Q&A with NGI Alum Gabrielle Kennedy
And A Special Recipe!
Gabrielle Kennedy is a graduate of NGI's Chef’s Training Program. After completing her training at NGI, she dove into the restaurant world, working at Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s Mercer Kitchen in New York City, and The Ravens vegan restaurant in Mendocino, California. Gabrielle now works as a freelance caterer and private chef, and she recently completed four months of volunteer cooking on Africa Mercy, the largest non-governmental hospital ship in the world. Read on to learn about her volunteer work and how attending NGI helped prepare her for this life-changing experience
What led you to enroll in the Chef’s Training Program at NGI? I grew up in Cape Cod and was always very in touch with nature and inspired by what nature could provide. I got into cooking in my late-20’s because I had an interest in nutrition and had been reading tons of books on how food heals people. I enrolled in the Chef’s Training Program because I knew I wanted to make this a career, and NGI was the perfect place to help me do that.
What inspired you to apply to work on Africa Mercy? I worked for six years as a freelance caterer and private chef, but I was looking for more. I wanted to use my skills to give back and really help heal people with food. Quickly after reviewing the programs at Mercy Ships, I knew I wanted to take the leap and apply. Mercy Ships increases access to healthcare throughout the world and every single worker on each hospital ship is a volunteer. It was a unique opportunity onboard the largest non-governmental hospital ship in the world, so I was thrilled when I was accepted to volunteer.
Tell us about your experience cooking on the ship. We were in Cameroon, Africa. There was a total of 12 of us in the kitchen, and we were cooking for 500 people a day, including the doctors, nurses, patients, and additional volunteers. You don’t need to be a professional chef to volunteer on Africa Mercy, but once the head chef found out that I had went through culinary training, he gave me a more advanced role. The kitchen was split into a hot side where I helped lead the preparation of hot dishes like rice and beans, and a cold side where vegetables were chopped and salads were tossed.
What was the most rewarding experience during your volunteer experience? Volunteers have the opportunity to visit the HOPE Center, which is an off-ship center that Mercy Ships provides for patients in between surgeries, physical therapy, or other follow up appointments on the ship. It is a place for these patients to sleep and eat, that way they don’t have the burden and expense of traveling home, which for many was very far. I loved interacting with the patients, so I tried to visit the center at least once a week. It was an amazing experience to play with the children and watch them heal and recover. It was enlightening to see patients with cleft palates, broken limbs, burns, etc., be transformed and participate in activities they never imagined they would be able to participate in like singing and dancing.
What was the most challenging part of your experience? Just wrapping my head around how much food we would have to prepare on a daily basis was challenging. It was the largest amount of food I had cooked in my life – think eight large hotel pans of cooked rice! I would have to use my intuition with flavor and do my best to keep things simple but delicious.
How did attending the Chef’s Training Program at NGI prepare you for an opportunity like this? NGI gave me the tools to cook in a professional kitchen, which really helped me during my experience on Africa Mercy. The food we were provided to cook with on the ship was local and excellent quality. NGI taught me that natural food often speaks for itself, and I was able to use the general cooking techniques I learned in the Chef’s Training Program to use the natural food we were provided to create delicious, health-supportive dishes.
What was your favorite recipe to make while volunteering on Africa Mercy? There was this African Black-Eyed Peas dish that I loved to make. It was a combination of tomatoes, onions, garlic, turmeric, and fresh black-eyed peas served over rice. It was such a comforting dish with nutritious benefits!
AFRICAN BLACK-EYED PEAS
- 1 pound dried black eyed peas
- 1/4 cup neutral oil
- 2 medium onions
- 1 habanero pepper (optional)
- 1 Tablespoon fresh ginger
- 1 tablespoon garlic
- 1 teaspoon cumin
- 6 fresh tomatoes, pureed
- 2 Tablespoons tomato paste
- 1 Tablespoon paprika
- 1 cup of water or stock
- 3 scallions chopped
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Wash dry black-eyed peas. Add beans to a large pot covering with 4-5 inches of water. Cover and let sit for eight hours or overnight.
- Drain the soaked beans, rinse, and place the beans in a pot or pressure cooker. Cook beans until tender. Drain the cooked beans and set aside.
- Heat oil in large saucepan over medium heat. Sauté the onions and habanero (if using) in the oil for 3-4 minutes, stirring often and scraping any browned onions from the bottom of the pot.
- Add tomatoes, tomato paste, ginger, garlic, paprika, and cumin. Cook while stirring for about 30 minutes.
- Add water or stock to desired consistency. Continue to cook the sauce, stirring occasionally.
- Add the cooked beans, salt, and pepper. Bring to a boil and simmer for 10 minutes.
- Take the saucepan off the heat and stir in the scallions. Serve over rice or quinoa.
This post was originally published by the Natural Gourmet Institute. Learn more about today's Natural Gourmet Center.