Chefs are the backbone of so much of the work we do. Whether it’s culinary events that raise critical funds, our nutrition education programs that teach low-income families how to shop and eat on a budget, or even lobbying on Capitol Hill on behalf of hungry kids, chefs are some of our most dedicated volunteers and advocates.
We want to introduce our community to more of these chefs, so we’re starting an ongoing interview series that features these chef advocates. The next in our series is Timon Balloo, executive chef at Sugarcane Raw Bar Grill in Miami. Chef Balloo has participated in Taste of the Nation Miami, the No Kid Hungry Dinner in Palm Beach and co-chaired the Great American Bake Sale at Aventura Mall. Among his numerous accolades, he was a Johnson & Wales Distinguished Visiting Chef Honoree in 2012 and a James Beard Award Semifinalist Nominee for “Best New Restaurants” in 2011, and we are proud to have him on our team. Follow him on Twitter (@ChefTimon) and join him on his journey of eating, cooking and laughing.
How did you become involved in Share Our Strength?
Initially, my first involvement was through the natural cycle of participating in Taste of the Nation Miami and trying to partner up with Share Our Strength. I was going to service days to become more aware, and so our consumers would know we’re a conscious business. Within the last year, I became more in tune thanks to Chef Allen seeing the avid willingness of me wanting to do something, and inviting me to co-chair the Great American Bake Sale at Aventura Mall. It was a great honor and we did a great job this year.
We know that chefs get called upon to give back a lot and are thrilled that you’ve chosen to support Share Our Strength. Are there any experiences that inspired you to get involved in the fight against childhood hunger?
It comes from my upbringing – I grew up with a single mother working two jobs, and putting food on the table was a struggle at times. As a teenager, I had a friend who would come to my house to eat. Initially I shrugged it off, but eventually learned that he was legitimately hungry – there wasn’t any food in the fridge at his home. We tend to take it for granted, but food isn’t privy to everyone. It dawned on me to teach these values along with everything that comes along with raising children.
What are some healthy, kid friendly, low cost dishes that parents could try out on their kids?
Swap out ground beef for ground turkey in everything from spaghetti to lettuce wraps. You can do all of the same things you did with ground beef with ground turkey. Same thing with pasta, swap it out for whole wheat pasta.
What’s the best meal you’ve had in recent memory?
I was just in London (opening up three new restaurants), and was able to have some British fare, which is heavy and gluttonous. The culture of their breakfast is unique – it’s served with two fried eggs, blood sausage and beans.
What ingredients will we always find in your kitchen?
There is a lot of Asian influence: Asian-style oyster sauce, fish sauce and Chinese sausages. Also, 3-4 different types of cheese are always on hand for my four-year-old… and coffee.
Why did you become a chef?
When I was a kid, I used to watch Martin Yan on PBS on Saturday mornings instead of cartoons. He mesmerized me and made the position of a chef this lore. I thought it was unattainable, like being a rock star. I started college for Finance until my then-girlfriend (now my wife) convinced me to pursue my dream, so I started at bar and grill and worked my way up.
What has been your most humbling experience in a kitchen?
Honestly, I make mistakes every day and it’s humbling to learn from the cooks around me. Knowledge comes from various sources: young, old, different cultures. After cooking for so many years you think you know it all and then someone shares a completely different way they cook a product.
What is your guilty food pleasure?
If you had free reign to reform school food, what would you do?
It always comes down to the economics of it, so I would increase the budget allocated to serve good, healthy food. It will pay off on the back end when it comes to the health of our future generations.
What do you want people to know about childhood hunger in America?
That every little bit helps. The thought that maybe you can’t do anything is in no way relevant. Just being proactive can go a long way.