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Strike a Chord: Renowned Chef Brings Five-Star Service to New York Soup Kitchen

by Stephanie Kuo
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Stephanie Kuo, WFUV

WFUV's Strike a Chord campaign is focusing on soup kitchens and food pantries.

Every second Wednesday of the month, David Garcelon becomes one of the city's earliest risers. 

In the groggy, pre-dawn hours of the morning, he joins an intimate team of volunteers to prepare hot meals for 200 homeless men and women, who begin to line up outside St. Bart's doors in Midtown Manhattan as early as 5 a.m. On this particular Wednesday, Garcelon is making Shepherd's Pie. 

"You know I'm used to that. That's what I've done for years," he said. "I could almost do it with my eyes closed." 

In just two short hours, the food is ready. And Chef Garcelon crosses the street and swaps his casual plaid shirt and black apron for a crisp white toque and chef's coat with embroidery that reads, "Waldorf Astoria." During the day, Garcelon is the Director of Culinary there. He oversees about 150 chefs who serve hundreds of thousands of meals a year to the hotel's upscale clientele. Over the years, he's fed everyone from rockstars to Queen Elizabeth II. But while many in his position would get comfortable cozying up to the stars, Garcelon's heart is at St. Bart's.

"It's being part of the community. I don't think it's appropriate for us to just say, 'That's beneath us, and let somebody else do it,'" he said. "For me to spend two hours a month, it'd be really hard to walk away from that."

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It's St. Bart's mission to serve quality, complex meals with healthy and hearty ingredients. Garcelon spends the first part of the morning just breaking apart fresh thyme. He says being there gives him more purpose as a chef, bringing a level of skill and knowledge of food that he believes isn't reserved for the well-to-do. 

"If you're a professional chef, you really take pride in whatever you're cooking and whoever it's for," he said. "And whether it's for our employee cafeteria here, or whether it's for a head of state or some of the prestigious people who stay with us, good food should be available to everyone." 

Garcelon plans to continue cooking at the soup kitchen every second Wednesday. He's also working to commission more hotels in the city to donate meals to the shelter at St. Bart's. 

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