A Recipe for Happiness

by Kim Bresson

Hello, I’m Kim, pastry cook at Free Food Harlem. Tia, one of our volunteers, and I recently made chocolate cream puffs.

Free Food, located at Refettorio Harlem, has been such a joy to work with both in the kitchen, where I feel most at home, and in working with all the interesting volunteers. Many of them come in from the far corners of the City on Tuesdays for our pantry food give away as well as for our Wednesday and Friday night dinners.

I first came to Free Food and Refettorio Harlem back in January not knowing what to expect. I walked in the door on a Tuesday, and there was so much going on, so many people buzzing about. It looked like a swap meet with boxes on top of tables all over the room. I soon realized that the boxes were filled with groceries: amazing items like bok choy, Sumo oranges, exotic mushrooms, Italian olives, and baby cauliflower, and on Tuesdays all of it is given away to the community! Well, all of it except what the chefs will be using to create Wednesday and Friday night dinners.

Here is a sample menu:

Sweet Heat Roasted Chicken with Smoked Poblano Barbecue Sauce
Creamy Red Rose Potatoes
Sautéed Swiss Chard
Eclair Praline
Bread and Butter

Free Food Harlem is a restaurant like no other. It is an epicurean cafe for anyone in need of food. This where a three-course, sit down meal is served on fine China over a white tablecloth. Menus change nightly and are prepared with skill and love by chefs and volunteers with surplus foods from local vendors which would have otherwise gone to waste. Wednesday and Friday nights are always a fun time at the Refettorio.

Free Food has a unique approach to business. Management encourages openness, vulnerability, and honesty. Everyone here is “the boss” and is given space to be seen and heard. No judgments. Volunteers and employees are all given responsibility and allowed to shine. Tasks and assignments are based on desire and love, whether one has been doing that task for a decade or a day, and then given the time to titrate to their own personal capacity. It’s not so much about spreadsheets and bottom-lines (although those matter a lot too!) as it is about people. It’s the management style of the future. Volunteers and employees here are flourishing with this system, as we all are.

As I mentioned before, Tia and I made chocolate cream puffs. When I first met Tia, she was quiet and always wore a mask. Now she’s all smiles. Tia has a passion for baking and through her volunteer work at Free Food Harlem, she has been able to fulfill her desire to sharpen her baking skills and develop the confidence to create desserts on her own for Wednesday and Friday night dinners. Eventually she plans to open her own baking business. I am proud to be part of her journey.

Free Food Harlem is about teaching, learning, sharing, and giving. Join us and come get what we have gotten!

Cream Puff Dough
2 oz milk
1 stick butter
1 tsp salt
12 oz bread flour
2 eggs

  1. Combine liquid, butter, and salt in a heavy saucepan and bring to a boil.
  2. Remove pan from heat and add the flour all at once. Stir quickly.
  3. Return the pan to moderate heat and stir vigorously until the dough forms a ball and pulls away from the sides of the pan.
  4. Transfer the dough to the bowl of a mixer. If you wish to mix by hand, leave it in the saucepan.
  5. With the paddle attachment, mix at low speed until the dough has cooled slightly. It should be about 140 F—still very warm, but not too hot to touch.
  6. At medium speed, beat in the eggs, a little at a time. Add no more than one fourth of the eggs at once, and wait until each quantity is completely absorbed before adding the next. When all the eggs are absorbed, the paste is ready to use.

Vanilla Pastry Cream
4 oz sugar
1 qt milk
1.5 egg yolks
2 whole eggs
2.5 oz cornstarch
4 oz sugar
2 oz butter
1 tbsp vanilla
2 cups chocolate syrup

  1. In a heavy saucepan, dissolve the sugar in the milk and bring just to a boil.
  2. With a whisk, beat the egg yolks and whole eggs in a stainless-steel bowl.
  3. Sift the starch and sugar into the eggs. Beat with the whisk until perfectly smooth.
  4. Temper the egg mixture by slowly beating in the hot milk in a thin stream.
  5. Return the mixture to the heat and bring to a boil, stirring constantly.
  6. When the mixture comes to a boil and thickens, remove from the heat.
  7. Stir in the butter and vanilla. Mix until the butter is melted and completely blended in.
  8. Pour into a clean, sanitized hotel pan or other shallow pan. Dust lightly with sugar and cover with waxed paper to keep a crust from forming. Cool and chill as quickly as possible.
  9. Drizzle with chocolate syrup and serve.

A chef and ceramicist, Kim is passionate about all things artisanal. Currently, she is channeling her energies towards the culinary arts as chef, teacher, and student at The Land retreat center in Mendocino, California, and at Free Food Harlem in New York City.

The Rehumanization Magazine

newslettersGet access to the monthly Rehumanization Magazine featuring contributors from the front lines of this effort—those living on Death Row, residents of the largest women’s prison in the world, renowned ecologists, the food insecure, and veteran correctional officers alike.