Linda Kane is Community MusicWorks’ food guru. Whether preparing 400-plus meals for a community concert and dinner or catering a CMW fundraiser, she focuses on nutrition, sustainability, and local products. Linda is most revered, however, for feeding delicious, healthy, and economical meals to Phase II students every Friday night for the last decade. She has worked at Walt Disney World, as a personal chef and caterer, and taught at Johnson & Wales University. Linda is co-owner of Sauce on the Side Productions (Rhode Island Red Hot Sauce and Cowboy Ketchup) and is a freelance writer. For (more) fun, she writes songs.
I remember the first meal I prepared for the Phase II program and what I heard while I was cleaning up. They were having a discussion about a global matter and I remember thinking, wow! this is so much more than a music program.
It doesn’t matter how stressful my week may be. On Friday, when I get to CMW, I feel relaxed. It’s a feeling of calm and peacefulness, and you want to go back to that environment. You want to surround yourself with people who make you like who you are. That’s the way I describe it. That’s why you would keep going back.
I’m tiptoeing in with the food during rehearsal, and though I’m not a musician, I do love music and have a great appreciation for classical music and the string instruments. I can’t say I have a full understanding of it, but it still moves me, sometimes to tears. I think it’s the positive energy that I feel when I’m there that I absorb. Whatever I’m feeling negatively goes away.
I come from an Italian family, so we’re very high energy. My grandmother would be like, “Come on, Linda, there’s only three meatballs left, eat them.” Sebastian and I have talked about this because his grandmother was the same way. You’re completely different nationalities, but you still share these memories around food.
Sebastian is very special and I have so much respect for him. Sure enough, at every single event, when he’s thanking donors and the people who support CMW’s mission and the organization, he usually summons me from the kitchen to thank me as well. I’m not someone who likes to really be in the spotlight that way, but I always go. You know that you’re appreciated, even though you’re not doing it for that. It’s a good feeling. People have heard me say this time and time again: It’s a mutually beneficial relationship…in fact I probably get more out of it. It’s that calming environment. That’s what I need. That’s why it works.
I like to please people through food. I always joke about it. “This is what I got. This is my gift.” I light up when I’m talking about food and really enjoy listening to the client, what they want, and creating something that’s going to satisfy. When it’s kids I’m feeding on a Friday night, I’m thinking, what are they going to like, what are they going to want? Okay, I’m sure that they’d be very happy with chicken fingers and fries every week. But we almost never do anything fried, and, if it is, it might be a hand-pounded fresh chicken cutlet that I’ve pan-fried. Nothing’s going in the fryer.
You’ve got all the different age groups. You’ve got a number of different tastes. I always ask at the beginning of the season if there are any dietary restrictions, allergies, vegetarians. If there’s someone who doesn’t like mayonnaise, I respect that. When they go through with their plates I say, “What, no salad? It’s so good, you should try it. Try one little piece. If you don’t like it, that’s okay.” I make all the portions small portions so it’s manageable to try something new.
I do bring salad every single week. But I’ll put grapes and strawberries in it or apple and goat cheese or feta, you know, change it up. I do everything from pasta dishes to stir fry, little sliders, shepard’s pie, make your own burritos. A lot of times, I’ll use turkey instead of beef. I don’t mention that to anyone until the end. [Laughs] It’ll be as well balanced of a meal as I can do. It’s a limited budget. But I’m the queen of leftovers. I’ll manage to put together a full meal and let them take leftovers home.
Each year, it’s a different group. With different personalities…some are real talkers and others are very quiet. I’ll introduce myself and talk a little about the food, the meal for the day. I always say at the beginning: “Why is it important to eat healthy?” I use metaphors. “You’re not going to drive your car without gas. Do you want to be a race car or do you want to be a putt-putt-putt?” I talk about the relationship of food and every part of your body. Then we talk about all the different colors. I’ll say, “After you make your plate, I want you to count how many colors are on your plate.” That seems to resonate with them. A few students who have finished the program and then come back to visit will say things like, “Oh, I’m in college now, and every time I make my plate, I think of you saying eat all the colors of the rainbow!”
When they’re standing in line, I make it a point to say hello to each of them. I’ll ask them as a group, “Did anybody eat anything interesting this week? Anything you want to share?” Of course, you’ll get the same people talking. Once in while I’ll– not put someone on the spot, but I’ll say–“What about you? You must’ve eaten something this week that you never ate before? All right, next week I want to hear from you.”
Having the same person there every week too, is something important. I know by my other work in the community that just creating a regular stability, and seeing the same people, and knowing they’re going to be there creates a good secure feeling. I’m always very happy to see them. They know when you’re there for them or just calling it in.
No matter how different all of our lives are, we all hear music, we all celebrate, and we all eat. Food and music are often together at the center of a celebration, and there too during the sad times. Sharing a meal together as a group is something very special.