After years in various kitchens, working his way up from dishwasher to cook, and ultimately chef de partie at Eleven Madison Park, Matt Jozwiak left the fine-dining world behind in 2017 to start Rethink Food NYC, a nonprofit organization that partners with restaurants and grocery stores to reduce excess food and make nutritious, low-cost meals available to the communities that need it most. The organization now counts one café, three roving food trucks, and a number of food-world entities—including Ghetto Gastro and Jozwiak’s former boss, chef Daniel Humm—as collaborators in its mission to fight food insecurity and foster a more sustainable, equitable food system.
How did you get into the food world?
I had trouble paying for college, so I started washing dishes in Kansas. I later moved to Chicago, and then to Europe, then back to Chicago, working at some great restaurants, and ended up in New York, where my last restaurant job was at Eleven Madison Park. Along the way, I’ve been really grateful for the opportunity and privilege of finding and getting that first dishwashing job and working my way up: I’ve always believed in that aspect of the restaurant industry. But I was also kind of frustrated with the way that restaurant workers were perceived, and the way that the industry was run, so I thought, If I ever got to a really high level, I could make a difference. But then I realized there needed to be a vehicle for change.
What led you to move into the nonprofit sector and start Rethink Food?
The biggest, most controversial issue at the time was food waste, which has gotten exponentially worse throughout my career. If there’s a myth that’s still going around, it’s that it’s illegal for restaurants to donate leftover food. So I thought, Let’s fix the most practical, obvious issue that we can tackle. We started picking up excess food and redistributing it to our neighborhoods.
At the end of a restaurant’s night, there might be roasted chicken left over—but what are you going to do with the six quarts of lemon juice and four gallons of celery-root trim or avocado mousse? And it’s not just high-end restaurants that have this problem, but all restaurants. It’s too much of a hodgepodge of random or specific ingredients for people to deal with. But what we found was that if you bring those random ingredients into one central location, you can create something pretty tasty. And you can make a lot of food.
In March, you opened Rethink Café, right as the Covid-19 closures were beginning in New York. How has it been to adapt to the pressures of the pandemic?
We already had the lease, so we were like, Let’s just open it. When Covid hit the city, we looked at the situation and asked ourselves, “What are going to be the issues?” Decentralized production is going to be a big thing, because you don’t want everybody cooking in one big space. And then distribution is a really hard thing, so we thought, Public distribution points are going to be our best friend.
I’ve never worked so hard in my life. There were days where I’d get off a call and be on the verge of tears, hearing all the awful shit happening, or people coming to ask for help on things that are out of my control. A lot of it came down to health and safety, negotiating with our staff, trying to get them to come in. I was running around looking for PPE supplies and ended up buying a bunch of painter’s suits—nobody had thought to buy painter’s suits. They were in stock, and had a mask built into them, so I bought every one I could find. Now, some months on, with the curve flattened here, I feel like we’re headed in the right direction. But I’m really worried [now that the] weekly $600 unemployment checks have run out.
The need for Rethink is even more urgent now, as the pandemic has exacerbated food insecurity issues among communities of need.
Food insecurity takes a lot of different forms, especially when we talk about systemic issues in neighborhoods and “food deserts” with a lack of access to fresh produce and groceries. Generally, people don’t like going to community centers to get their lunch. So they’ll go to a bodega or a fast food place like McDonald’s with a dollar menu of foods that are loaded with sodium. They’re basically designed to get you to buy a Coca-Cola, because it’s much easier and shelf-stable to sell a Coke than it is a hamburger. That contributes to obesity and all sorts of health issues.
For Rethink, our approach is: Let’s not try to change people. Let’s change what they buy. We have a low-cost lunch at the café for a suggested donation of $5, and we have three food trucks of meals that go around. It’s priced so that people are encouraged to try it out. So far, the reception has been great. It’s typically very hard to get feedback on social services, and people don’t like to complain about things that are free. But we encourage it, because it’ll shape the way we make food, and that’s the point. We want Rethink to be a place where people feel they can go in and give us a hard time if it’s not what they want. There’s actually this one person who calls me every Wednesday to ask what’s on the menu that week, and then calls me again to tell me how it was. Sometimes she loves it. Other times, she’ll be honest and say, “I don’t know about this…” [Laughs] Which is great. We love to get direct feedback from the community. It’s exactly what we need.
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Lexie Smith is an artist and baker, though it’s only relatively recently, after years of working in restaurant kitchens and balanciBread on Earth. Her work often takes on various forms, from performance and installation to photography, writing, and publishing, all
Extolled by New York City’s finest restaurants, from Daniel to Eleven Madison Park and abcV, as well as a growing coteriDavocadoguy, is seemingly everyone’s go-to guy for the best avocados. He keeps his supply consistently stocked and perfectly ripene
Supermarkets put billions of pounds of perfectly fine, edible food to waste each year for the very silly, Goldilocks reanearly half of all harvested produce is never eaten. The home-delivery start-up Misfits Market aims to right the wrong of this senseless global food crisis, selling only produce that is certified organic, non-GMO,
Marfa may be known as a site of pilgrimage for lovers of minimalist art—its expansive desert sky, open landscape, and ofCooking in Marfa: Welcome, We’ve Been Expecting You (Phaidon). The collection of essays and recipes, featuring local ingredients and dishes, from prickly pear to chicharrón
The idea of “pantry cooking” connotes a sense of resourcefulness—the humble term focused on the shelf lives of whatever Esquire food and drinks editor Jeff Gordinier told us on Ep. 10 of At a Distance, canned food can be every bit as delicious as the fresh stuff, if not exceedingly so. Conservas, tinned seafood products from Spain and Portugal, can last for months, if not years, in the cupboard, but that seems topiquillo peppers stuffed with bonito tuna. Chicken of the Sea, these are not. Fortunately, you can browse and find all sorts of conservas online from grocers such as La Tienda and Chicago’s Wixter Market, and fuel those wanderlust dreams of a trip to the Iberian coast. “The other day I tried zamburiñas,” Gordinier told us on the podcast, with excitement. “Have you heard of that? See, this is interesting. I'm still seeki
First came the sourdough craze; next, homemade cheese. Ricotta, to be specific. Since pandemic times, home cooking has ta recent episode of At a Distance. “For me, it was so wild how far away we had come from that, as a species—the fact that most people don’t know how to htry this recipe), requiring only two ingredients: milk and lemon. Add a bit of patience, which is something we could all stand to pract
Dr. Brian Fisher, an entomologist and curator at the California Academy of Sciences, has studied and identified countless species of antadvocating for an insect-focused approach to nutrition and natural conservation. Here, Fisher tells us why eating insects is a healthy practice for both our bodies and the planet.
Whetstone Magazine Co-Founder and “Origin Forager” Stephen Satterfield on Food, Culture, and Identity
The co-founder of Whetstone magazine and host of the food anthropology podcast Point of Origin, food writer Stephen Satterfield spent more than a decade working as a sommelier before venturing into the world of medEsquire, Food & Wine, New York magazine, and other publications, Satterfield tells us about his role as a self-described “origin forager,” and why the
With Memorial Day weekend behind us, summer has officially begun, and for many home-growers, this signifies the busiest Kitazawa Seed Company, founded in 1917 by a Japanese American family, sells some of the best, and offers more than 500 seed varieties of dento yasai, traditional heirloom varieties of a diverse array of Asian vegetables used in Japanese, Korean, and Chinese cuisines, Browse the extensive catalog to learn about all the delicious varieties, and pick up some recipes for dishes such as sunomono, a simple and refreshing cucumber salad, and kinpira gobo, a savory side of burdock root sautéed in sweet soy sauce.