The mild yellow light of the sun appearing from the northeast marks the moment that dawn becomes morning; along with the soft, refreshing smell of dew present in the air. The cool, gentle breeze that blows every morning from the northwest, and the warm aroma of coffee that wafts past all the noses that recognizes it, marking the start of their day. As the doors to the balcony open, this whole scene unfurls in front of The Rev. John Clark, or as I like to call him, Deacon Chef John. With coffee mug in hand, he admires God’s creation accentuated with the city noise that can be heard from a distance. They are not deafening, but a soft murmur of activity.
As Deacon Chef John walks through the streets of Belize City, the eye-opening images passing by him are a lesson unto themselves. Small houses with no air conditioning, and almost no form of refrigeration, but, with a wonderful heart for hospitality. Under the warm climate of Central America, he can also find even warmer people thankful for what he is doing in the small amount of time that he is spending with them. As he walks to the soup kitchen, he absorbs as much as he can about this host country’s culture. Most of the prep work has been done, and the pot has been sitting on the stove for a very brief moment. At medium heat all the ingredients go in. First goes the stock, followed by the vegetables, some water, salt, pepper, some local spices, and protein provided by chicken. Paddle it to mix it all up and let it simmer for a few hours. The process is repeated on a second pot being prepared.
On the other side of the kitchen, one of the kitchen volunteers is kneading the bread for the day. The white puff of flour can be seen in the air; enough to make the table change from beige to white so that the dough would not stick. After proofing is off to the oven where in an hour or so we will have fresh hot bread to give along with the soup, a side item included with the love and care that he has developed for the people of Belize.
John is not an imposing figure by any conventional statues; his height is a respectable 5’5, every single bit of silver in his salt and pepper hair is a badge of honor, earned through all of his life. His first profession, more of a calling, came to him after attending college. A calling that later became a passion. A soft-spoken man, with a relaxed cadence to his voice that instills confidence that he is the right person for the job, no matter what that job is. As the saying goes: “If you love what you do, then it’s no longer work”. This is the principle that led him to become involved with the culinary arts.
John points out that cooking, “is something that I would do even if I wasn’t getting paid” a statement repeated by some chefs, or members of a kitchen staff around the world. “Being creative, and bringing joy to people through food it’s what makes it all worthwhile”; the knowing that for a few moments whatever stress or worry dissipates from a person’s life for a brief moment is what John thrives for. As an extrovert I can understand the energy that one gets and sometimes craves and receives when interacting with others. As he reminisces, with coffee in hand, he treats me to a little bit of his life story.
John is a veteran of his craft. Never attending culinary school, all his training was on the job. From diners, nursery homes, private clubs, and everything in between, John’s knowledge knows no bounds. He has certainly earned his stripes through many events, 20 hour shift days, were John and his team fed upwards to 500 people on a single day. As a lifetime certified Executive Chef by the American Culinary Association, the kitchen is not its only realm. Other than a chef’s hat, a modern executive chef must wear many hats, “one needs to be skilled in personnel management, marketing, budgeting”, not just the food.
One of the many hats that John wore was a construction helmet. On a contracted mission to Iraq he, along with his team, had to redesign and fabricate a United Nations (U.N) sanctioned ship’s galley, in order to house and feed 150 people for six months whose sole responsibility was to neutralize chemical warfare. From this project a new one would arise back home.
As a lifelong Christian, serving his community through his church, learning about charity and love has been a part of his life from a very young age. These are the values that he has passed down to his children and grandchildren. In 2014 a second calling came to John’s, more of a charge, “feed my people,” a divine call that would change his life once again. It is from that point that he would be involved in a process to become an ordained clergy in The Episcopal Church. During this time, John started a nonprofit called “No One Hungry.”
This charity is primarily a food pantry that covers mostly the Titusville and upper Brevard county areas. This venture combines his love of food with a new calling he received through God to feed the less fortunate. “I have a real passion to help people who have that pain of hunger not just physically but spiritually.” In 2016; in front of friends, family, and God, John became a newly minted Deacon; unlike his other ventures, this one has no end date. Is not common for John to accessorize his chef’s hat and coat, with a clergy collar; a representation of his passion for cooking and his duty to his divine creator
As John serves his last bowl of soup for the day, the feeling of a job well done can be felt through all the people and volunteers involved. The sweat on his brow is proof of all the hard work that was accomplished, but not yet done. Through his new found love for his host country, No One Hungry has gone international. Setting roots in Belize, with the help of the local Anglican Church and their Bishop, he and his team are supporting the local soup kitchen as well as gathering school supplies for the schools that need it around Belize City and other areas where his help is needed.
*All photos courtesy of Rev. John Clark’s Facebook profile and No One Hungry FL©