cuisine.
The trio is funding the dinners with donations and their own money. The kitchen they’re using was recently restored with help from the city and a nonprofit food cooperative called Fresher Sacramento, which oversees the space.
The chefs are asking people to reserve meals in advance, especially if they want to grab extra trays for friends or family members.
Johnnie Alexander, a minister with G7 Thy Presence’s School of Faith in Sacramento, said she was picking up food for her neighbors who lack transportation, can’t buy groceries or don’t know how to cook.
“It’s a blessing for the community, what they’re doing,” she said. “They make sure you get your well-balanced meal. And for me, I’m a senior, so up in that age group it’s really truly a blessing for someone to cook for you like that.”
Harris said giving someone a home-cooked meal can go a long way toward lifting their spirits during the pandemic, which could have a disproportionate impact on low-income Californians.
“People being laid off of work now, it really hurts,” he said. “But being able to be here for these people, it feels really good ... after everything’s said and done, we’re still here doing this. It’s out of love.”
Three Black Chefs plans to serve dinners every Thursday and Friday for the next four weeks. To reserve meals, email 3BlackChefs@gmail.com or text Chef Accius at (916) 949-9026. Those who wish to donate to the group can do so through PayPal to firstname.lastname@example.org, or Cashapp to $berryaccius
Here are the details for the next dinners:
Dates: Thursday, April 1, and Friday, April 2
Time: 4-7 p.m.
Location: 2450 Meadowview Road in South Sacramento
Thursday: BBQ hot dogs and hamburgers
Friday: BBQ Chicken dinner
*vegetarian options will be available both nights
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