UMN chef volunteers in disaster relief efforts

A University chef traveled to Hawaii and Guatemala supporting kitchen-driven relief efforts after volcanic eruptions this summer.

District Executive Cheff Gregg Malsbary poses for a portrait inside TCF Bank Stadium on Monday, July 16. Malsbary led relief efforts to cook thousands of meals a day for people impacted by the two volcanic eruptions in Hawaii and Guatemala this year.

Easton Green

District Executive Cheff Gregg Malsbary poses for a portrait inside TCF Bank Stadium on Monday, July 16. Malsbary led relief efforts to cook thousands of meals a day for people impacted by the two volcanic eruptions in Hawaii and Guatemala this year.

Cleo Krejci

A University of Minnesota chef recently traveled to Hawaii and Guatemala to support ongoing disaster relief efforts following recent volcanic eruptions in the areas.

Gregg Malsbary, the University’s district executive chef, took time off from work at the University this summer to oversee relief kitchens as part of his involvement with the international nonprofit World Central Kitchen. 

WCK encompasses a building network of about 200 chefs who provide ongoing support and cook meals to aid in disaster relief. Malsbary connects his work overseas to his job at the University because of ties to his background and projects within culinary education. 

“I enjoy doing [community engagement]. I feel like I develop very good relationships in the community, and everything comes back to food,” Malsbary said. 

Aramark and M Dining, the University’s food services, conduct local outreach initiatives that Malsbary has played a crucial role in, said M Dining resident district manager Jeff McKinley over email. 

McKinley added that the culinary field can provide tremendous support after disasters, such as cooking for groups and teaching others how to prepare food.  

“[As] disasters continue to increase, especially with global warming… we have to look at relief and feeding people differently, and we have to look at it through the eyes of a chef,” Malsbary said.

The menus created by chefs in WCK are based off of resources provided by local communities; Malsbary remembers utilizing lettuce produced by nearby organic farmers, tropical fruits and fresh-caught tuna, mahi mahi and wahoo fish in Hawaii. 

“It was a mystery basket every day for 1,000 people,” Malsbary said.

WCK executive director Nathan Mook said the organization emphasizes using local foods in meal preparation because it supports local preferences and access to foods. 

A majority of the daily volunteers in Hawaii were individuals who had lost a home or job in the eruptions; many spent consecutive days or weeks donating their time in the kitchens, Malsbary said.  

“In all the relief kitchens I have been in with WCK, you hear stories of sadness and happiness but it always ends in laughter,” said chef Tim Kilcoyne over email from Hawaii, where he is currently aiding in the ongoing relief efforts.

Kilyocne said one of the best aspects of his work has been getting to know volunteers, especially hearing their stories about food.

“We come to a disaster area with our own vision of food, but then you need to adjust based on the local tastes,” Kilcoyne said. “Not everyone is in a financial place that they can donate money so this gives them something hands on to come and do.”