Nominee: Jen Franco

Jen Franco, Culinary Director, Food Shift

Nominated by co-worker, Yuka Nagashima

Jen Franco is the Food Shift Culinary Director responsible for curriculum development of our culinary training program, as well as instruction, and oversight of our social enterprise kitchen. Her day consists of a variety of tasks associated with our culinary training program, but also helping to onboard new volunteers and interns to assist in our social enterprise kitchen, coordinating inbound and outbound food donations as well as gleaning insights from our kitchen to cook "roots to shoots" as community wisdom into our digital publication project. Jen represents Food Shift in community meetings such as the Alameda County Food Recovery Network and Catalyst Kitchens' work groups.

Jen has been with Food Shift for 4 years and her Culinary Director title is what's on our website.  Her title in reality is "the heart of Food Shift", as a team member described her in our peer performance review process. It's not just all the things she does in a typical day, but how she intentionally goes about her day.

When she revised her lesson plan to be adapted to remote cooking instructions during the pandemic, she made sure to check in with all the apprentices about their access to technology and offering a tutorial session to use email. After orienting a new cohort and realizing one of the apprentices displayed signs of dyslexia, she took time to reflect with me on her blindspot to include reading on the first day (yet the way she facilitated the class was so inclusive that the same apprentice volunteered to read instructions aloud the next day). When we finished up cleaning after a graduation ceremony, Jen remained to help a graduate fill out a drivers license application form. When she is on-boarding new partners to receive food from our culinary training and food distribution program, she is careful to note dietary requirements and cultural preferences of their clients. 

No task is too small or too big for Chef Jen, from emptying out the recycling bin at the end of the day to filling in for the Executive Director for her unexpected leave to provide parental care outside the country. Food Shift is all about honoring what we have overlooked as society: from cosmetically damaged foods to talents of people from marginalized communities. We would be amiss to overlook Chef Jen's contributions as well as how she shows up for herself and her community. 

Chef Jen's compassion is informed by her justice equity diversity and inclusion lens. She is not afraid to face her own unearned privilege to continue on her path to build in equity to serve justice. She leans into what she is learning: asset framing language, growth mindset, and even revisiting her own assumptions about what she knows well ("Is insisting on using stock narrow-minded of me? Let me talk this through with you...what are the advantages of using bouillon?"). I appreciate that her love and belief in humanity extends beyond a discussion of using non-binary gender terms, but in everything she does, including moments where she or we don't get it quite right, and chooses them as a learning opportunity. Her ability to face her own vulnerability with the team sets a tone, not only for our apprentices to continue to learn, but for the rest of the team, including, and especially myself.  Chef Jen is a big reason for all of the following:

  • Food Shift's ability to complete a cohort during the first onset of the pandemic, which enriched the curriculum for 2022
  • A new product line to provide earned income: the development and commercialization of our first 100% locally upcycled dog treats, PAWsitive Bones, handmade by our apprentices
  • Increase in number of retail stores carrying PAWsitive Bones from 2 to 9
  • Increase in tenure of our team members despite the pandemic's trend where many organizations suffered loss of employees and volunteers
  • Keeping Food Shift's FY 2021-2022 books positive, without our catering services that historically brought in $100K/yr
  • Formalizing our consulting practice for edible food recovery and related programs, that led to our first major client, City of Pittsburg, CA (~$90,000 over 2 yrs)
  • Delivery of SNAP Employment and Training 3rd party program (~$12,000)
  • Marketing campaign contract with StopWaste, a waste management agency for the County of Alameda (~$10,000)
  • Employment and job placement assistance for our apprentices

It is my privilege to honor Chef Jen with this nomination.

Read more about Jen's and Food Shift's impact here

Support our work and our nominees

Inspired by the work that our members are doing to change their communities?  Consider a donation today to help support Catalyst Kitchens and our mission to enhance this work everywhere.