How cooking turned around one young Virginia chef's life. Now he's helping others.

Posted at 7:12 AM, Sep 15, 2023
and last updated 2023-09-15 10:59:43-04

RICHMOND, Va. -- A partnership between a Richmond nonprofit and a culinary school is keeping Central Virginians fed, while also teaching the next generation of chefs.

Feed More recently joined forces with the Culinary Institute of Virginia to bring their culinary students in to prepare meals, while also earning credit hours.

The young chefs learn the ins and outs of mass food production, while also giving back to their community.

“It's over the top, you know, it's real-world application, helping the community," Charles Delargy, culinary director for the Culinary Institute of Virginia, said. “They're working with equipment they would never get a chance to work with, large amounts of foods, and seeing how it's really being done from beginning to end."

Feed More and the Culinary Institute of Virginia
Culinary Institute of Virginia culinary director Charles Delargy

Feed More’s community kitchen isn’t Charles Delargy’s typical kitchen setting.

“I've worked all over the world," he said. "I've worked in the Caribbean, I've worked in Europe, etc, etc.”

But it’s become a place the 35-year-chef is able to teach students, like Justin Harmon.

“I just fell in love with it," Harmon expressed.

Spending a morning with Harmon, you can hear it in his voice and see it on his face, the kitchen is his happy place. Cooking is his calling.

“I go in there with a big smile," he said. "There's thought behind it, and that's the thing that I love about it."

Feed More and the Culinary Institute of Virginia
Justin Harmon

Being at Feed More allows Harmon to combine his purpose with his second passion.

"It's giving back," he noted.

Because the 30-year-old man remembers what it’s like to go hungry.

“I've been homeless before, so I've actually known how it feels not to have," Harmon explained. “I was in school, and I went through depression and everything, so I kind of like got behind on my bills."

Harmon eventually moved in with a friend, but baking, frying, and slicing, these techniques helped bring him out of the darkness and gave him a future he was excited about.

“It's like therapy," said Harmon. "You see the expression that it makes people feel once they're eating your food, it just brings you joy. Me being homeless, it was kind of like almost, I needed to go through that, for it to teach me how to be appreciative of the things that I do have.”

Thanks to Harmon and his fellow chefs, around 2,800 Central Virginians will eat dinner tonight.

Feed More and the Culinary Institute of Virginia

"It’s like volunteer 2.0," said Feed More production manager Montell Jones. "It's definitely a welcomed presence. We see positive comments on a daily basis from our clients.”

Chef Delargy doesn’t need his own restaurant to feel proud of what he’s prepared.

"It's almost kind of like when you're in a restaurant, and you have customers say it's the best meal I've ever had," Delargy said. "When I see the students as they grow and progress through their careers, seeing them change and evolve into what they really want to do, that's the most gratifying part.”

Because of Delargy, Harmon has the recipe to make a mouthwatering meatloaf.

"I feel like the more and more I smell it, the more hungry I get," Harmon laughed.

Feed More and the Culinary Institute of Virginia

His skills are also making a dent in those familiar hunger pains across the city he loves.

"That's how we actually grow as a community is by helping each other," he said.

Harmon will soon graduate, and he hopes to open his own catering company. He plans to continue to give back through volunteer cooking opportunities.

Meanwhile, Delargy said some of his students have enjoyed the experience at Feed More so much that they are looking for full-time jobs with the nonprofit, showing that culinary school isn’t just for gourmet chefs but for anyone who loves the kitchen and making meaningful meals.

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