The most excellent human salad
A high-five to the volunteers I had the privilege of cooking with in Poland
Note: I am back in the United States and finishing up posts that I began writing while still in Poland.
If you’ve ever worked in a kitchen, you know it’s kind of like of being in the circus. There are performers and non-conformers, jugglers and fire breathers, mental gymnasts, a designated DJ and a ringleader. It’s one of the most intimate places you’ll ever be with a bunch of strangers.
The thing is, that kind of synergy takes time to build. It may never happen. And once in a while, the kitchen strikes gold, and you get a mix of humans that synch up, like the best salad, perfectly dressed. In many ways, that salad effect took place this week. Fifteen or so random strangers from all walks of life flew thousands of miles to southeastern Poland but with a common purpose — to cook for people who have been forced from their homes, their communities, their country.
We are district judges and airline pilots, school principals and private chefs, nonprofit execs and former military. Here’s a sampler of this week’s cast and crew:
Rick is a surfer and a pastor based in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, where he’s known as The Surfing Pastor. He’s been in Poland for a month, biking 5 miles each way to work.
Michelle is married to Paul. For decades, they owned a popular seafood restaurant in Saco, Maine that had been in his family for 52 years; they sold it in 2020. While Paul worked the “hot side,” Michelle, along with Rick, became the Dream Team of sandwich wrappers.
Nick — whom I dubbed “Young Nick” — is a singer-songwriter born in Texas and based in Nashville. His mother, who was born in Kiev, is a physician, and volunteered at the border village in Medyka, Poland, while Nick was with us in the kitchen.
Peter is co-owner of Saul’s Deli, a Jewish deli in Berkeley, Calif. He is in the process of handing the business over to the next generation and spending more time out in the world like he’s doing in Poland.
Marsha, of Kansas City, Missouri, is in her fifth week and plans to stay for another seven. She’s raised more than $27,000 to buy supplies, from cell phones to fabric bolts for women in Ukraine hand sewing bullet-proof vests.
Jeff works in film, as a writer, director and special effects guy. He is about to finish up a month-long stint. He liked keeping everyone informed of how many crates of sandwiches we filled (and how many more we had to go).
Bob is a retired engineer for General Motors (he architected the Ford Focus Electric), who may have packed a few family-sized jars of Jif in his suitcase.
Julia is an American chef living in the UK with a masters in refugee studies. She’s been in Poland for a month and plans to stay until her money runs out.