Chef D. Brandon Walker of St. Joseph’s Center

Episode 108

Video Transcription

Jackie Keller: Welcome to Food Exposed where each week we take a good
look at what’s on your plate. My name is Jackie Keller and
today we’re talking about the whole DYI thing, no not arts
and crafts DYI but the art of crafting something wonderful to
eat. Making something delicious from whatever you can
scrounge up in the kitchen, that’s like play with your food
elevated to a whole new level. And you know you don’t have to
go far to find cooking shows of all types these days from
mild to wild and wacky, but if you struggle with cooking and
don’t want to spend all of your money eating out, here are a
couple of really simple, quick menu planning tips.

Number one, organize your food stuff. Pull the old cans, the jars,
the packages, go ahead check for expiration dates, don’t be
afraid of what you’re going to find. Be prepared to dispose
of anything that isn’t wholesome or a mystery food, like if
it doesn’t have a wrapper, you donate or your throw it away.
Anything that you can’t use or don’t need or haven’t thought
of what to do with.

Number two, assess what you’ve got left in terms of the food groups.
I like to think of it in terms of fruits and veggies then
proteins, grains, and if you can’t tell because there is no
label on it, just open it, dump it, and recycle the contents
of the can.

Number three, go online or look at your recipe files for those major
ingredients that you have left. And even if you can’t find
something to match exactly, you’ll get inspired by reading
other recipes or seeing what other people have done with that
ingredient. Remember it’s already bought and paid for if it’s
in your pantry or your refrigerator, so you’re really not
losing anything by trying and who knows, you just may love
what you create.

My guest today is an expert at doing just that. He’s an expert at
making magic in the kitchen. Chef D. Brandon Walker is the
program manager and instructor of the Culinary Training
Program at St. Joseph’s Center in Venice, California, and he
also serves as the Executive Chef at Bread and Roses Cafe
where they feed the homeless with a gourmet meal five days a
week. Last summer he won the competition on the hit TV show
Chopped and I am so proud to welcome Chef D to Food Exposed.
Thank you so much for coming.

Chef D: Well thank you, it’s my pleasure.

Jackie Keller: I’ve got you out of the kitchen.

Chef D: Yeah, that’s right.

Jackie Keller: So tell me about St. Joseph’s Center. Let’s start with
that because I know that is your main stay, your passion,
your focus right now.

Chef D: Well, I’ve been working at the St. Joseph’s Center in Venice
Beach for seven years now.

Jackie Keller: Has it been that long since we worked together?

Chef D: Yeah, it’s been seven years and I really found my passion
there. It’s about helping the people that are most vulnerable
in the community and there’s a great synergy between two
programs at the St. Joseph Center which is the Culinary
Training Program and the Bread and Roses Cafe. So everything
that I’m teaching the under employed and unemployed at the
CTP or the Culinary Training Program, we utilize those same
techniques down at the Bread and Roses Cafe where we take
what really in essence other people would throw away and we
create these gourmet meals.

So the synergy is, again, wonderful between the two programs and it
raises, it elevates the level of food at the cafe and I don’t
think that there is anymore appropriate time or reason to
give someone a great meal as when they’re at their lowest.
And again, we’re serving the homeless men and women and low-
income families.

Jackie Keller: Wow, so if I understand it correctly, I mean, it’s really
. . . And I visited once, and very briefly, so I didn’t see
how the whole operation works, but people make reservations
and they come, they sit down, they’re waited on. It’s not
like a soup kitchen.

Chef D: No, it’s not a soup kitchen and that’s a really important
aspect of what we do at Bread and Roses is that everyone
makes a reservation. So their name appears on a list that is
then printed out and then we receive them at the time that
they’ve made a reservation for either 9:30, 10:30, 11:30,
whenever they’ve made their reservation. What we’re striving
for is accountability. We need people to show up and be a
part of their own solution. And so basically you go through
an orientation at another site which is called the homeless
service center, which is about a couple blocks away.

And there you go through orientation and you are assigned a case
worker. And the case worker sits down and says, “What got you
here?” Let’s try to figure out what’s happening whether it be
mental illness or some type of addiction. And then one of our
core competencies at the agency that we pride ourselves on is
our ability to give someone a referral to bring in our, you
know, our other agencies that are doing good work in the
community and get someone the help that they need. So we’re
not just feeding someone and then, you know, having them, you
know, shuffle along.

Jackie Keller: Go back on the street.

Chef D: Right, correct.

Jackie Keller: Right.

Chef D: We really want them to be accountable and to check in with us
each and every day, so that’s one of the privileges of doing
that is being able to eat at the Bread and Roses Cafe which
is such a unique place.

Jackie Keller: Wow, that is just wonderful work. It must be so gratifying
to hear people who literally would otherwise potentially be
eating food off the street to be able to serve them something
that’s wholesome.

Chef D: Well, that’s what brings in that nutrition component. That’s
what makes it so vital that we’re giving them something that
is wholesome and nutritious because for most of those folks
that will be the only meal that they’ll eat that day.

Jackie Keller: Wow, and the Bread and Roses Cafe relies on donations or .
. .

Chef D: It’s a combination. Basically, we have great partners in the
community like Whole Foods and Panera Bread, and California
Chicken Cafe. And they are great partners and they donate
things that they are a day of or no longer able to sell for
some reason and so they’ll go ahead and give those to us
which we utilize. We also utilize . . . Most of our fruits
and vegetables come from the West Side Food Bank which is a
great organization that is affiliated with the Los Angeles
Regional Food Bank, so that’s another great partner of ours.

Everything else we shop for ourselves because there are certain items
that you just can’t get donated or don’t get donated usually
like proteins. So I’ll usually go out and buy a protein and
then I’ll combine that with whatever we happen to have on

So one week we’ll get grapefruits and zucchinis, and bell peppers.
And then the next week we’ll get a sack of potatoes and some
carrots. So whatever I have and then I think, well, what am I
teaching over at Culinary Training? So if we’re making a
classical French brown sauce then maybe we’ll go and buy some
beef and we can put together something like a beef
bourguignon, and use the carrots, and use the potatoes.

Jackie Keller: Right.

Chef D: And so that’s basically how I do my menu planning.

Jackie Keller: That’s great and I know that you do a lot of menu planning
for your own catering business as well. Tell us a little
about that.

Chef D: I run a successful catering business here in Los Angeles. It’s
called Commis which is it just means cook or humbled cook in
French. And we do corporate galas. We do dinner parties. We
do weddings, a lot of weddings. We do parties for 20 people,
for 200, for 500 people in the past. And that certainly keeps
me busy because I do work full-time at the St. Joseph Center.
But it, again, is a real passion of mine to do this elevated
seasonal farm to table really style cooking for really a wide
range of clients. And that usually takes up my time on
Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sundays. I’m usually doing events
each and every week pretty much.

Jackie Keller: Wow, so where do you have time for family?

Chef D: Well, luckily I’ve got these wonderful little girls. I have
three girls, ages four, five, and nine, and they love to
cook. So I get them down at Bread and Roses. They’re
volunteering . . .

Jackie Keller: Oh, that’s great.

Chef D: . . . which is such a great, you know, and that’s really
important to me, being a great example for them. And so they
come down and they help out in the kitchen and then when
we’re at home they kind of understand, and they help with
dinner. And so I have benchmarks in my life like, okay, I’m
going to coach my daughter’s basketball team regardless of
how busy I get. I’m going to be home for dinner as much as I
possibly can and we’re going to sit down and we’re even going
to prepare that food together. So things like that, that’s
basically how I keep it all in balance. It’s just that
certain things I will not compromise.

Jackie Keller: And in the middle of all that was Chopped, tell us about

Chef D: Yes, 2013 was an amazing year both at the Bread and Roses Cafe,
for St. Joseph Center, for me personally, the business is
doing better than ever. And then along comes the opportunity
to be on Chopped which is one of my favorite shows. I think
it’s such a successful show on the Food Network because it’s
not really about personality, it’s really about the cooking.
It’s four chefs, mystery ingredients, a clock, they start it,
boom, you got to go, and then you’re judged, and then
somebody gets chopped. And I was fortunate enough to come out
on top. So yes, I am officially Chopped Champion.

Jackie Keller: Hey!

Chef D: And the great thing about it is they came down to Bread and
Roses. They did all of the back story there and the bio
pieces, and the amount of attention and notoriety that it’s
brought to the good work that we’re doing out there in
Venice, I mean, we’re getting letters from Vermont and New
York, and you name it.

Jackie Keller: That’s great.

Chef D: Yeah, it’s just so wonderful to be able to go and say, look, I
may cook at a place that gives the food away and we might
utilize things that people have no use for otherwise, but we
can still produce food that comes out and is on a
tremendously high level of execution.

Yeah, so I think what prepared me for the show, I mean, little did
they realize is that I am really going through an episode of
Chopped each and every day at the Bread and Roses Cafe
because, I mean, we’re literally walking in in the morning
and someone will walk down the street and one of our
neighbors will come in with a basket full of these giant
zucchinis or eggplant. And so you really never know what
you’re going to get and so I was well prepared fortunately.

Jackie Keller: Well, I think you’re going to be well prepared for what
we’re going to do because I could not resist doing a little
co-cooking with you here.

Chef D: Oh, no.

Jackie Keller: It maybe seven years since we shared the kitchen when you
worked for me and we cooked together, but I thought we’d do a
little bit of that today.

Chef D: Awesome.

Jackie Keller: So I have some mystery ingredients for you. Are you ready
for your challenge here on Food Exposed?

Chef D: I am. I am ready.

Jackie Keller: Well let’s go cook.

Chef D: Okay.

Jackie Keller: Okay Chef D, so now is the time for you to absorb this
challenge because what we’re going to do is throw it
together. I just bought some ingredients from the kitchen and
I thought you could create something wonderful from it. I
know you can. I did pick the ingredients for a reason, so
real quick I brought some cooked brown rice.

Chef D: Okay.

Jackie Keller: Because we know that that’s wholesome, nutritious, high
fiber . . .

Chef D: Fiber.

Jackie Keller: . . . good base. And then kale because you know
everything’s kale these days.

Chef D: I love kale, personal favorite of mine.

Jackie Keller: Good, good, and I steamed it a little bit because kale
does better with a little bit of time, so I know time would
be of the essence. So I steamed a little fresh kale for you.
We chopped some red bell peppers.

Chef D: Great.

Jackie Keller: And I brought some almonds because this is another one of
my favorite nutritionally . . .

Chef D: Dense foods, yeah.

Jackie Keller: Really great, great nutritional calories there, great
Vitamin E, and great Omega-3 Fatty Acids, and then because I
love dried fruit, I brought some unsulfured slivered dried
apricots. You have some vegetable broth to work with.

Chef D: Okay.

Jackie Keller: You have some extra virgin olive oil and you have one of
our salt and sugar free seasoning blends. This is the
Mediterranean blend which you probably remember from when you
worked with me.

Chef D: Yes, wonderful. I love that stuff.

Jackie Keller: So the pan is getting hot and I’m going to turn the
cooking over to you.

Chef D: Okay.

Jackie Keller: And let you just kind of go for it and put something
together for us.

Chef D: Okay, wonderful.

Jackie Keller: All right.

Chef D: Yeah.

Jackie Keller: So.

Chef D: Well, this is really my philosophy . . .

Jackie Keller: Yeah.

Chef D: . . . that there are just certain recipes that work and then to
understanding why those recipes work really will set you free
from the necessity of having a recipe. So we will just get
started by adding a little bit of fat to the pan and that’s
pretty hot there.

Jackie Keller: Yeah, I’m going to cool it down a little bit for you.

Chef D: That’s warm.

Jackie Keller: Yeah, this thing really heats up well.

Chef D: And we’ll start with the aromatics. And the aromatics, you
know, this could be celery, this could be onion, yeah, these
beautiful red bell peppers, this is great, this is great. And
so we’ll just kind of, I mean, you can already smell that.

Jackie Keller: Right.

Chef D: That’s wonderful. And so this is flavoring the fat that we have
in the pan and it’s just going to get a little bit of
carmelization on it, and we’ll just have those soften. And
again, I mean, I would add some fresh herbs to this.

Jackie Keller: Right.

Chef D: Any kind of onion. It’s really about what you have on hand. And
now this looks like leftovers from my house. This looks like
brown rice that you know . . .

Jackie Keller: It’s just plain cooked.

Chef D: Rice is just one of those things. Right? You always make a
little bit too much and you always end up with some of it
leftover. So the next thing that we’ll do is add the nuts.
The thing about when you’re cooking with nuts is that they’re
very high in fat, good at fat, but they will burn on you. So
that’s why we add them halfway through the cooking process.
The same way that you would do garlic.

Jackie Keller: Right.

Chef D: You know? So I would have the onions or the peppers going first
and then I would add the nuts or the garlic about halfway

Jackie Keller: It smells great already.

Chef D: Yeah, because you’re going to start getting the toastiness from
the nuts.

Jackie Keller: Right, right, and that toasting does bring out all the
flavor and fragrance of the nut.

Chef D: Basically yeah, I mean, what’s going on is that Maillard
reaction where you’ve got proteins and carbohydrates that are
browning at temperatures over 120 degrees Celsius and they
are forming new flavored molecules. That’s what’s making this
so delicious.

Jackie Keller: Yeah, yeah. I’m going to give this a little bit since
we’ve got some stuff in the pan now.

Chef D: A little bit of juice. Yeah, and then go ahead and add the
dried apricots. Now again, these are high in sugar. They have
quite a bit of fructose, not processed sugar, so this is good
sugar. But because they do have that sugar content you kind
of have to watch out for these guys as well because they will
burn as well. So it’s about proportion and timing. So what am
I basing this on? I’m doing about one part aromatic, one part
nut, one part fruit.

Jackie Keller: Okay.

Chef D: Just kind of a one to one ratio. I’m going to add a little bit
more fat to the pan.

Jackie Keller: And you can also, I know, moisten it with a little bit of
vegetable broth if you want to . . .

Chef D: So what I’m doing is I’m creating a fond on the bottom of the

Jackie Keller: Yeah.

Chef D: And then I’m going to go ahead and deglaze it because this is
just about the time and you can see that it’s starting to
brown up there.

Jackie Keller: Yeah.

Chef D: It’s a lot of flavor.

Jackie Keller: Yeah.

Chef D: And I’ll go ahead and add my vegetable stock just enough to
cover the bottom of the pan, and then we’ll go ahead and kind
of scrap and get all of those tasty bits up off the bottom of
the pan. And this is classic French technique here. So just a
little technique goes a long way for a lot of different

Jackie Keller: Now do you emphasize this kind of cooking technique at the
St. Joseph’s Center in your program?

Chef D: I do. This is exactly what I teach because it’s so practical.
And no matter what the flavor profiles that a certain chef
works with, most of the techniques are very similar. So when
I prepare the students with these techniques, they do really
well when they eventually get to their jobs.

Jackie Keller: Yeah.

Chef D: We have graduates of the program that are now executive chefs
and it’s just absolutely mind blowing.

Jackie Keller: That’s wonderful. I know I’ve employed several of your

Chef D: Yes.

Jackie Keller: We start them out in our kitchen and I’m always grateful
to know that I can rely on the basic training that they’ve
had through you.

Chef D: Well, that’s the cool thing about being a chef. It’s like a
family tree. Your resume speaks volume and it’s all about
where you’ve been and who you’ve learned from, so I’m happy
to have come from the NutriFit kitchens. And you can see that
this is actually starting to like make like kind of a syrup.

Jackie Keller: Yeah, it is. It’s thickening.

Chef D: Because the apricots are kind of giving off their pectin and
their sugar, and it’s getting delicious.

Jackie Keller: Yeah, that’s one of those nice things about apricots is
they have that high pectin content which really helps too, to
make it thick.

Chef D: And now we’ll just add some base to it. We’ll add the brown
rice. This will make it hearty. We’ll go ahead and stir that

Jackie Keller: Now I know you’ve mentioned that you like to use a lot of
fresh herbs. And as you know now we have our own farm at
NutriFit and we’re growing a lot of our own fresh herbs.
You’re doing the same. Aren’t you?

Chef D: Yes, we have an herb garden at the Bread and Roses Cafe. I was
sick of all my like fancy pants chef friends, “Oh, I got to
go to the roof and get some silver back thyme. I’ll be right
back.” And so I was like, why not. You know? So I had a
friend at my church who was a Troop Leader for the Boy Scouts
and as an Eagle Scout project one of the Boy Scouts came and
built us like a tiered herb garden that we have in the back.

Jackie Keller: Right, how cool.

Chef D: Yeah.

Jackie Keller: That is wonderful.

Chef D: Really neat.

Jackie Keller: Neat. So you just go out there, pick what you need.

Chef D: That’s right.

Jackie Keller: So at what point now will we add the kale and wrap this

Chef D: Well, yeah, the kale is going to come here at the end because
we don’t want to overcook the kale.

Jackie Keller: I love the color.

Chef D: Yeah and it’s so vibrant, and we don’t want to lose any of that
by over cooking it. And we don’t want to lose any of the
enzymatic activity by raising the temperature too high. So at
the end and it’ll just wilt into your dish nicely. And you
can do a little massaging of this beforehand if you want to
break it down a little bit. You can just put a little dash of
salt which the sodium ions will draw the water out through
the semi-permeable cell membranes and make it just a little
bit softer, and then voila.

Jackie Keller: Yeah.

Chef D: Look at that.

Jackie Keller: That looks wonderful.

Chef D: And that’s ready to go and it’s beautiful. It is beautiful.

Jackie Keller: It is very, very beautiful.

Chef D: Now don’t forget the seasoning.

Jackie Keller: Yeah, you might want to pull the whole top off that. I was
just adding a little. Now you’re adding in the key
ingredients for our Mediterranean blend, the basil, oregano.

Chef D: Ooh! And I can smell the dill in there.

Jackie Keller: The dill, yeah.

Chef D: Oh, my God. That’s so good. Wow.

Jackie Keller: That looks absolutely wonderful Chef D. Thank you.

Chef D: Yeah, my pleasure. Let’s plate it up.

Jackie Keller: All right.

Chef D: Take a little bit of this.

Jackie Keller: Presentation I know is so important.

Chef D: Yes.

Jackie Keller: I remember your episode of Chopped, you know, getting it
just right.

Chef D: Well, we . . .

Jackie Keller: And they really grade on that. That’s really real. Right?

Chef D: Oh, absolutely. We do eat with our eyes, that is half the
battle. You want the plate to look good and look at that.

Jackie Keller: That is beautiful.

Chef D: That’s wonderful.

Jackie Keller: All right, I’ll hold it for you, you taste.

Chef D: Yes, absolutely, be my pleasure. See and I know I’m going to
get all kinds of texture. Mm, what could be easier? You’ll
live forever eating like this.

Jackie Keller: Yeah, yeah.

Chef D: And we’d be happy to.

Jackie Keller: And healthy.

Chef D: That’s right.

Jackie Keller: That’s so good. Well, thank you so much for sharing that
and improvising like that, and giving us a little culinary
lesson at the same time.

Chef D: It was my pleasure.

Jackie Keller: And so much fun. I know that our audience is going to want
to follow you. They’re going to want to experience what
you’re doing, live through your eyes. What’s the best way for
them to find you?

Chef D: Well, I have a fabulous website. It’s
and it’s a wonderful site. I have instructional videos. I
have recipes. I talk about all the things that we’re doing as
far as charity and philanthropic endeavors, and of course it
talks about the new book that’s on the way which is all about
improvisational cooking.

Jackie Keller: Well, I’m going to look that up and I’m going to follow

Chef D: Please do.

Jackie Keller: And I’m going to hope that somewhere in that book there is
a shared recipe that you wouldn’t mind me borrowing for our
NutriFit clients.

Chef D: That would be an honor.

Jackie Keller: And I thank you again, so much, for coming to see us
today. It was really, really great to have you.

Chef D: It was my pleasure.

Jackie Keller: Keep up the good work.

Chef D: I will.

Jackie Keller: We need people like you out there.

Chef D: I will. Thank you, Jackie.

Jackie Keller: All right, thank you.

Here is a little story that illustrates the value of sharing
resources and creating something from nothing. There are many
versions of it and I’m not really sure where it comes from
originally, but here it goes.

So many years ago in a time of great hardship and famine, an old
soldier wandered into a poverty stricken village and asked
for shelter for the night. “There is nothing here to eat!”
The villagers told him. “You better just move on.” But, the
soldier stopped and he said, “I have enough here in my
backpack to make soup for all of us if I could just borrow a
large pot.” So the curious villagers, they produced a pot and
stood around watching as the soldier filled it with water and
built a small fire underneath.”

He then took three round stones from his backpack and dropped them
into the water. As the water came to a boil, the soldier
sniffed it and said, “Mm, I love stone soup, but if I had
just a little cabbage it would take even better.” At this
point one of the villagers disappeared and came back a few
minutes later with a cabbage he had been hiding and he put it
into the pot. And awhile later the soldier tasted the soup
again and said, “Mm, this is good, but a couple of carrots
would make it better still.”

And another villager produced a bunch of carrots and so it went on as
potatoes, and onions, and mushrooms, a little bit of salt
beef were all added to the pot until indeed there was a
delicious meal for all. We all have a contribution to make
and by sharing our gifts and resources our lives are
enriched. That’s my story. Thank you so much for joining me
today on Food Exposed. Join us next week for another look at
what’s on your plate.

For more Food Exposed check me out on and until next
week remember, make food your best friend and exercise your
companion for life.