Industrial-size serving spoons and large chaffing dishes line the busy workstation at Project Host as Tobin Simpson conveys orders. The bearded instructor is guiding CC Pearce Culinary School students through turkey burger and sweet potato pie preparation. The filling meal is headed for hungry children at an after-school program on Greenville’s west side. The longtime chef left high-end restaurants to bake, broil, and grill at this non-profit. “Not that I don’t like making expensive, pretty food, but to know the food we create here is making a difference, it’s amazing,” he shares, while untying an apron. “To go to sites where we’re feeding 500 kids a day, that’s powerful.”
What’s powerful is how Project Host, a one-time soup kitchen, has broken the tureen to become a facility fronting different programs to nourish the hungry and train the unemployed. Its culinary students take advantage of the free, 11-week long program to gain skills to work in Greenville’s thriving restaurant sector. Paraguayan immigrant Leah Bareiro was fresh out of high school when she first stepped up to this stove. “Going to Johnson and Wales was not an option, never,” she reveals. “This place gave me a head start and provided a safe place to learn and grow. It gave me endless possibilities.” Today the vivacious 23-year-old is a program graduate and a fine-dining line cook at Golden Brown & Delicious.
Operating since 2003, the culinary school is preparing to expand its bakery division, so students can benefit from an additional six months of instruction. “It’s more intensive training where they can specialize in baking and pastries,” explains bakery director Mallory Boyd. “This will also increase our time to do case management with them, and give them a stable income.” The catering division is another Project Host program, where students make money as they simultaneously polish their tools of trade and résumé.
Executive Director Sally Green scans the kitchen, noting how flavors have changed. But the recipe is the same: help those in need by utilizing food. “I’ve been here since 1991,” she says with nostalgia. “I love the people I work with on both sides of the counter.” The committed leader knows the numbers—the soup kitchen once fed 250 a day, but gentrification around South Academy Street cut that in half. “People are still hungry,” she states. “They’re just further away, and so we go to them.” The soup kitchen still feeds 120 daily at headquarters with volunteer help. But culinary school cooks send three to five times as many meals to local churches and centers clustered across City View, San Souci, and White Horse Road. (And to keep things fresh and healthy, the soup kitchen frequently uses produce from its own garden—the first on-site, soup kitchen garden in the nation.)
“I would love to say we’ll put ourselves out of business,” jokes Sally. “But sadly, I think we are always going to have these pockets of hunger. As our community grows and changes, the soup kitchen will continue to adapt. By going to where the people are, we have a good chance to help.” And that’s a hearty dish to feed the soul.
To order specialty goods from the Project Host bakery, register for community dinners, volunteer in the soup kitchen, or work in the garden, visit projecthost.org.