Chuck Samuelson began his culinary career at 13 as a dishwasher at The Sweet Shoppe Café in his hometown of Wolf Point, Montana. He dropped out of high school and worked his way up from fry cook to line cook, sous-chef to executive chef, and eventually San Diego restaurateur. He sold his beloved Bird Rock Café in La Jolla in 2004 and went on to head up food services for the Stone Brewing Company in Escondido.

Throughout his career, Samuelson had been concerned about issues of food justice. “It seemed to me that we could do a better job of providing hunger relief than through food banks,” he says. “The fundamental problem behind hunger is poverty and lack of economic opportunity. There’s no better industry than hospitality to give people a hand up.” 

In 2014, with two employees and a budget of $200,000, Samuelson launched Kitchens for Good. Today, the nonprofit has a $2 million budget and a staff of 40. CAM+E asked Samuelson about the organization’s mission and operations. 

CAM+E: What is Kitchens for Good?
CS:
We’re a social enterprise that runs a catering and events company. We do 500 corporate and social events a year. Many of our events are held at our event space, the Jacobs Center for Neighborhood Innovation, where we can accommodate up to 1,000 people in our Celebration Hall, smaller groups in breakout rooms, and up to 3,000 people in our outdoor venues, which include an amphitheater. We also cater events off-site throughout Southern California.

CAM+E: How do you fund your mission?
CS:
The money we earn from catering helps Kitchens for Good carry out its mission to provide culinary training to people with barriers to employment and nutritious meals to those in need. Three-quarters of our budget comes from catering; the rest from grants and donations.

CAM+E: What are some of the services you provide?
CS:
Working with Heaven’s Windows, a local huger relief agency, we supply 1,200 meals a week to people who might otherwise go hungry. In our culinary education program, men and women of all ages and backgrounds—some from the foster care system, others who were formerly incarcerated and some who have been chronically unemployed—go through a 12-week training program in kitchen and life skills. We have a 95 percent job placement rate.

CAM+E: What’s your message to planners?
CS:
Let’s get the word out. And, even if you don’t hire Kitchens for Good, I’m happy to talk to you about ways you can give back with your own event. Just send me an email.

Former chef and restaurateur Chuck Samuelson gives back with innovative culinary programs.