How OC's own former five-star chef and current cook for those in need, via his nonprofit Bracken's Kitchen, continues to serve hope
Although he modestly insists that he is just “a simple boy from Kansas,” Bill Bracken is a nationally renowned chef who has accrued numerous awards and critical acclaim during his 35-year culinary career. After working as an Executive Chef in five-star restaurants and hotels across the West (think the Four Seasons, The Peninsula Hotel, The Island Hotel and many more), Bill followed his real culinary calling and passion — feeding those who need it most. Bracken’s Kitchen, the nonprofit he founded in 2013, served more than 300,000 hot, tasty and nutritious meals in 2019. Now, in the time of COVID-19, Bracken’s Kitchen is serving exponentially more people in need, with an expanded staff that includes recently laid-off local restaurant pros. Bill took a rare, very short break from preparing and serving meals for a quick Quarantine Q+A.
Q: What about the current quarantine situation have you liked best - if you had to pick something to like?
BB: Since we separated our shifts at the kitchen, I now have to be out the door by 1:30 pm (after the morning shift) to allow the kitchen to be cleaned and sanitized before the PM team comes in. This means I am home earlier than I ever have been. Daily bike rides with my wife and 10 year old is just one of the new daily rituals. We are exploring neighborhoods all around us that we have driven by, but never through.
Q: What about quarantine has been the most challenging for you and why?
BB: I get to go to the kitchen every day and take positive steps forward to help which is amazing for one’s emotional outlook. Knowing that it is hard to complain, but I do miss my weekend trips to Home Depot.
Q: Have you learned anything about yourself during this time? What? Anything surprising that you didn't know about yourself before?
BB: I’ve spent far too many years psychoanalyzing myself to be surprised by anything at this point in my life.
Q: Where have you been turning for inspiration during this time?
BB: God and my friends. Even if you are not a believer, the Bible is the best self help book ever written.
Q: How has being in quarantine affected your work?
BB: The need for food has never been greater in Southern California, at least not that I am aware of. So the quarantining of our communities and so many people losing their jobs has made our work at Bracken’s Kitchen more important than ever.
Q: Quarantine cuisine - any new or old favorites you've been enjoying more during quarantine? What and why?
BB: I usually try to get fancy once a week and polish my old fine dining skills for the family, but usually what I’m eating is very much like what we do at the kitchen. We’ve been making a lot of one pot meals at home. The rainy weather has played a part in this. That aside, with some of the concerns with food supply chains and meat plants shutting down, the best way to stretch your meat and chicken is to put it into a savory pot of stew, chili or the like. Adding a lot of vegetables and stock makes it a great meal with leftovers.
Q: Are there more holistic lessons that you hope society/our culture/the world will take away from quarantine (after it's over) -- things we've learned as a society during this time?
BB: I would hope that we all will learn the importance of relationships and not take them for granted. How healthy and good it is to be “WITH” people. As well, the importance of our freedom and ability to do as we please. America is the greatest country on earth and I hope that our freedom to come and go as we please will be renewed and more appreciated than ever.
Q: Any tip/s you can share with others that have made this time more bearable for you?
BB: I am thoroughly convinced that life is 10% what happens to me and 90% how I respond to it. So it is with you, we are all in charge of our attitudes. It’s all in how we choose to think about and respond to it.
Q: If this COVID quarantine "thing" was a character in a movie, what would he/she/it look like and what would be his/her/its traits? Hero or villain?
BB: Hmmm, I’m kinda landing on Anakin Skywalker, aka Darth Vader. Started out kind of innocent like and then got real ugly for a while but in the end there was some good that came out of it.
Q: What will you appreciate more after quarantine is over
BB: Our amazing volunteers at the kitchen. We miss them so much.
To learn more about Bracken's Kitchen, and to donate, please visit their website at www.brackenskitchen.org.