Taste Bud Profile
Chef Lamar Moore has had a lifelong drive to help other people, learned at a young age from watching his grandmothers and his mother serve their community. From them he learned that food could be a tool to bring people together, lend a helping hand, and inspire joy through shared emotion and experiences. For Chef Lamar, sharing food is a powerful way to inspire kids and each other to understand those around us with a deeper sense of empathy.
Lamar Moore: I think some of my earliest memories are of both of my grandmothers helping people through food. They were always cooking for us, when I was a kid. I lived on the West side of Chicago, and you could always tell when there were kids who didn’t have a lot of family around to keep them in line, give them some structure, keep them off the streets. My mom and my grandmothers, they had no problem disciplining us, keeping my brothers and me busy. Believe it or not, when I was young I wanted to be a cop, because it felt like that was a way to help people, and to help my community. But then, watching my grandmothers, I realized food could be a way to help people too. One of them would cook at church on Sundays and give away meals to anyone who needed them. My other grandmother, she turned her house into a home-care facility where she would take care of families who needed help, or people who didn’t have family of their own to help them out. I saw both of them constantly being vocal and active about helping people in our communities—and the food was good too! So that really stuck with me.
I decided to go to culinary school, but it was really hard for me to find a job afterwards. I ended up considering giving up on it, and took a police assessment test in the suburbs of Chicago. I was accepted to train to be an officer, and it seemed like my culinary career plan was over before it even started—but maybe a week or two later, I got an offer to relocate to California for a cooking job. And that was the best decision I ever made, to take that job, because moving to California to cook really shaped my career as a cook. It’s funny how as an adult, you do things that you have to do for work but occasionally they’re things that you did as a child, and you start to remember why you loved things. Biking was my only form of transportation in California, and while it was a necessity, it brought me so much joy. It reminded me of biking through my neighborhood, smelling all the different foods cooking, seeing families together over a meal. Food signified gathering to me, and while I saw it a lot as a kid, I really thought about it as an adult. I still get super excited to see a gathering and a celebration at a restaurant—it’s amazing to watch people rejoice and have fun and celebrate each other with food and beverage and the general ambiance of a restaurant. These are the kinds of things I grew up with, and what I still try to think about when I’m cooking—food, family, music, and joy.
Another one of my jobs was in a hospital, as a line cook. There was a food service on the lower level of the building, and it also really strengthened my perspective on how food can help people. People were coming through the hospital and going through a tough time, but they still have to eat—someone was sick, someone had died, something was going on—but my job was to try to make the best food I could make, to put a smile on their faces. To try to bring some joy into what could be a really tough day. It was also for the workers in the hospital, too—helping the helpers. So much emotion was connected to that food service. As I continued my culinary journey, I know that was something I wanted to continue to do—not just cook, but find a way to connect with and help people as well.
I think the more we gather around food, the more opportunities we have to engage with others, but also to try new things. It’s one of the reasons that I try to cook family-style so often, because it’s such a shared experience. You spread love around the table when you eat together. I think it’s easy to forget how easy it can be to gather around, cook a good meal, and enjoy it together. We’re all busy people, but it’s one way to really slow down and enjoy the people you’re with. Nothing makes me happier than when people come over and we all bring food or cook together and people say “oh this is my mom’s recipe,” or “I learned how to make this from my aunt” because we’re then sharing something that is really close to your heart, and it makes me that much more excited to try it. And I think we have to be excited about food for our kids to be excited about food too.
I think it’s important to talk to your children about the realities of privilege and pride. There are likely kids that they know who have more or less than they do, and it shouldn’t be a shameful thing to talk about.
Often times we’re taught not to discuss these things, but I think when kids know that a friend of theirs might need something, they’re inclined to share. To be on the lookout for whether another kid might need help is a way to teach empathy, because it’s important for kids to understand that the tables can flip very, very fast sometimes. If you have lunch but another kid doesn’t, how would you feel if the roles were reversed? I think we should teach kids to be aware of these things as a way to understand and empathize with those around them.