by Erin Durkin
Working away in the small hot kitchen amid dozens of volunteers busy serving the homeless, is one of the D.C. area’s top chefs.
Terrence Brown, the executive chef at Thrive DC, has already had a career preparing meals for Washington’s elite. But he says he is happier here pampering the poor and hungry at this day shelter in Columbia Heights. Brown was named one of the top 75 chefs in Washington D.C. when he was working at the Marriott Wardman Park Hotel in 1982. He has an album full of pictures of celebrities who have savored his fine cuisine. But he wanted to use his skills to make a difference.
“I really enjoyed serving the homeless and eventually I made that my full time job. I just enjoy seeing smiles on the clients’ faces,” said Brown.
Most of his clients know him for his Southern “down home soul food cooking.”
“He’s been working with the women’s group and they love him. The ladies love his liver and onions,” said Trenett Smith, a client at Thrive.
In fact, when you ask most of the clients at Thrive, they will name liver and onions as their favorite meal. But Brown has a secret about this particular dish.
“A lot of people here like liver and onions. I can’t stand liver and onions. But every Thursday I make it for them,” he said.
His favorite, he said, is making lasagna. “I love Italian.”
As he prepared a menu of garden salads, assorted pastries, boiled eggs, corn beef hash, and fresh fruit on a recent day, a woman approached him asking for brown hair dye.
“I might have some in my back office,” he said.
It is odd to think that a chef would have hair products in his storage room, but according to Brown he has been ordering hygiene products from the Capital Area Food Bank for years. Before dinner, he will have a drawing for soaps, shampoos, and even cupcakes before people come forward for the food.
For this article, Brown made sure to wear his full chef’s uniform, complete with white jacket and toque. On other days however, he can be spotted in a blue Thrive T-shirt and black pin-striped pants.
“It is just way too hot in that kitchen,” he said.
Indeed, when one enters the cooking area the temperature jumps twenty degrees. And the burners of the stove are not even lit.
Meanwhile, kitchen helpers are busy cutting and mixing fruit for a fruit salad. The heavy air fills with the scent of mangoes.
The kitchen itself is nothing fancy.
Directions on how to sterilize the sink are taped to the back wall with blue and yellow flowers.
Though his work conditions might not be glamorous, Brown ensures that he not only creates good dishes but that he also learns each client’s preferences. He makes sure he includes menu options for those who are diabetic or have high cholesterol.
According to Marzieh Behzadnejad, who has been going to Thrive since 1985, Brown includes vegetarian dishes with each meal.
“His eggplant parmesan is to die for,” she said in her thick Iranian accent. “I cannot eat hot and spicy food and he always includes mild things.”
Brown does not reserve his culinary skills for the Thrive kitchen. Recently, he participated in the 8th Annual Blue Jeans Ball held at the Marriott Wardman Park Hotel. The event earned over $300,000 for the Capital Area Food Bank, whhich Brown said provides most of the shelter’s food.