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Second Harvest Food Bank of Central Florida’s new Executive Chef Dawn Viola

Dawn Viola was recently named the new Executive Chef and Kitchen Director of Second Harvest Food Bank of Central Florida, overseeing their 2000 sq. ft. production and teaching kitchens. After an accomplished career as a copywriter, creative director and documentary producer in the advertising industry for over a decade, Dawn switched her focus to food when she discovered she had multiple food allergies. We had the opportunity to talk to Dawn recently about her new role, the food bank’s new initiatives, as well as some tips on eating healthy.

Tasty Chomps: As Executive Chef and Kitchen Director, what are some of your goals and objectives for Second Harvest Food Bank in this capacity?

Dawn Viola:

The main purpose of the Second Harvest Community Kitchen, and overall mission of Second Harvest, is to simply feed more people in Central Florida, but part of our approach to meeting that goal is unique for our area.

We are opening a brand new distribution facility in January 2013, and within that facility, we will be operating a 2000 square foot commercial kitchen, producing from-scratch, high-quality, nutritious meals that help feed Central Florida’s families and individuals in need. How those meals are produced, however, is something very special. The Community Kitchen is launching a culinary training program for disadvantaged adults, empowering these individuals through on-the-job culinary and life skills training. Students enrolled in our program will prepare the meals going out to our community while under the supervision and mentorship of our Chef Trainer.

Second Harvest Community Kitchen students will be recruited from our partner agencies, the foster care system and nonprofit organizations that help people who are seeking a brighter future. Students will receive foodservice training that includes hands-on cooking and kitchen experiences, complimentary to the curriculum of accredited culinary institutions should any student wish to continue on to culinary school. They will also spend part of their day in the classroom learning life skills and employment assistance. ServSafe food handler and manager courses will be provided, as well as opportunities to intern in the kitchens of local businesses.

In addition, we’ll be offering community cooking and nutrition classes, open to the general public, so students can practice public speaking and presentation skills. We will also offer on-site catering services in our Community Room so that students will be exposed to banquet catering.

TC: Many people experience sticker shock when looking at the costs for eating healthy, what are some tips and advice you have for families who are looking to eat healthy and affordably?

DV: Eating healthy on a budget is easy if you eliminate 99% of processed/convenience foods from your diet and cook most meals at home, from scratch. Instead of buying a box of cookies, crackers or toaster pastries at $4.95, use that money to purchase two bags of apples or other fresh produce; or stock up on whole grain rice, dried or canned beans, or even quinoa. Making sweet treats at home from scratch can be done for a fraction of the cost as well, and are much healthier (in moderation) without the shelf-stable additives and conditioners (which are all of the ingredients you can’t pronounce on the label).

TC: How can local Central Floridians help the Second Harvest Food Bank?

DV: We have an incredible volunteer program and encourage everyone to come out and visit us any time during the year as individuals, groups, and company-wide volunteer days. We always welcome donations of healthy foods, both fresh and non-perishable, as well as non-food essentials such as shampoo, diapers and toothpaste. Financial donations are always needed. An investment of $1 donated to Second Harvest Food Bank can provide up to $9 in food value to people who are struggling.

Once the Community Kitchen is open and in full operation, we’ll be looking to partner with local chefs for our Chef’s Table dinners, which will begin April 25th and continue the last Thursday of every month. Chef’s Table will offer our students an opportunity to work with a variety of local chefs in our kitchen, preparing a multi-course plated dinner for community guests. Revenue from Chef’s Table ticket sales will support the growth of our Community Kitchen program. We’ll also be looking for guest chef speakers to share their unique culinary points of view with our students through lectures and demos during their class time.

TC: What is your favorite meal to cook?

DV: I have so many favorites, so I think it really comes down to more of a method than a particular recipe. Supporting our local farmers and local food artisans is very important to me as well — I always buy local whenever I can. So whether a chicken pot pie using local butter in the pastry crust with local chicken and vegetables, or locally-caught snapper, fresh food, simply prepared to bring out the best it can be, is my most favorite meal to cook.

You can find more information and follow Dawn’s blog at

Follow Second Harvest Food Bank on Twitter, Facebook and Second Harvest Food Bank of Central Florida

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  1. What a thought provoking and moving article about such a worthwhile cause that is greatly needed within the community. So many lives will be forever changed by the implementation of this new program. Then maybe finally there can be change in helping families eat healthy again.