'Master Chef' competition for the needy

'Our goal is to inspire people to understand that just because they're poverty-stricken today, that’s not a good reason not to eat right.'

Mordechai Sones,

National Food Security Master Chef table
National Food Security Master Chef table
Colel Chabad

N. was a 57 year old man who had lived most of his adult life alone. Never married, and having spent most of his years in menial jobs that kept him struggling in poverty, good dietary habits and home economics were never major priorities. In fact, he says he'd never cooked anything on his own his entire life. He also admitted that his inability to cook wreaked havoc on his social skills, leading him to choose to associate with women with values often very different than his simply for the sake of recieiving a home cooked meal.

So when N recently came to a “Master Chef” evening in Carmiel sponsored by Colel Chabad, which runs soup kitchens and provides assistance to the needy of all backgrounds, and the National Food Security Program, he was more than skeptical that his eating habits could change.

The program is designed specifically for people like N with the goal of showing them that good diet and cooking your own meals can promote better health and give a sense of confidence that can translate into all walks of life. Participants competed in a round of food preparation tasks and a winner was chosen by the guest chef judges.

But all the participants came out ahead that night when they enjoyed the meal they had prepared and took home more than just a prize. “Our goal is to inspire people to understand that just because they are stricken by poverty today, that’s not a good reason not to eat right and to learn how to cook,” says Rabbi Sholom Duchman, Director of Colel Chabad.

The course is taught by professional chefs and homemakers who gear their instruction for people who have little to no understanding of ingredients and how to structure recipes and create meals.

N. began came out of the experience by learning how to make a simple vegetable salad - a task that seems obvious to many but not for him. It was the first time in his life that he put a knife to a cutting board, and he also learned how to prepare a few other basic dishes. Over the course of a week since the “Master Chef” evening, he has been preparing all his meals on his own and couldn’t feel more proud of himself.

The program, organized by Colel Chabad’s social services office, attracted over 50 participants and plans are in place for similar programs in other parts of the country. This is just the latest initiative of the organization’s Food Security program in coordination with the Israel Welfare Ministry, designed to help beneficiaries become more independent in food preparation, rather than eating out, and at budgetary planning, so they can climb out of Israel’s poverty-stricken community.

“Over the past year, we have developed our "food cards' program which is designed to restore a sense of dignity to these families in need,” said Labor and Welfare Minister Chaim Katz. "These healthy cooking workshops have clearly been warmly recived by the participants and and I wish them much continued success. I will continue to work so that the coming year sees the further expansion of the Food Security program to reach even more citizens of Israel all over the country."

“The concept behind this program is to give people who have little to no understanding of what it is to cook and maintain a healthy home, a sense of confidence and appreciation for cooking, eating and managing their own lives,” says Ateret Vashdi, social worker and coordinator of the Food Security Program in Carmiel.

N says that the program has represented far more than just being able to cook a meal. “For a long time I’ve been searching for something that would give me a sense that I could change my lifestyle. Perhaps this is just what I needed,” he says.

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