Seed of Life Nurseries’ and AnnaPurna’s Kitchen team up to create gourmet food that nourish body and soul
On a Sunday afternoon this past November, my daughter and I bundled up in our winter jackets, braced ourselves against the season’s first sleet/rain mix and made our way down a cold grey sidewalk. Most of the buildings on North Market Street in Frederick were dark that day. Many stores were closed and homes had blinds drawn to fend off winter’s chill. But at the Bernard Brown center, the Juice Plate restaurant was glowing with light and buzzing with activity.
The Juice Plate is a non-profit enterprise under Seed of Life Nurseries, Inc. (SOL). SOL, a community supported agriculture program has a mission beyond everyday farming: “to make sure that all families in need are able to eat healthy no matter their circumstances.” Sol strives to break the chain of poverty by “feeding and educating “at risk” children.” Says founder Michael Dickson.
That cold rainy evening in November was the SOL and Juice Plate’s premier night for hosting AnnaPurna’s Pay as you can Kitchen and café.
AnnaPurna’s Kitchen was born a number of years ago while Rose Sincevich, or Rose Ma, as many know her by her Bhakti name, or service name, “Ma” meaning “in service to love,” was advised through a spiritual practice to “feed people”. Since that moment, the evolution of the grassroots movement blossomed into a spiritual nonprofit service. Over time and through the efforts of many volunteers the practice has become an organized kitchen and café. The mantra of the Goddess Annapurna, in the Bhakti tradition, is her pantry is “never empty.”
For Rose Ma, the mission to feed people began simply with her large family and students from the Center of the Four winds Studio, preparing and delivering food to people on the street. Eventually the practice found a home in the kitchen and restaurant of Nola’s café on Patrick Street. Settled into a real kitchen, Annapurna’s had the freedom and stability to grow. Local farmers, markets and families began regularly donating food, supplies, money and their time. Diners, from all walks of life began marking their calendars for the third Sunday of each month to enjoy a healthy gourmet evening out in a swanky hipster café.
The cost for this upscale dining experience? Rose Ma’s explanation of the pricing speaks to the essence of the service. “If you need it to be free it’s free. If you can afford a dime, or $500 it will all go back into the community. If you can bus tables in service for what you have received that is also a form of currency.”
The kitchen drew in volunteers, many of whom have since become a dictated core group, devoted to the practice of seva, or service without expectation of return.
And the evolution of the movement continues with the change of venue and partnering with SOL.
Rose Ma welcomed my me and my daughter to the café with a warm hug. With my legal pad and pen under my arm I explained that I planned to observe and take notes. “Perhaps you will also volunteer?” Rose Ma asked.
“Maybe next time.” I said.
Sam Sincevich, Rose Ma’s 18 year old son and café manager gave us a tour of the kitchen. It was bustling and busy but it was unlike any industrial kitchen I had ever experienced. There was nothing frantic as the group of about 15 volunteer’s collaborated to prepare dinner for more than 100 people. In the back kitchen we were introduced to Nick Fitzpatrick, Rose Ma’s brother and chef. Fitzpatrick, wearing his black chef’s uniform, was tearing kale leaves into bite sized pieces as we talked.
“We get fresh foods, often the blemished ones. Like the apple with a bruise that doesn’t get purchased.” Fitzpatrick explained that the local and mostly organic, donated vegetarian fresh foods are a surprise each month. Once a month, Fitzpatrick and his team preform amazing culinary alchemy with the hodgepodge of mystery boxed donated items.
On flaming burners were pots of boiling water ready for the mounds of fresh cut potatoes. Volunteers were peacefully hard at work scoping out the flesh of bright orange squashes and chopping bright green vegetables. I wandered out to the front kitchen where two high school young ladies were preparing dessert under the supervision and direction of Dickson.
Dickson’s vibrant and boundless energy seemed to fill the front room. He bounced into the kitchen piling the table with apples then he zipped around the counter to gather large boxes of utensils. We were introduced to the girls that Dickson calls “his kids”. SOL’s mission doesn’t just stop by handing people food. Dickson abides by the “give a man a fish-teach a man to fish” adage.
“95% of our recipients are kids” Dickson explained of his food distribution services. “We go to them and say, hey, we helped you now you can give back. We give them (the kids) tools and an opportunity. These kids are our future community leaders.”
The pie making comity in the front kitchen, who received food services through SOL, are now enrolled in “Farmer Mike’s” cooking classes. Dickson’s kids are taught basic culinary skills, with the intent of using those skills to help the community.
I hadn’t yet opened my tablet or picked up my pen. I didn’t want to take notes, I wanted to be a part of the energy in the kitchen. My daughter and I grabbed some kitchen tools and got to work with the girls peeling and coring apples. I remained an industrious fly on the wall, expertly peeling apples as the girls, from very different backgrounds and environments bonded over similar future life plans.
The spirit of community, or rather more precisely described as a spirit of family that permeated the restaurant was contagious. If you walk through those doors, even guarded behind pen and paper you are going to be loved, and you just can’t help but want to participate and give.
It was a pleasure experiencing the event as it unfolded first hand, but a busy kitchen is no place to gather details. A few days later at Rose Ma’s studio, I sat down with Fitzpatrick, Dickson, Rose Ma and Sam Sincevich.
I mentioned that the energy in the kitchen was such a pleasant contrast to commercial kitchens where I’ve worked in the past.
“Everyone involved is in the spirit of getting people good nourishing food.” Fitzpatrick said. Also the kitchen deviates from traditional assembly line ketches as the group keeps that spirit of love and enthusiasm alive by not getting lost in the details, but staying focused on the mission.
“No volunteer becomes so involved in just one task that they don’t see the whole picture.” Fitzpatrick said. One “core volunteer” started out three years ago with culinary skills only at the level of washing lettuce. On Sunday night, that same volunteer created an amazing dish of vegetarian enchiladas that were as delicious as any $25 plate I’ve paid for at high end restaurants.
“There is a spiritual aspect of feeding people.” Rose Ma said. “We are touching hearts. And that pulling together of the greater community, recovers creative energy, that flys into amazing dishes.”
What also makes the kitchen and café unique is that the café is all inclusive. “It isn’t just the people with no means who [are served] here but also the underserved.” Sam Sincevich added. “People get in their worlds of living pay check to pay check. When people walk through the door it never crosses my mind to fit them into a social category.” He said. People come for help, to help, seeking love, food and/or to serve. It doesn’t matter what brings you to the door.
“What happens here is not a soup kitchen, it runs much deeper and the ripple runs outward.” Rose Ma said.
“It’s hard to get people to ask for help.” Fitzpatrick said. “But if we can get them to show up they will realize this is a place of no judgment and they will come back.” Sam heartily agreed.
“Sam is the leading edge of the next generation.” Rose Ma said. “He’s lived in the trenches with me. His (lifestyle) isn’t what other kids in his age group orient to. What he speaks and articulates is like a foreign language…but it’s starting to turn.” Rose Ma described that AnnaPurna and SOL are collaboratively “writing new stories, from their hearts, with compassion for a collective awakening.”
“It’s a lifestyle.” Sam said of the ongoing efforts of the core group and the community, to keep the kitchen running and evolving. “Once you get into it you’re hooked and it goes into more things than you could ever imagine.” Sam described positive effects that spill over into his everyday life.
With the merging of` SOL and AnnaPurna, a new group of people are being introduced to the social, nutritional, and spiritual values served up at the café. And a large number of that new group are our children.
“Bring in the future community leaders!” Dickson boisterously cheered. “They are our ‘change agents’!” And a change, where compassion for oneself and others is consistently practiced is a change the whole world is crying for.
“Quality cooking is about self-love, nourishment and health care.” Fitzpatrick said. The food tastes good because of the quality of the ingredients and the culinary skill it takes to create fantastic dishes, but the delicious food is also seasoned by of the energy in the kitchen. And Rose Ma added, “It (the love) gets in there”.
And I can attest to that. On Sunday evening I chose the carry out option at the café to enjoy dinner at home with my family. The butternut slaw was bright and crisp in appearance, texture and taste. The food tasted “clean” as if the vegetables had just been dug up from my garden in the back yard at the peak of ripeness. A curried vegetable dish served over brown rice was balanced with heat from exotic spices and cooling complementary vegetables. My daughter and her friend devoured the enchilada leaving me only a small sample, but I suppose that is a testimony to the quality taste. Six of us sat down and shared the generous portions that the buffet servers had heaped into our takeaway containers. After a satisfying meal I felt refreshed and nourished. Nothing about the food left me feeling heavy, sleepy or bloated…which is often the case when I dine out. And for dessert? Farmer Mikes kids hot apple pie. A crispy golden brown crust covered those apples I had helped peel.
The open opportunity to ask for help, receive help and give back are making a change for the better in one little corner of the world in a bright little kitchen on North Market Street where the ripples from that practice could eventually bring about global change.
Before I left our chat at the studio I asked for, and gratefully accepted one more hug from Rose Ma. As we parted she said.
“By the grace of all that is good, we are being held.”
Annapurna’s Kitchen is held the 3rd Sunday of each Month Hosted at Juice Plate, 629 North Market Street
in downtown Frederick Serving 6 to 8pm. There will be family style seating available in the banquet room on the second floor of the building. Carry out and delivery options are also available.
http://www.theunschoolofyoga.org/ http://www.theunschoolofyoga.org/ http://www.juiceplate.com/ http://solnurseries.info/