Chefs Brigade’s new program manager, April Bellow, loves making connections and this self described “geek” loves digging into a project and becoming fully immersed with it. Even before she officially joined the Chefs Brigade team, she went on several of our Chefs on Boats (CoB) planning expeditions. After the trips, she decided she needed to learn more about the port where the CoB expedition launches from, and the local oyster industry so she decided to spend a few days in Empire, Louisiana.
A Gretna native, Bellow began working in the restaurant industry when she was 16 and soon became a line cook at Arnaud’s while she was still in high school. After graduation, she enrolled at the prestigious Johnson & Wales, earning a bachelor’s degree in food service entrepreneurship. As part of the degree program, she worked in kitchens in the corporate, private and seasonal sectors to learn various operational types. During breaks, she’d still work shifts at Arnaud’s and post-Katrina worked her way up to Sous Chef.
“I feel like local foodways are in my DNA,” Bellow says. “For many generations, my family has gardened and fished, so as a kid, I was constantly learning about local foods, disappearing coastlines, changing estuaries and more. I loved it; I still do and I’m still learning and sharing that with others.”
Putting her degree and experience to use, Bellow started consulting with Chef Services Group, while continuing to hone her cooking skills as a custom private caterer. Later, she co-created Killer Poboys, becoming fully immersed as a restaurateur. From start-up to expanding into two locations, she created and streamlined operational systems. After Bellow left her restaurant, she worked as an adjunct culinary instructor at Delgado Community College before joining the staff at New Orleans Culinary and Hospitality Institute (NOCHI).
As you can tell, Bellow has made many culinary and community contacts since those early days at Arnaud’s, and her ability to make new connections was particularly crucial when the COVID pandemic hit not long after she joined the institute. NOCHI needed to adjust to the new environment like so many involved in the restaurant industry, and that manifested in NOCHI partnering with Revolution Foods and Chefs Brigade in the City of New Orleans COVID Meal Assistance program. Bellow played a critical role in that operation, which eventually produced more than 3.7 million meals.
Having collaborated with Chefs Brigade for more than a year on the meal program, Bellow knew the organization and was impressed with what it had accomplished in such a short time frame.
“They’re connectors,” Bellow says. “When the meal assistance program began, Chefs Brigade was barely three months old, but it managed to organize and harness the power of New Orleans restaurants to daily feed thousands of people. Chefs Brigade didn’t boil a single pot of hot water, but, without dozens of volunteers and organizational partners, this unique meal assistance program wouldn’t have happened.”
And for Bellow that was enough for her to see a future with the brigade.
“My heart and my head revolve around the growing culinary community and that’s chefs, all areas of hospitality, growers, fishers, organizations, community leaders and the list goes on,” Bellow says. “My job with Chefs Brigade is about joining together and collaborating with those forces, providing educational resources, and helping to produce solutions for our real world problems like food insecurity and food sustainability.”