Spencer McMillin was an instructor at L’Ecole Culinaire when he, along with all the other staff, found himself out of a job with a couple hours’ notice. The cooking school was part of Vatterott College, which shut abruptly in December.
Mac Edwards, the executive director of Caritas Village, offered McMillin the chef spot in his kitchen, and they both expected it to be a short stay, McMillin basically helping out while Edwards found a permanent chef.
McMillin also was personal chef for the Grizzlies Mike Conley, so he was busy with that — then Conley was traded.
But along the way, McMillin realized that Caritas was a sweet gig, something that gives the veteran chef access to a steady supply of goods from local farmers, creative freedom, and a satisfaction that comes from purposeful work.
At Caritas in Binghampton, everyone eats, regardless of their ability to pay. Bridging the gap between poverty and prosperity, including food security, was part of founder Onie Johns’ mission when she opened the community center doors in 2006. McMillin is happy there.
Besides feeding the community six days a week, including home cooking Monday through Friday, Caritas has added three fundraising dinners a month. A chef partner dinner has been a big hit for about six months, and next week McMillin launches The Hundred Mile Dinner Series, where all food used comes from within a 100-mile radius of the city. He’ll host two per month and you can find the dates on Caritas’ Facebook page. (Next week’s dinner is sold out.)
For Kitchen Talk, McMillin made a summer pizzetta — a small pizza — with homemade dough, an herby goat cheese spread for the base and a bounty of fresh summer vegetables. It’s not on the standard menu, but he’ll offer it as a special on Friday, so if you want it, get over there.
If you want to make one at home, we’re giving you the recipe for the goat cheese spread. You can make your own dough – McMillin doesn’t use a recipe and has a starter he’s kept going for months – purchase a pre-made one, or use pita bread or lavash. For the toppings, pick your favorite fresh vegetables, season with salt and pepper, add a splash of olive oil to it before it goes in the oven and shower it with fresh herbs when it comes out.
Caritas Village is at 2509 Harvard; call 901-327-5246 for more information.