A virtuoso in fine dining, Chef Frank van Overbeeke decided that the people who could best benefit from his culinary talents are those not fortunate enough to attend these establishments. Van Overbeeke now heads Pine Street Inn and iCater Boston, feeding and employing people experiencing homelessness with one goal in mind: to eradicate homelessness in the Greater Boston area. He joined Henry in the Hub host Henry Santoro to talk about his social enterprise. The following transcript has been edited for clarity.
Henry Santoro: Now in its 51st year, Boston's Pine Street Inn is the largest homeless services provider in New England. It's there providing food and shelter for some 2,000 men and women every day. Pine Street's goal is to end homelessness by helping the homeless community with a wide range of programs that include emergency services, housing and workforce development. And everybody, homeless or not, has to eat. And that's where Chef Frank van Overbeeke comes in. He has cooked in some amazing restaurants all over the world, and it's no joke when we say he went from the fancy kitchens of Newbury Street to the kitchen at Pine Street, where he now teaches the homeless how to navigate their way around a kitchen.
You are a saint for what you do. Tell us what your job is at the Pine Street Inn.
Frank van Overbeeke: Well, technically, I'm the executive chef at the Pine Street Inn and at iCater Boston. It's a social enterprise that sells the food that we make to other sites around the city. But then we use that money to fund a training program for folks that are trying to get back on their feet. So, it does two things.
Santoro: How did you land there?
Van Overbeeke: About 10 years ago, Pine Street Inn was looking for someone to run those kitchens because they realized as a social enterprise, they needed to become a little bit more capitalist. And I was working on Newbury Street at the time and somebody, I guess, suggested that I might be someone that would be a good fit there. So, they came looking and I really didn't understand why they went looking at me for that position. I was working in a fine French restaurant. I used to make really great food for people who didn't need it. And now I make good food for people who absolutely need it.
Santoro: Who really need it, that’s right. Was it a tough decision to make?
Van Overbeeke: It was confusing. You know, you’re going from fine dining to institutional cooking. But I realized that there's a great deal of creativity needed to prepare tasty food with this incredibly small budget that we run on. And that was an appealing challenge, you know. So, I thought, hey, why not? Let's give it a shot.
Santoro: How do you pull people who are coming into Pine Street into the program?
Van Overbeeke: Pine Street works with several partners in that regard. We work with other shelters. We work with our own in-house caseworkers and so on. And we're looking for folks that are trying to get a new start. Anyone. There’s really no qualifications required other than an ability to stand on their feet for a few hours a day. And that's just about it. Beyond that, we'll try to work with them with whatever challenges they're bringing.
Santoro: You are cranking out some 2,700 meals per day, and something that has really grown in the past few years is the visiting chef series. Tell us how that part of the program works.
Van Overbeeke: Pretty much once a week, all year long, we bring in a chef from somewhere around the city, some restaurant, and we bring in some great ones. Everybody from Joanne Chang at Flower, Andy Husbands. We've had Jamie Bissonnette, we’ve had Jeremy Sewall, all these folks. I'm not doing justice to it because there's so many other names.
Santoro: Well, when you’re bringing in one a week, the list is ridiculously long.
Van Overbeeke: Exactly. Yeah. And they're all, like I said, extremely generous with their time and with their knowledge. And they come in for a couple of hours on a Tuesday. And we pretty much have them do whatever it is that they want to show our trainees and our trainees eat it up.
Santoro: And how does job placement work?
Van Overbeeke: Pine Street recently has started to expand our workforce development. So, we've got a few fellows that are that are working directly with the trainees now, in fact, their offices are right in the kitchen. And they daily work with these trainees on, you know, improving their resumes, on how to do a job interview. And they're actively sourcing out places for these guys to work. It's terrific.
WGBH News interns Elias Miller and Alex LaSalvia contributed to this report.