Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Who Could Be Baltimore's Jamie Oliver?

Dixon woke up at 5 this morning and even though he went back to sleep until 6, I stayed up and, somewhat inexplicably, brainstormed about how the food community could help Baltimore fix some of its social problems. (I say "inexplicably" because this is so far from the kind of thing I usually think about that I can't even really figure out how my thought path got there.)

Social problems are, obviously, a major issue and deeply ingrained, spread across multiple institutions, as neatly demonstrated by the institutional shift of each season of The Wire. No one program or idea could possibly fix these generations-old issues, but every little bit helps, right?

If The Wire is to be believed, and I think it is, a core piece of Baltimore's troubles stems from the vicious cycle of drug dealing and lack of visible opportunity available to the young black men in certain Baltimore neighborhoods.

So here's my thought: why hasn't some enterprising and influential chef or restaurant group (Foreman & Wolf: I'm looking at you) follow Jamie Oliver's lead? His restaurant-reality TV-social program experiment, Fifteen, has been a success. The original London restaurant is popular and, by all accounts, great, and three additional Fifteen locations have opened up. More importantly for the communities, the Foundation that owns the restaurants raises a lot of money every year that it uses to invest in the kids who work in the restaurants. The Foundation has just published a report on how the program has impacted the lives of these kids over the past five years. The short answer is: it's been very positive. Experience, a way out, an alternative - the restaurant deals in a very public sort of hope.

I can't think of any reason why this wouldn't work in Baltimore, as long as it had the right champion.

6 comments:

Erin said...

I completely agree - it seems like a successful approach to helping at least a handful of young people who otherwise may be another statistic. A few months ago, my sister and I at at Three... (near Patterson Park) and the ice cream we had there was made by "disadvantaged young adults" through the Sylvan Beach Foundation. Here's the link: http://www.sylvanbeachfoundation.org/found1.htm

It's a great idea (and the ice cream was awesome!), and I think adding something like what Jamie O. did is a smart next step.

Good thinking, Kit!

Julie said...

The Dogwood Restaurant in Hampden is doing something along those lines and I get the feeling that Timothy Dean Bistro (where I had a truly fabulous meal during last summer's Restaurant Week) is also doing a similiar thing with their waitstaff.

Few chefs anywhere on the planet -- and none in Baltimore -- have the level of celebrity that Jamie Oliver does, and his celebrity helps in finding investors and customers and generally making Fifteen such a big success, but there are people doing it in Baltimore on a smaller level.

Cail said...

http://www.cafereconcile.com/

This place in New Orleans has that idea. It is a working, delicious restaurant in Central City (an area that has seen a crazy spike in violence Post-K)that is staffed with young men and women who learn the restaurant trade.

Anthony Bourdain actually featured it on his No Reservations show from NOLA that aired last week.

Kit Pollard said...

I'm glad to hear that there are places already doing this sort of thing in the area. After I posted, I started to think that there probably are, but they're not getting as much publicity as, you know, a reality show and celebuchef get.

I knew a little about Sylvan Beach, but wasn't 100% sure what was going on with it these days. And I've heard amazing things about both Dogwood and Timothy Dean. This is a great extra motivator to actually go to both.

Since Bmore does get so much publicity from The Wire, I'd love to see David Simon/Ed Burns give these programs, or something similar, some attention and promotion...

Anonymous said...

such a good idea kit!! we should write a letter to steven stars or something.

emily h.

Kit Pollard said...

I've actually been thinking today about steps I could take to try to make this happen.

Unfortunately, I know NOTHING about how to make something like this happen!

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