Fine dining is usually reserved for those who can afford the typically costly meals. But in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, eight of the city's top restaurants are donating gourmet meals to a local homeless shelter.
One of these establishments, the Sanford Restaurant, is considered one of the best upscale eating establishments in the U.S. Midwest. Its menu includes such items as chargrilled loin of elk with maple polenta, balsamic grilled romaine and tart cherry reduction; and lacquered quail and crisp veal sweetbread with grilled peach and braised collards.
Now, Sanford its peers are providing meals for the city’s largest publicly funded homeless shelter, the Guest House.
Volunteer Dale Rhyan helped start the project in 2011 when he saw what some of the men at the Guest House were eating. He said a good meal is a very practical way to help the men get their lives back together.
"Food goes right to the brain," Rhyan said. "These guys need nutrition to get their lives back, and to be able to go out on the street, find work and get their health back."
Rhyan, who used to work in the food industry, approached some of his friends in the restaurant business. He said he was surprised by their willingness to help.
"I would sometimes go home at night and find that I would be crying in the car," he said. "I was so overwhelmed because I was not getting any rejections."
The meals the men receive are of the same quality as those served to paying customers at Sanford and other restaurants. Chef Justin Aprahamian, a winner of the prestigious James Beard Award for culinary excellence, said he and his crew take special care when preparing meals for the Guest House.
"We take a lot of pride in what we send over to the Guest House," he said. "We're not cutting corners on anything we are making for them. We're shopping at the same farmers markets and ordering from the same purveyors."
On a recent night, Aprahamian was making a cassoulet — "kind of a classic French stew where you got a combination of some duck meat, classically, sausage, pork, beans and a bunch of vegetables all stewed together," he said.
Guest House resident Billie Pollard said the meals he and other residents enjoy are always something special.
"Oh, I really enjoyed it," he said. "That was really good. I liked the way they cooked that food, I liked the way they prepared it, too."
Robert Howard, another Guest House resident, who is on the verge of leaving the shelter after being off heroin for nearly two years, said of the food: "I can tell it's not like a person just made it from home. It tastes better than that. I know that much."
Howard said that even after he leaves the Guest House, he will schedule return visits on the gourmet nights.