A pandemic. Quarantine. Social injustice. Political turmoil. Multiple Sclerosis… An isolated kitchen… Who would have ever thought that this group of ingredients designed to push people apart, when blended correctly, would actually pull them together?
Well, that’s how “Cooking With Dre” began.
This post isn’t about what Multiple Sclerosis has taken away from Dre, but how it has been a part of his evolution. Perhaps one of the biggest losses Dre had when MS forced him to take disability was the joy he found in being in the kitchen as a part of his job as a general manager for a restaurant. He loved the process of cooking, of feeding people, of bringing joy to his guests through the art of food.
That love didn’t change when he had to leave his position. The challenge became finding an outlet that allowed him to follow his passion and still give him the sense of worth we all know providing for others provides us. Over the past few years he has worked different angles of this; going to friend’s houses and cooking for them, hosting dinners for friends and family, finding kitchen gadgets and sharing how they help him manage his MS on his YouTube channel.
He had sort of found a groove of managing his MS, having a daily routine that kept him active and social, and sharing his cooking with others. Then Covid-19 hit, followed by a quarantine and then a whole new set of challenges.
Quarantine for someone who is immunocompromised is different than it is for people who are fully healthy. While many of us were still able to go to the store with a facemask on, or get out on a trail, or hike—not the same for Dre. For Dre, stay at home meant stay at home. Gone was the social outlet of getting to the rec center each week for his personal training session. The weekly shopping routine that got him out of the house was no longer possible. Even going to a barbecue with the family was too risky.
Quarantine also meant not having anyone in our home. So not only could he not bring his food to others, he couldn’t even cook for them in his own kitchen.
For about a month, there was the shock of just trying to figure out what was going on. Wading through the fear of what the virus and quarantine meant and moving through the emotional impact that comes in the absence of human connection.
But if we know one thing about Dre, it’s that challenges are not going to get him down.
Finding the Work Around
Tired of being isolated but also recognizing that he has numerous factors that put him in the high-risk category if he were to get Covid-19, Dre did what Dre does best. He found a way to overcome.
Zoom was something he’d never done before, but it was a way to connect, so he figured it out and sent out an invite to our closest family and friends to join him in the kitchen. The invite included a recipe for Gumbo and shopping list. He told them if they wanted to learn to cook Gumbo Dre style, they could join in the cooking. If not, they could just join in the Zoom and hang out with everyone.
The first class was everything a good Zoom has. People not sure where their camera was facing, not sure how to mute or unmute, a lot of folks asking if we could hear them, and a lot of laughter. On top of that, there was wine and a great meal. It almost felt normal.
And people wanted to come back to the kitchen.
So the next week Dre sent out another recipe. And the next week, another.
Developing A Crew
Soon, the kitchen was flooded with guests from across the country. At any given time folks from Colorado, Maryland, California, Arizona, Florida, Ohio, Virginia, and any number of cities in these states stopped in. In a time when social inequities and political differences were dividing our country at a rapid pace, the kitchen was filled with a diverse group of friends and family, some getting to know each other for the first time and many of whom we haven’t seen in years.
Cousins who are distant acquaintences on social media, former co-workers who slipped away when new jobs came, college roommates and their parents, childhood friends, and friends of friends who have now become friends of the class were all suddenly in the most communal place in our home—our kitchen.
So while Dre was creating outstanding recipes for everyone to share with their families, he was also creating the other thing we were all craving in quarantine; Connection. That is the magic of a chef who is able to take ingredients and put them together in a way that no one thought was possible.
“Cooking with Dre” started out as a way to bring family and friends together to learn how to cook Gumbo. It has evolved into a shared kitchen full of laughter, love and fun, where you can learn how to cook an amazing meal to share with your own family and friends.
Dre is not just providing recipes, but teaching people how to put together meals that look like they’re reserved for gourmet chefs, and making it incredibly easy. We’ve heard more than once that people will never buy green chili or enchilada sauce again. They have the spices and knowledge to put together a tender and delicious Peruvian salmon, and if they’re not exactly sure of the process? Well, they have someone right there in the kitchen with them to ask questions. Seven-year olds have been rolling sushi and seventy-year olds have marveled at cooking a dish they’ve never tried before.
Yes, Dre’s kitchen is open. Some people come once, others come in and out, others are regulars and some just get the recipes and try them out on their own. But one thing is for sure, the lights are one, the love runs plentiful, and all are welcome. So feel free to jump into the next session of “Cooking With Dre.”