Making food can be so much more than a source of nourishment, especially for Susan Leigh Co-Founder and Executive Director of Fox Valley Food for Health (FVFFH), a Geneva-based non-profit organization. Fueled with a mindset of lifting others up when they can’t walk on their own, Susan and her team of chefs (both veterans and newcomers) are on a mission to build a network of adult and teen volunteers that create nutrient rich meals, nutrition education, and personal caring support.
PB Kitchen Design was happy to meet with Susan in her own kitchen to chat about the impact a simple room has on people, and why all that time invested preparing a meal makes food taste different…
PB Kitchen Design – FVFFH does so much more than provide nutritious meals for individuals and families dealing with life-threatening illnesses. How can preparing meals in a kitchen impact a person’s life, both on the creating end and the receiving end?
Susan Leigh – It feeds the soul. This is the creation of beautiful meals made with a full heart. The people who come to FVFFH come from Oncology departments, Living Well Cancer Resource Center, and personal referrals. They are members of our community that we could potentially see and interact with on any given day.
Most people are going through three months of chemotherapy and our job is to serve them (free) meals that are healthy and organically-based and beautiful, for 12 weeks. Eight dishes are delivered each week and at the end of their treatment, if meals are still needed, we extend that for them. And we don’t forget about the family members either. Life threatening illness affects the entire family and everyone is going through this experience together, so the meals provided are sufficient for everyone under that particular roof.
PB – Teens are a big part of the FVFFH team. How does the experience of being active in healthy meal prep help them grow from a personal standpoint?
SL – There is a time in every teen’s life when they are separating from their parents and longing for independence, and the opportunity for leadership and personal discovery of strengths is abundant. Our volunteers’ commitment is 12 weeks, which includes training, learning basic life skills in the kitchen, and safety and sanitation guidelines. Not only do these students learn teamwork and culinary skills, they learn the deep value of giving back.
If a student finds that (he/she) is a natural leader in the kitchen, they can earn thier chef jacket by mastering recipes, teaching peers, leading orientation for new volunteers and demonstrating these skills in their communities. Once they complete this rite of passage to leadership, they are a part of the FVFFH Management Team.
PB – Let’s talk kitchen design – describe your dream kitchen.
SL – My kitchen combines function and beauty. I have some beautiful old plates amid framed handwritten recipes from my mother. It has an overall feel of sentiment. And I love texture. I’ve combined old copper pots with the soft wall color and really like the granite against the white cabinets. It’s a great entertaining kitchen – we hosted a party in the spring for the chefs I work with like Betsy Sanchez, a pastry chef from the College of DuPage pastry chef, and Marc Bernard from Rustic Road Farm in Elburn… We were all in the kitchen! The entire island was set up with dishes like slow roasted pork and pickled zucchini. Then we sat around and ate, talking about food and cooking!
PB – What impresses you about residential kitchen design today?
SL – The PB Kitchen Design portfolio makes me swoon and the creative storage they come up with makes it so easy to cook! That encourages people to cook, I think, if it’s easy. Eliminating the congestion factor is a great feature. I frequently have many chefs in my kitchen at the same time, so having more than one workstation would be really convenient.
PB – What is your “Food Philosophy” when planning and making meals?
SL – So many words come to mind: beauty, fresh, unprocessed, vegetables, wild and sustainable, vegetables, organic, local, vegetables, fruits grains, hearty soups, clean and colorful – and VEGETABLES!
PB – Why do you think the kitchen is an important room in homes today? How can we use the power of nutritious food and community to build relationships both under our own roofs and out in the world?
SL – The kitchen is always where people end up! Love is there, laughter, stories, savory smells… There is always this anticipation of wonderful food and wine. When it comes to cooking, especially with FVFFH clients, they feel embraced by a community who cares for them, and all of that is part of healing physically and emotionally. You can’t put a value on it.
The students that work with us create such a beautiful presentation of the food. So much time is spent in the kitchen preparing and packaging and labeling. We even physically put the meals into the clients’ kitchens and give them a “tour” of what they will be eating for the week along with instructions. All of that time invested takes heart and soul. It’s different. The food tastes different.