PASADENA, Calif. — There's a warmth in everything Chef Onil Chibas does.
And his passion and love for food are evident in everything he does in the kitchen.
"As a chef, food is certainly love, and that's always a term, an expression we use with each other," Chibas said.
He and St. Vincent Meals on Wheels, which prepares and delivers meals to homebound seniors and other vulnerable residents across Los Angeles, have turned that expression into a hashtag; #FoodIsLove. It's a monthlong celebration of spreading joy and raising funds and awareness for St. Vincent Meals on Wheels.
The centerpiece of #FoodIsLove is the meal Chibas is making now at his restaurant Deluxe 1717 in Pasadena. It's a multi-course, gourmet meal curated and created by the chef and delivered to homes. Those choosing to purchase the dinner will be supporting St. Vincent Meals on Wheels, with one 100% of the proceeds going to the nonprofit.
For Chibas, who was born to Black Cuban parents in New York, the inspiration to spread love comes from his mom. She taught him and his siblings about compassion from a young age, he said.
"She'd make too much rice and beans or something… 'Take this to so-and-so… they need it.' And so we kind of grew up doing that, and I think it's an important way to live. It's a better way to live, giving back," Chibas said.
According to California Food Policy Advocates, one in five Angelenos lived with food insecurity before the pandemic. Today that number has jumped to one in four.
And with seniors isolating and senior centers and congregate meal sites having closed throughout the city, the requests for meals at St. Vincent Meal on Wheels has doubled – with the organization preparing and delivering over 100,000 meals a month.
Chibas has had creative promotions to keep his community positive throughout the pandemic through his restaurant. "Wonderful Wednesdays" and "Casual Fridays" have given pandemic-weary subscribers longing for a break from their COVID-19 compliant routine. He has delivered a four-course meal of his creation, along with optional desserts delivered in the afternoon at their homes.
"I just think in a time like this where there's a lot of sadness because of the pandemic, because of a lot of other things, be it political or race-based that it's important to try to give back and kind of approach things from a loving standpoint," Chibas said.
With more than 250,000 Los Angeles seniors at risk of hunger, the chef hopes this salmon in blood orange and chipotle sauce is just one of the courses that will get people to sign-up and spend their weekend dining in, while giving back.
"To know that you're also going to be doing something good to help a lot of people, it's a win-win," Chibas said.