Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington
Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane
Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302
Light One Candle
Feasts for the soul
by Dennis Heaney
(From the March 1, 2007 edition of the Inland Register)
There’s one thing about living in Manhattan, and it’s this: you never know when you’re going to run into a good story. More important for us at The Christophers, often they’re stories that affirm the basic goodness of people and demonstrate beyond a doubt that just one person can make a mighty difference.
And that’s the kind of story I came across not long ago – a quintessential Manhattan story, to my way of thinking. I mean, where else but here would you find one of the top chefs in the city working in a soup kitchen? But that’s just what happens every day at the Broadway Presbyterian Church, where Michael Ennes, who once owned a fine New York restaurant and whose work as a consultant for a downtown restaurateur ended after the 9/11 attack, serves up gourmet dishes for the homeless.
As a report by Kim Severson in The New York Times points out, this is no ordinary soup kitchen. Even though Ennes has to rely on volunteer donations of surplus food (“Basically, I deal with whatever comes in the door”) he whips up top-shelf meals that he announces with pride – and a certain flair – to his clientele.
“We’re dealing with the regions of Spain today,” he’ll say about his oxtail and lentil stew. “The stew has no potatoes. It’s served with rice and peas instead. That’s what makes it Andalusian.”
His guests, most of them homeless, love it. “He should have his own show,” said one diner, who appreciates not only the quality food but the level of support he finds there as well. “I’ve been to them all and this is like gourmet. Other places will give you slop and say it’s better than nothing.”
“Slop” is nowhere in sight at Broadway Presbyterian. The rolls may be a day old, but they come from Le Bernardin, the haute-cuisine East Side dining establishment, where they were baked for customers but ended up as surplus. Other high-end restaurants also donate unused food items, most often through City Harvest, a nonprofit organization that salvages extra food and gets it to the homeless and the hungry. City Harvest helps make it possible for Ennes to serve about 500 meals a week.
It’s not only talent in the kitchen that makes what Ennes does so appealing. There’s a philosophy at work, too. He believes, for example, that the homeless are entitled as much as anyone else to first-class cooking. “It’s not nutritious if it’s not delicious,” he said. “And everyone is served here; nobody stands on line,” he said. “A lot of respect goes with it. You’re nurturing people when they need it most.”
His schedule is full, but this Manhattan chef loves what he’s doing. “It’s by far the best job I’ve ever had,” he said. “And it’s the only job I know where people will bless you when they walk in.”
Speaking of blessings, Ennes provides one with each of his meals. Here’s how it went on the day the Times visited:
“If we love each other, help each other and bless each other, we’ll get along,” he said. “By all the names we call Him, we say salaam, shalom, amen. Let’s eat.”
Who could say it better?
(Dennis Heaney is Director of The Christophers, an organization dedicated
to the proposition that it is better to light one candle than to curse the darkness. For a free copy of the Christopher
News Note “Here I Am, Lord – Serving God’s People Today,” write to: The Christophers, 12 E. 48th St., New York, NY 10017;
or e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.)
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