Home Cooking for the Homeless

By / Photography By Amy Robb | October 26, 2015
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Kurt D'Aurizio at Sulzbacher Center
Chef Kurt D'Aurizio heads up the food program at the Sulzbacher Center.

Among the many individuals in Northeast Florida working hard to make fresh, nutritious food accessible to all is Kurt D’Aurizio. While it is not unusual for the food industry to give back to the community, it’s rare for an executive chef to apply his skills every day to a facility exclusively dedicated to serving the homeless.

D’Aurizio is executive chef and kitchen manager at the Sulzbacher Center in downtown Jacksonville, the only place in Northeast Florida where anyone who is hungry can receive a nutritious meal three times a day, 365 days a year. One step into his bustling kitchen and a quick peek at the food provisions he’s been given to transform and it’s clear that someone with less than Chef D’Aurizio’s varied foodservice experiences might struggle with the challenge.

Food service worker moving fresh baked muffins
Volunteers from the shelter line up to serve food

Each year volunteer groups donate over $200,000 worth of food for meals and more than 25,000 hours of their time to feed clients at the Sulzbacher Center. If you’ve ever opened your pantry or fridge to find a random assortment of foods and wondered how you’d make them into a nutritious meal, then you understand a bit of this chef’s daily grind. Chef D’Aurizio has had to get creative, on a very tight budget, to meet the challenges of providing healthy meals to residents. On a weekly basis he faces a mystery basket of donated food from various local sources: USDA, Blue Buddha, Urban Folk Farm, Traders Hill Farm and even community gardens. His job is to transform this surprise package into 1,500 healthy meals.

Lunch at the Salzbacher Center
Lunch at the Salzbacher Center

While the path to his latest culinary adventure has been circuitous and the destination was an unexpected one, given Chef D’Aurizio’s commitment to his community, perhaps it should have been no surprise. His culinary background includes stints as a chef in leading restaurants, running his own catering business and acting as Director of Cuisine for a large restaurant group. Each step along his path has shaped Chef D’Aurizio’s belief in the value of seasonal menus and fresh products—commitments he brings with him to his work at the Sulzbacher.

Despite an already full plate, Chef D’Aurizio is eager to expand and enhance services, especially educational programs that teach children and families at the Sulzbacher about cooking, nutrition and gardening.

“When kids can grow, harvest and cook their own food, it opens up whole new worlds to them and provides a lifelong understanding of the importance of eating good food.”

What’s the best part of his day?

“Any time I get to work with the wonderful volunteers and residents cooking delicious, beautiful, nutritious food,” he says with a smile.

When not at work, Kurt D’Aurizio can be found volunteering as director of events for Slow Food First Coast or working closely with SAMBA, SPAR and other community and business groups in the Urban Core area to promote the benefits of “good, clean and fair food for all.” 

Article from Edible Northeast Florida at http://ediblenortheastflorida.ediblecommunities.com/Homeless-Meals-Downtown-Jacksonville
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