Who is Lindsey Seegers?

Lindsey Seegers is the Director of Culinary Programs at Kitchens for Good. Kitchens for Good uses food to transform lives and nourish communities by providing people with the skills and support to launch meaningful careers. Lindsey oversees the organization’s culinary and upcoming baking apprenticeship program as well as the hunger relief meal production. She and her colleagues at Kitchens for Good happen to be right in the middle of building a new baking school and launching Luna Café at Moonlight Amphitheatre, so I was grateful Lindsey had a few minutes to chat! In our interview you’ll get to know a little about Lindsey and what Kitchens for Good is doing to reduce poverty in San Diego. You’ll also walk away with some practical leadership tips, book recommendations, and an easy recipe for a delicious meal!

Lindsey Seegers, Director of Culinary at Kitchens for Good in San Diego. Kitchens For Good believes every human deserves a chance to reach their potential.

Lindsey, what first sparked your interest in pursuing a profession in the culinary world?

When I graduated college it was the start of the recession, and even though I had some experience and a college degree, there was just no getting a job. Food began consuming my thoughts: What am I going to eat? What can I make? I was applying to dozens of jobs every day in the Washington D.C. area, and it was during my search for employment that I became obsessed with cooking. 

I read cookbooks cover to cover, and that sparked my love of cookbooks. I began writing about food, sharing my thoughts about food, and I eventually found a job as a catering manager. I didn’t come from any type of foodie background. You know–we weren’t making homemade tomato sauce on Sundays or anything–but when I got to this point of really mastering my skills, I felt so certain that if I could cook, anyone could cook. That’s when I started pursuing a career where I could integrate cooking education, bringing people together, and providing access to food for people experiencing hunger. It took me six years to get the job I wanted, where I was a Nutrition Educator at a Manna Food Center in Maryland.

"If it's about you and your ego, your team is not going to accomplish the mission. It’s got to be about the heart of the mission and inspiring people to be their own independent thinkers."

— Lindsey Seegers, Director of Culinary at Kitchens for Good

What in particular energizes you about your work at Kitchens for Good?

There were two key tenets that I heard from my professors nearly every day during my undergraduate studies in social work: The first tenet is that every person has inherent dignity and worth. The second is the concept of self-determination. What energizes me about Kitchens for Good is that it really embodies these two tenets.

I always knew I wanted to be in a non-profit. I wanted to be in the helping world, but in my experience I found that a lot of organizations, while incredibly well-meaning, may unknowingly perpetuate a charity model rather than a social justice model. The charity model says “here, this is for you” and awaits the client’s “thank you.” This approach keeps the existing social structures in place, the power dynamics very comfortably where they are. Immediate needs are met but sometime little is done to examine the underlying system.

I feel very fortunate to be part of Kitchens for Good, where we’re increasing economic opportunities for people who are deemed unemployable, who are in a cycle of poverty, and we are actually making a way for people to break out of that cycle of poverty. We’re equipping these individuals with culinary skills, not just to get a job, but to launch a meaningful career, move forward in life, get out of poverty permanently, and make a positive impact by paying it forward in community.This is what energizes me so much at Kitchens for Good. Every human is worthy of a second chance, and they are also worthy of a 16th chance. Our role is equipping and inspiring people to change their own lives. It can’t be us. You can’t make anybody change. We’re providing the tools; we’re providing them life skills, and then they’re doing it. It’s why the change lasts. It’s why it’s a real transformation. It’s really special.

What have you helped accomplish at Kitchens for Good that you feel most proud of?

It is all such a team effort. What could I possibly take credit for? It’s the whole team and all the students. What I will say is that in the past 6 months our team, with the support of 1,700 volunteers, produced 52,625 meals for San Diegans experiencing hunger from 43,000lb of upcycled farmer’s market produce. 

Also, when I first got here I noticed that while we had a lot of volunteers passionate about food waste (like upcycling apples that might have been wasted, into applesauce for homebound seniors), there were other non-food related opportunities that we could build upon. I started looking at how we could connect our volunteers deeper with the world of Kitchens for Good. We had volunteers who were teachers. There were bankers who could teach our students finance during their life skills classes. There were deeper opportunities for volunteers to engage. 

Since working on that structure, we have a far more integrated process, where our volunteers are getting involved in a variety of ways. They’re hosting a party and having students cater it. They’re coming to graduation to cheer on students they’ve been cooking alongside. I went to a city council meeting alongside one of our volunteers to advocate for the hunger relief programs that we’re doing. It’s been inspiring to see that we have so many people who want to help. It’s been really special to be part of connecting all those dots if you will, so that our volunteers understand how they can support the full range of work Kitchens for Good is doing. Our volunteers are co-champions with us in supporting our apprentices’ success.

If you could only give the students in your program one piece of advice for reaching their goals in life, what would it be?

“Sometimes the fear won’t go away, so you’ll have to do it afraid.” This quote resonates with me, and I mentioned it to one of our graduates recently. He looked stunned and replied: “Wait, you use that advice too?” The quote aligns with a phrase a friend calls the “Sunday Scaries.” Apparently I am not the only one, many Sundays before work, asking myself, “Can I really do it again?” That weekly rotation when impostor syndrome and self-doubts kick in. When I began at Kitchens for Good, I recognized that pattern getting in my own way. At the same time, I witnessed all the emotional and physical barriers (like taking long trolley rides, or walking in the rain) that students surmount just to get to class everyday. It was then I realized that holding myself back with self-doubt wasn’t doing our apprentices, or our organization, any good. When I came across this quote, it gave me that gumption to internalize: “OK, I’m just going to do it—my best—anyway.”

What’s one book you would highly recommend for people in mentoring and leadership roles? 

It’s hard to narrow it down to just one, so I’m going to give you two. The first one is Start with Why by Siimon Sinek. It informs everything–it’s that communication piece that is lacking so often in conversations, both professional and personal, as far as the reason that we are all getting together. It’s easy to get caught up in a project or task at hand while forgetting why we are all showing up. For us it’s all about our students. I renamed a scheduling meeting we have “The Supporting Our Students Meeting” for that reason. If we’re getting together, we have to remember every single time the reason why we are getting together.

The other one is Let Your Life Speak by Parker Palmer. In it, he writes about the notion that we wear these masks into adulthood–we think we’re being who others have asked us to be. It’s about the authentic journey necessary for leadership. He gives an anecdote about a time he is up for promotion at a university. The hiring committee asked him “Do you want the job?” and he boldly admitted to them: “ I like the way it would look.” That candor just spoke to me. I believe that in leadership, being in touch with your motives, your authentic self, and shedding those masks about who we think we need be can help us become more effective and mission-focused. 

How can San Diegans support the work you’re doing at Kitchens for Good? 

There are three easy ways:

  1. The first one is, cater with us! Catering is our social enterprise. We’ve won San Diego Magazine “Best Caterer, Reader’s Pick” for 2018 and 2019. It’s not only cooked and served by our chefs and culinary apprentices, but that money goes right back into our programming. It’s really great food and you get to give money to a great cause. Whether it’s a party, a wedding, a conference, work lunches, we do all of it. We also have an amazing venue in Southeast San Diego where we can host events as well.
  2. We also have volunteer opportunities: Sunday through Thursday we need volunteers in the evening to cook alongside students making hunger relief meals. These meals go out all over San Diego to feed seniors who are home-bound, to feed children, and to feed the homeless. We also have some daytime opportunities gleaning rescued produce and prepping it for the hunger relief meals.
  3. The third way is making a donation. Five dollars, ten dollars, fifty dollars–it all matters and goes right back into our programming, right back into our culinary apprenticeship program. We’ve got a great track record–I mean this is truly changing and transforming people’s lives. 

Other Notes:

  • To get more information about Kitchen’s for Good and find out how you can get involved, visit KitchensforGood.org.
  • Books Lindsey recommended during our conversation:
    • The Stop:How the Fight for Good Food Transformed a Community and Inspired a Movement by Nick Saul, 2013.
    • Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action by Simon Sinek, 2011.
    • Let your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation by Parker Palmer, 1999.

Egg Noodles with Brown Butter and Feta

Recipe By Diane Kochilas 

In addition to spending time with us for the interview, Lindsey was kind enough to send us one of her go-to recipes:

Here is my all-time favorite recipe from a 2006 issue of Gourmet magazine. While I have so many recipes I’m eager to cook for company, I find myself often returning to this delightfully simple THREE ingredient supper, Egg Noodles with Brown Butter and Feta. Pair with fresh mixed greens, spritzed with lemon and olive oil, plus salt and fresh pepper. Top the whole thing with chives, and impress everyone from your four-year-old to your impromptu dinner guests. 

YIELD Makes 8 to 10 side dish servings

ACTIVE TIME 10 min

TOTAL TIME 30 min

INGREDIENTS

  •       1 pound dried egg noodles or egg pasta (my favorite, egg pappardelle pasta, is most elegant here)
  •       1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter
  •       6 ounces Greek feta (preferably Mt. Vikos or Dodoni brand), crumbled (1 1/2 cups)

PREPARATION

  1. Cook noodles in a 6- to 8-quart pot of boiling salted water until just tender (softer than al dente). Drain well in a colander.
  2. While noodles cook, melt butter in a small heavy skillet over low heat and continue to cook until it begins to turn golden brown, about 6 minutes. Remove from heat.
  3. Spread one third of noodles on a large platter and sprinkle with one third of cheese. Repeat layering with remaining noodles and cheese in 2 batches, then pour brown butter over noodles and toss with 2 forks to combine. Spread noodles on a platter and season with pepper.
Photography by Patrick Fore