Beyond the Dinner Table: Childhood dreams realized through New Roots Fresh Stop Markets and Community Unity
With the expansion of fresh food insecure communities in many neighborhoods in Louisville, community organizing is more important than ever. Community organizing is what brings people together to create something greater than themselves—a collective of willpower capable of creating the progress that gives a community life and good memories. For Smoketown Fresh Stop Market Farmer Liaison and renowned chef, Mark Hoosier, the collective for him is New Roots. This is a story of how a chance meeting between a 17-year old budding chef and a food justice organizer worked to have an impact beyond the dinner table.
Mark was twelve when he first started cooking in his own kitchen. Although, culinary arts peaked his interest long before. “As a toddler my mom was going to school and working so I stayed with my Aunt,” Mark said. Mark spent his time with his Aunt sifting through cookbooks and writing down recipes that he wanted to cook at home. “Eventually I took it upon myself to get into the kitchen on my own. I would go grocery shopping on my own and point out the ingredients I wanted to use to my mother.”
Shively is Mark’s childhood home. He grew up there after moving from City View with his mother. “Like anywhere [City View] had its own issues,” Mark said. One could say moving to Shively was Mark’s turning point. He attended Western High School and enrolled in the culinary arts program where his love for cooking peaked. “During the introductory course, you’re learning things like how to make cookies and brownies. As you go through the years, the class gets smaller. The chef instructor decides who’s ready to be in the program—who is actually learning from this, and who is just here to eat.”
As Mark approached senior year, he was excited to take up a cook position in the mock restaurant just across the hall from the cooking classroom. Here, the students, typically seniors, would create a menu for the week, and sell the food to teachers and faculty members. “One thing that stood out the most was the raviolo that I had made,” Mark said. It was my first time making it. It's a larger ravioli with a mixture of feta cheese, herbs, cream.”
The Western High School Culinary Arts Program is also where Mark met his longtime friend, Nikkia Rhodes. During their junior year, New Roots Director Karyn Moskowitz met with the class and invited them to do a cooking demo at then Wellington Fresh Stop Market.
Mark explains, “The very first Fresh Stop Market that I cooked at would be the Shively Fresh Stop Market when it was still at the Wellington Elementary location. I was there cooking with my high school since we had a culinary arts program and it was my junior year; I was 17.” Mark, with the help of his culinary peers made a butternut squash pasta dish. “We don't produce anything that tastes poor,” Mark laughs. “Everyone seemed to love the dish. It was likely the most labor intensive dish I've seen prepared for a Fresh Stop Market.”
Soon after, Mark was tagged for an internship at Texas Roadhouse. But Karyn and her colleague at New Roots, Angelo Boone, saw something different in Mark’s future. Angelo remarked, “He was only 17 and making zucchini sushi. I could see this was a special young man, who just needed the right mentor to unleash his creative potential as a chef.” Angelo connected Mark to Hillbilly Tea Chef Karter Louis. Mark started as a dishwasher, but under the tutelage of Chef Arpi, he soon advanced to sous chef. That gig led him and Nikkia to the kitchen of Chef Ed Lee (of Milkwood and 610 Magnolia), and YouthBuild, and a yearlong culinary internship. Nikkia and Mark ended up working together at a restaurant called Millwood, owned by Chef Ed Lee. There was a single day where two of the cooks we absent—no call, no show. Both Nikkia and Mark stepped up to the plate, together. “It was the busiest time of the year. We were both forced onto the hotline, and it was absolutely hellish.” Mark said. “But we got through it. From there it was just really rigorous and we were there to be each other's rocks and keep each other safe. It really showed how hectic and stressful the restaurant industry could be.”
Today, Mark is getting ready to become executive chef at Ed Lee’s new restaurant on 4th Street, Whiskey Dry. To tithe back to New Roots as a volunteer farmer liaison made perfect sense to Mark, not only to “pay it back,” but to also pay it forward by becoming a representative for his Smoketown community. “I have learned a great deal about community organizing from New Roots,” Mark said. “I find that oftentimes it's easy to perceive a community as disconnected within itself but it's very much the opposite.” In other words, New Roots is the glue that often times works to bring the connectedness that does exist out into the open, and leverage it to not only build a food justice movement, but to build careers as well.