By Suzanne Deveney, Foodable Contributor
Overcoming the stigma of homelessness is one of the biggest challenges facing Inspiration Kitchens, according to Mindy Neveaux, Events Manager at Inspiration Corporation. “We’re a hidden gem in Chicago’s culinary scene. Once people experience the great food and service we provide, they come back often.”
Inspiration Kitchens’ two Chicago locations provide an award-winning foodservice training program for students working to achieve self-sufficiency, and in the process have helped hundreds of individuals gain the skills they need to find employment, and exit homelessness and poverty.
The 13-week training program prepares participants for careers in the hospitality industry through hands-on experiences and classroom training. Under the tutelage of industry professionals, the curriculum includes basic culinary skills and concepts, reading and converting recipes, nutrition education, and sanitation and safety to name a few.
Garfield Park Chef Night
With the help of renowned Chicago chefs Koren Grieveson formerly of avec, Chef Mindy Segal of Hot Chocolate, and Chef Stephanie Izard of Girl and the Goat and Little Goat, Inspiration Kitchens is finding its way past any stigma that may still exist.
Each chef participated in the Garfield Park Chef Night, working alongside Inspiration Kitchens Executive Chef David Rosenthal and his students on multi-course tasting and drink pairing menus. The next event is July 15th with Chef Jonathan Goldsmith of Spacca Napoli.
Classic Meets Southern
Both Inspiration Kitchens locations serve weekend brunch and weekday lunch and dinner, focusing on different menu styles. The Uptown space is contemporary American with options like sautéed mushroom and fennel bruschetta on toasted sourdough with house créme fraîche, BBQ pulled pork Benedict with pickled onions, and root vegetable hash drizzled with pesto.
The Garfield Park spot is decidedly more southern-inspired. Classic items such as shrimp and grits, catfish po boy, and buttermilk-fried chicken appear on the menu. But there’s a bit of whimsy to be found. Matzo ball gumbo, sweet tea brined pork belly, and sweet potato pot de crème served with a housemade marshmallow give a nod to their southern roots.
Lucky for us, their Brussels sprouts are available at both restaurants. Crisp and smoky, they’re sprinkled with Parmesan and served with an herb aioli. Think you don’t like Brussels sprouts? Think again. They’re unbelievably good and not to be missed. The portion is large enough to share as a side dish or appetizer. Other notable appetizers include fried green tomatoes and goat cheese brûlée with pepper jelly.
Inspiration Kitchens is vegetarian-friendly and includes many options at both locations. A standout is their house made quinoa patty with roasted red peppers, caramelized onions, and charred tomato aioli.
You’d expect to pay much more for the quality and quantity of food you get — especially in Chicago. Entrées average $10-$15, brunch items top out about $10.
Giving Back to the Community
Inspiration Kitchens provides a living wage to front-of-the-house staff, and the service is knowledgeable and helpful. Be sure to tip well after your meal: all tips are pooled and given to local churches and organizations to provide meals for working poor families. The best part is that they receive the meal in the form of a restaurant gift card that can be used at Inspiration Kitchens. This enables them to bring their families to dine at the restaurant, and no one is the wiser where the card comes from, why they have it, or who is using it.
The Garfield Park location, housed in a restored warehouse, is completely sustainable and earned a LEED Gold certification in 2012. Chef Rosenthal can often be found out in the adjacent garden, planting lettuce and herbs that make their way to the summer and fall menus.
Visit Inspiration Kitchens in Uptown at 4715 N. Sheridan Road or Garfield Park at 3504 W. Lake Street. Menu changes seasonally, BYOB. For hours and more information, visit www.inspirationkitchens.org.