Chef Bill Bracken spent more than three decades helming the kitchens of acclaimed restaurants, including the Four Seasons Hotel in Newport Beach—later rebranded as the Island Hotel (and about to become the Pendry).
In 2012, Bracken defected to DivBar in Newport Beach, where he served as partner and director of operations. His goal at DivBar was “to be the classic American bar that serves really good food,” which included his famous truffle mac and cheese.
Bracken left DiveBar in 2013. His Sous-Chef Kris Kirk, who ran Ecco at The Camp and spent several years at Sage on the Coast and St. Regis Resort, took over the DiveBar kitchen.
Bracken then shifted from selling “really good food” to giving it away.
Pivot to Giving
Bracken landed on the concept of using a food truck to bring food to his friends and neighbors in need. With that, Bracken’s Kitchen was born in March 2013.
It’s since become one of the better-known local nonprofits focused on addressing issues of the food insecure.
For the year ended 2021, Bracken’s Kitchen reported close to $5.5 million in revenue and support, up from $4.9 million in 2020.
In 2021, the nonprofit’s expenses totaled nearly $4.3 million, and it ended the year with about $3.4 million in net assets, according to its latest annual report.
As Bracken’s Kitchen notes, more than 300,000 people in Orange County are food insecure. Hunger affects the old and young alike, including families with children, seniors with fixed incomes, veterans, people with disabilities, jobless, and those who are houseless.
Conversely, our country wastes food. Around 40% of our food supply chain ends up unconsumed in the landfill. The Rose Bowl could be filled every day with the amount of food wasted in the United States.
Solution: rescue wasted food and use it to feed those in need.
2M Meal Goal
Bracken’s Kitchen aims to rescue and use 300 tons of edible unused food in 2023.
Bracken’s Kitchen defines rescued food as the 2,200 pounds of organic chicken breast that was rejected by Whole Foods Markets due to size and weight irregularities, the 1,500 pounds of frozen corn that was purchased by large production facility to make a large batch of corn chowder only to have the chowder order canceled, or three pallets of fresh broccoli that couldn’t be sold because it was starting to wilt.
Bracken’s Kitchen has a warehouse next to its kitchen and office facility that’s able to store pallets of canned and dry goods as well as frozen and refrigerated food.
Last year, Bracken’s Kitchen served 1.4 million meals made from rescued food. The goal this year is two million meals.
The program chef for Bracken’s Kitchen helping to oversee those meals is Bracken’s old colleague, Kris Kirk.
The group’s rescue food program “uses surplus food as a basis for healthy meals using expert culinary skills of experienced professional chefs to cook nutritious meals at very low cost,” the group’s latest annual report says.
“This innovative approach enables reduction of food waste and landfill inflow, increase in availability of healthy meals, and a sustainable model for significantly increasing scale to feed more people.”
Bracken’s Kitchen has added a culinary training program to its mission, alongside the food rescue program.
Through hands-on participation in a live kitchen environment, the goal is to teach, train and equip the young students with the skills needed to present them with culinary opportunities in the hospitality industry. It’s a golden opportunity for at-risk youth and young adults to work alongside professional chefs to learn essential skills for a career in food service.
The 3 ‘T’s’
To carry out the organization’s mission, volunteers are needed in a variety of areas. Bracken calls them the three T’s: Time, Talent or Treasure.
Time: Taking the time out of your day to volunteer in the kitchen or on the food truck.
Talent: Do you have a skill or passion that you feel would benefit the organization? Everything from accounting to photography could be of help.
Treasure: There are always expenses in need of funding, so if you aren’t able to help in another way, donations are always appreciated.
One tasty way to help support the food insecure: attend the annual Hungry Games on Thursday, Sept. 14 at 5:30 p.m. at the Bracken’s Kitchen facility in Garden Grove.
The event includes small bites, sweets, beer, wine, live music and auction items.
The highlight of the event is a friendly chef competition to determine which culinary master made the favorite dish of the night.
Participating chefs this year include Master Baker Dean Kim of OC Baking, Michael Rossi (formerly of The Ranch and last year’s champion), Max Schlutz of Sessions West Coast Deli, Rich Mead of Farmhouse at Roger’s Garden, Charlie Cosmos of Citrus City Grill, Brian Huskey of The Jetty, Shelly Register and Leza Kirk of A Market, Mike Owens and Kris Kirk of Bracken’s Kitchen, Charlie Negrete and his Culinary Training Students of Bracken’s Kitchen, and several others.
Tickets are $175 per person. Several sponsorship levels are also available. Visit brackenskitchen.org for tickets or more information.