Clinton couple working toward ‘community solutions’ to hunger

"Photo: A dinner at the Frenches' own table: from left are Chef Tom French, Katie French, Lois DuPey and Victor Petrenko. Joining the meal are the two French children.Tableau@WTO - 100 for 100Thursday, Dec. 2, 6:30 p.m.Town Hall, 8th and Seneca, SeattleFeaturing a live video stream on the World Wide WebA Tableau vigil begins Thanksgiving Day and continues through Dec. 2.For more information, visit or email Tom and Katie French have an ambitious goal: “We want to create active solutions to world hunger by the year 2003,” is their categorical statement.It would seem a daunting task for just two people, a young couple with small boys ages 3 and 2 living on an island in the Northwest. But the Frenches -- Tom a chef and Katie in food services -- are determined, and single-minded. And they have made a start, gathering support and partners of remarkable diversity in an array of endeavors directed toward their objective. The Frenches, who moved to Sandy Hook just this year, are the founders of Tableau, an organization with the purpose of designing and convening “community conversations, while sharing a meal.” They have also started The Bountiful Table, a not-for-profit corporation that is working toward community solutions for emergency meal programs, food banks and child nutrition, with the end goal of designing “social entrepreneurial programs that build self-sufficiency.” The project plans a national event on Oct. 7, 2000, when people will participate in a community experience by building, setting and dining at community tables. There will also be a National Table in Washington, D.C., allying communities, farmers, fishers, chefs and others. And here on the island, they have started Coats and Crayons, a drive to bring warm clothing and art supplies to a shelter for homeless children in Russia.The two were both involved in “food and the business of food” when they met and married.Tom French had grown up in a food family in Arkansas. He moved to New Orleans when he was 18, did a European apprenticeship and was a chef on the Delta Queen and at the Commander’s Palace, “among many others,” he said.Katie French grew up here in the Northwest and was in the food service field. Their move to Seattle four years ago was accompanied by a “change of lifestyle” and a commitment to working against hunger.“I say ‘Shame on us,’” Tom French said. “With the amount of wealth and resources in this area, we are eighth in the country in the number of children who go to bed hungry every night.”We have, he says, “an obligation” to feed children and the elderly. “They must be first in line.”The Frenches’ intensity manifested itself first in work with several programs that serve the homeless and disadvantaged. They were active in the Northwest emergency food distribution system: Headstart and childcare programs, aging and disability agencies and emergency shelters.Chef Tom began Fare Start (formerly Common Meals). The program operates two cafes and contracts for meals to homeless shelters while providing job training in food services. “We prepared three meals a day, 365 days a year for 1,000 kids at three homeless shelters,” French said. He visited the cafes and food preparation sites, helped develop a training curriculum, taught classes.“We also did a brisk business in catering for corporate clientele, and contracted to deliver meals to homes for the disabled,” he said.“It’s interesting to see who gets what food in the community,” French added. He says he feels compelled to talk about the “food chain,” to see how the sifting process works.French left the Fare Start program when he found he wanted to do more than was allowed by the capacity of the organization. “I want to play a little bigger part in the world,” he said. He and Katie started their business, Tableau, which brings people together around a table and creates “an environment of collaboration that encourages productive and positive results.” Since the beginning of humankind, French says, people have gathered around food -- for both nourishment and a sense of community.“When you have people around a table eating together, something magic happens,” he said. The dynamics of interactive conversation motivate people into action, he said.“It’s primal DNR -- meat around the fire. A meal is an integral piece of the day, and it’s where people discover what they have in common.” The platters on the table are oversized. “There’s food down there that looks really good and that you can’t reach,” French said. “You have to ask your neighbor to pass the plate. People are in service to each other, and they have to talk to each other.” People tell stories, talk of things they are passionate about.“Something happens, a ‘stirring,’” French said. “It stirs something up.”The food itself is “simplistically elegant,” he said: There might be pears with calamata olives, goat cheese and salmon eggs. Or a Mediterranean platter, with asparagus, feta cheese, artichokes and fresh bread with olive oil. Perhaps a platter of game hens. There is a basket of breads, and the only entree served is salmon.“There is always salmon,” he said, “because the salmon’s story is one of hope. Its entire existence is based on one daunting journey, where ‘no’ is not an option.”French has prepared a Tableau for groups of teachers and administrators, corporations, nonprofit organizations, community groups and government agencies -- even families. There was a Tableau recently at the Whidbey Institute on the island, one in B.C. and one in Russia. It was through this project that he met Lois DuPey, president of Magna C, Inc., a company that manages, invests in and operates fish processing plants in Russia.“Tom’s ideas intrigued me,” DuPey said. “In Russia there is no funding for need. So we have to empower business to meet the needs of the community.” DuPey described the Tech Institute that trains chefs, addresses food standards and management programs. “It’s the concept of ‘social entrepreneurship,’” Tom French said. “Generating wealth through what people do.” It also, he says, “puts a whole new value on eating.”During his trip to Russia, French and DuPey visited a shelter for homeless children.“I was quite moved,” DuPey said. “I wanted to help them, get involved personally.” With the help of DuPey’s partner in Russia, Victor Petrenko, DuPey and French were able to secure three tons of salmon, which will be used by the local culinary program to feed the hungry.They also saw a pressing need for warm winter clothing, and noticed at the same time how the children at the shelter brightened when they were given coloring crayons.“It was a joyous thing,” DuPey said. “Color and fun made them forget about the world.”Now, back home, Tom and Katie French have mounted a drive for warm coats and boots as well as art supplies to encourage the creativity seen in the young people. “We’ll collect this month and December and ship in a container in January,” Katie French said.In the meantime, Chef Tom and Tableau are preparing for an immediate venture. He is convening a community meal called Tableau@WTO -- 100 for 100 -- to take place on Dec. 2, Food and Agriculture Day, in Town Hall in Seattle during the meeting of the World Trade Organization.“One hundred people from different countries, organizations, religions and cultures will share food around a large circular table,” French explained. “The conversation will center on strategies that will most significantly affect world hunger.” A circle of observers will surround the people gathered at the table, including media, young people, writers, photographers, artists and community elders. The Tableau will continue for 100 days on the Internet via a Web site hosted by BigMind Media.“It’s an alternative to closed door meetings and street protests,” French said. “There is room for civil discourse.” In conjunction with the meal, Tableau will conduct an ongoing vigil during the WTO that will allow people to meditate or pray for active solutions to world hunger. “A table will be set with fish, wine and bread while a candle burns brightly,” French said. “The table will be attended at all times by witnesses and members of the spiritual community as a testament to our ability to work together to address this issue. All human beings have a “Right to Eat.”Help with Coats and CrayonsChef Tom and Katie French of Sandy Hook are asking for help in organizing a drive for warm clothing and art supplies for a homeless children’s shelter in Russia. The project, being undertaken in particular here on the island, derives from a recent trip to Russia by Chef Tom, when he visited the shelter in KamchatkaIt is named Theotokos, after the Russian orthodox icon, and it is called “The unexpected joy,” French said. The shelter is run by Mother Maria Mikhalovn, and at present provides a safe environment, three meals a day and clothing to more than 50 children. In addition to the resident children, Mother Maria provides support to many other families in the community, French said.When he visited the shelter, Chef Tom found a building in poor condition, with sanitary conditions that he calls “extremely challenging” and a pressing and urgent need for warm coats and boots. While he was there, French was able to secure a large amount of salmon and other food items and place them in cold storage, “thanks to Magna C. and Morskey Veter Corporation.” Now, the Frenches want to collect the warm coats and boots that are vital for the children at Theotokos.“We would also like to provide art supplies to the shelter so the kids can create artwork,” Katie French said. The artwork will be used to create a 2000-2001 calendar which will then sold to provide more funds for the shelter. “Our long-term goals include a central kitchen that can provide meals to other shelters, orphanages and hospitals,” she said.The collection period is December, with a projected shipping date of Jan. 6, 2000. The drive needs groups to participate, such as churches, schools, offices, social clubs or civic and community organizations. “We can provide customized flyer design, strategic support, Chef Tom as a speaker, and interim storage of donated items,” French said. To help, contact Katie French at 579-2715 or "

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