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‘Compassion on a Plate’: EU Delegation Serves Dinner to D.C. Homeless
by Karin Zeitvogel
Chef John Murphy of Miriam’s Kitchen described it as “a tangible expression of compassion on a plate.”
The ambassador, resident chef and half a dozen staff members from the European Union Delegation to Washington prepared and served dinner to hundreds of down-on-their-luck D.C. residents on the evening of June 29, just hours before the derecho storm pounded the area.
Many of those who dined at Miriam’s Kitchen on salmon served with rice pilaf, grilled asparagus and home-made apple sauce prepared by EU chef Marcos Barboza were part of the city’s 6,500 homeless people.
Photo: European Union, 2012 / Maeve O’Beirne
Todd Wiggins, a guest at Miriam’s Kitchen in Foggy Bottom, waves as he picks up his dinner tray of glazed salmon, grilled asparagus, rice pilaf and homemade applesauce from staff at the EU Delegation in Washington. The delegation followed in the footsteps of the embassies of Finland, Israel, Qatar, Switzerland and Turkey, whose staff have all served hundreds of D.C. homeless at Miriam’s Kitchen.
“We serve a lot of homeless people, but everyone’s welcome,” said Ashley Lawson, volunteer manager at Miriam’s Kitchen, a charity that serves homeless individuals in D.C.
In fact, among the 200 guests dining on the European-inspired fare was a man dressed in a tailored shirt and khakis
EU Ambassador to the United States João Vale de Almeida delivered a brief message of solidarity and unity to the dinner guests as they tucked into their haute cuisine meals served on plastic trays.
“The EU wants to show solidarity and compassion for the homeless in D.C. by serving them, to show that we’re all one,” he said.
Bringing in a guest chef from a prominent area restaurant or diplomatic delegation to prepare meals for Washington’s least fortunate was the brainchild of Miriam’s Kitchen head chef, John Murphy, along with Steve Badt, director of kitchen operations.
Murphy came to Miriam’s Kitchen three years ago after working in D.C.-area restaurants for a decade. “I wanted a change. I felt I wasn’t doing enough for the community. So I started volunteering here and it turned into a job,” he told the Diplomatic Pouch.
Meals prepared by guest chefs are served once every three months or so.
The guest chefs work with Murphy to create a dinner menu for Miriam’s Kitchen and supply all the ingredients for the meals. Sous-chefs and servers for the dinner are drawn from the embassy’s staff.
On June 30, guests at Miriam’s Kitchen were served by Emma Burnaby-Atkins, the executive assistant to the EU ambassador; cultural affairs officer Sandi Auman; administrative assistant Silvia Massa of Peru; trade officer Zack Houben; chef Marcos Barboza and half a dozen other EU Delegation staff.
The EU Delegation followed in the footsteps of the embassies of Finland, Israel, Qatar, Switzerland and Turkey, whose staff have all served meals at Miriam’s Kitchen in the two and a half years since Murphy started the program.
More international meals are in the works, with talks under way with the Libyan and Moroccan embassies’ chefs to put on toques and the staff to don aprons and cook for hundreds of the U.S. capital’s homeless.
Miriam’s Kitchen is housed in the basement of a church in the upscale Washington neighborhood of Foggy Bottom, near George Washington University and the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. The soup kitchen — which volunteer manager Lawson prefers to call a “super kitchen” — provides around 3,500 meals and other vital services to D.C. residents each year.
About the Author
Karin Zeitvogel is freelance writer for The Washington Diplomat.