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Building Food Equity in the Kitchen with Chef Rowan Jacobs

Ask a Chef with Chef Rowan Jacobs

Rowan is studying methods to bring food equity to the hospitality industry for people with disabilities. They’re currently in the finals for the Bon Appetit FavChef competition, vote today at FavChef.com.

Aisle Mine: How did you first get into cooking? Was there a “lightbulb moment” that directed your path towards becoming a chef?

Chef Rowan: I didn’t really have a lightbulb moment that got me into cooking. I just sort of slowly started developing my skills to be a fully functional human being and I found out that being able to create delicious meals for my friends from scratch was something I really enjoyed doing.

AM: What is your favorite thing to cook? What’s your favorite comfort food?

CR: My favorite comfort food is either mac & cheese or my odd ramen specialty using just butter and sugar. My ramen sounds odd but its one of my very first struggle meals when my mother would take the seasoning packets for use elsewhere.

Pumpkin PIe Ribs, Photo: Chef Rowan Jacobs

AM: In a year, where would you like to be?

CR: In a year I would love to be deeply involved in the research needed to craft my thesis regarding expanding accessibility in the hospitality industry.

AM: You mentioned that disability advocacy in the hospitality industry is a driving force behind your work, that’s amazing! What does a more equitable hospitality industry look like? What are some of your goals? How can the hospitality industry do better?

CR: There are huge strides the hospitality industry can make to become more equitable. The hospitality industry prides itself on its employees work ethic. This obviously not only affects our able-bodied employees with a negative work-life balance, but it essentially cuts-out any employees who may suffer from Chronic fatigue syndrome or mobility issues who are being judged by their /dis/ability to work instead of the work ethic they may actually possess.

Many accommodations we saw appear for COVID that were previously considered ‘impossible’ for disabled employees could be massive boons if we allow them to stay, starting first and foremost with the WFH option. 

AM: You mentioned that food insecurity is a part of your story. Do you think that the hospitality industry (and related industries) can do better around the availability of food to everyone?

CR: The hospitality industry is probably one of the greatest producers of food waste in our country and thankfully we are waking up to that fact, albeit slowly. Many restaurants and grocery stores still toss out hundreds of pounds of food at the end of each evening and many places actually add additional corrosive chemicals on top of them to prevent people from scavenging through the dumpsters in search of a meal. This food could easily be either donated to multiple homeless shelters or food banks that assist people with food insecurities. Or, they could just as easily distribute the food to their workers to take home for their families, especially when most servers are making under minimum wage

Follow Chef Rowan’s journey as they restore a bar during quarantine and travel across America to feature foods from small chefs on their IG @rowansrecipes.

Specialty Pizza, Photo: Chef Rowan Jacobs

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