Catalyst Kitchen is working to break the cycle of poverty through providing culinary training to homeless and disadvantaged individuals across the United States. The model for the initiative began in Seattle, Washington, in 1992, when chef and social entrepreneur David Lee launched his nonprofit FareStart. Initially, FareStart provided meals to soup kitchens and shelters in Seattle, but Lee later expanded the program to provide this same demographic with the training needed to prepare that food themselves. In addition to training, FareStart works with their students to find them both housing and employment. Farestart reports that 90 percent of their adult students successfully find a job within 90 days of completing their training program.
Social enterprise is one of the fundamental tenets of the organization’s structure. The revenue generated from FareStart dining locations in Seattle, including a restaurant and two cafes, provides 50 percent of their program funding. FareStart’s flagship restaurant, which holds a rating of four and a half stars on Yelp, features a three-course dinner prepared by a different guest chef each Thursday. Their July menu featured items such as asparagus empanadas with fava beans and goat cheese and grilled Wenatchee stone fruit salad.
Catalyst Kitchen was launched by FareStart in 2011 with the aim of expanding FareStart’s model throughout the U.S. and creating a national community of like-minded organizations. The network strives to further FareStart’s mission of bringing food preparation training and job placement to individuals trapped in a cycle of poverty. The organization sources a sizeable portion of their stock through their food recovery program. To date, the organization has served more than 12,500 individuals.
Catalyst Kitchen was the recipient of the 2011 James Beard Foundation Humanitarian of the Year Award, an annual award presented to an individual or organization whose work in the food sector has benefited the lives of others.
Among Catalyst Kitchen’s 65 network members are Life's Kitchen in Boise, Idaho, Liberty's Kitchen in New Orleans, Lousiana, Inspiration Corporation in Chicago, Illinois, and DC Central Kitchen in Washington, D.C.