A Field Trip with Kitchen Angels

February 26, 2009

What is a team? Is it simply a collective of the willing, perfectly content to fall quietly within hierarchy and blindly do what they’re told? Or, is it the magical balance of complimentary strengths and weaknesses operating in almost mythic harmony?

IB spent the day with Chef John Jensen, Executive Chef of Kitchen Angels, a branch of the Team Building Program, with Inspire Canada! to find the answer.

Mise-en-place: A corporate team meets up in the kitchen facility at the First

Baptist Church, located at the corner of Burrard and Nelson, to meet with Michael Samson, leader of the Kitchen Angels program, one of several community-based Team Building Programs developed by Inspire Canada! to put their team effectiveness to the test.

Du-jour: Budget of $300, to shop, prep, cook and serve a multi course hot meal using both ingredients in the black box, for upward of 200 people in need, in just a few hours.

‘86’ brigade: None of these people are professional cooks, at least not this team.

As an incentive (good business is, after all, onto competition) this team will be in direct full and frontal with a previous Inspire Canada! business team, who were, in fact in

the ‘Biz’, for first place. That is where Executive Chef Jensen, formerly of Chill Winston
comes in.

IB: What is it about a kitchen environment that stimulates team building?

CJ: Well, first of all it’s the immediacy of the thing. The results of your teams ability to communicate, problem solve, and attain a mutual goal happens right away. No waiting for a quarterly report. It happens the second they look into the eyes of who they’re standing next to, and at the end of the day, feeding.

IB: What is the biggest challenge presented to the corporate teams who participate in the Kitchen Angels program?

CJ: Dealing with the element of surprise. You have these established, successful people, comfortable with their roles within their hierarchies forced to step it up in ways they never imagined.

IB: How so?

CJ: Take the black box exercise for instance.

It’s one thing to tell the team, hi I’m Chef so and so, and we’re gonna make this and that, and you, you and you, make it happen.

That approach is what we are trying to inspire them away from. It’s up to them. All of them, to make things happen, on the fly. We leave them alone to figure it out.

Now, the group dynamic has to change. The natural leaders make themselves heard and the quieter ones are easier to spot and draw out.

No one stays under the radar for long in a kitchen. A hot brigade is very member inter-dependent. The listening and trusts levels get so sensitive and intense you no longer even need to talk.

I just get out of the way and make sure no one gets hurt. It’s a fun, full-on win/win scenario.

So how does the team do? Post ‘what do you mean we have to make a

menu, shop and cook?’ They rock it!

After a couple of ‘hey mom, what’s an endouille sausage?’ And, ‘what is the ratio of marshmallow to rice crispy for the treats, google it?’ They come up with a wonderful, tasty little comfort-food menu, which they execute well, cleanly and on-time.

After all the food is prepped and ready for service, the team heads over to the local watering hole to get graded by Chef John and Michael. The fight for first place in the Inspire Canada’s! Hall of Fame is on.

Scorecard: 1-10- Competitiveness, Team Work, Budget and Time Management, are all measured.

IB can’t tell which is better, the scores and the reasons for them, or the team’s fight for more points?

Meet the dead heat- They achieve a tie for first place with the ‘Biz’ team. Enter the tie-breaking question for a ½ point. The question, based on an analysis of where the team lost points and why is posed. The intents are ram-sacked for truth, and the team comes clean with itself.

Happy to report the team beat team ‘Biz’ and now, proudly carry the bragging rights.

The pay-off: Spiritual service conducted for all the volunteers connected to the shelter program, often including many who were previously homeless. A powerful testament to the shelter program Inspire Canada! supports.

The sound the pay-off makes: The winning team returns to the church to prepare for service. After a quick sampling of their cuisine, the newly crowned Kitchen Angels are summoned to a small, intimate, pre-dinner spiritual service conducted for the shelter’s lucky 36 overnight guests by the compassionate, generous, and movingly humane team at the First Baptist Church.

Piece-de-resistance: The raison-d’etre of the Kitchen Angels comes into full view. They are invited to speak briefly to the gathering- Get a chance to express their gratitude for the opportunity to grow and share giving, in a meaningful way, with their local community.

Tears are difficult to suppress. Yet, the initial gravity of the situation quickly fades when the overwhelming line of hungry-tired-embarrassed-shy, but grateful and good humoured participants come in from the outdoors, to hang and eat.

The Kitchen Angels get to shine, and gracefully perform the most humanizing of social functions- feeding people.

IB says: Inspire Canada! hits a home run with the Kitchen Angels program in seamlessly merging, seemingly opposite sets of needs in an elegant, creative and practical way.

Big, big OUI!

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