At DC Central Kitchen, which uses job training and creation to fight hunger and poverty, Baker has helped teach kitchen skills to the homeless and formerly incarcerated. Last summer, he organised a canned food drive for the D.C. food bank at all three locations of his café, Baker’s Daughter, something he plans on doing again.
In the past, Baker served as a board member for two after-school programmes that taught cooking skills to low-income elementary and middle-school students in the District. He’s hoping to open a charitable arm of his restaurant group that would train young people how to cook. Baker admits that as a child, he had his fair share of struggles with behaviour and paying attention in school — until he discovered cooking.
“When I found my first job at the age of 15 working in kitchens, it changed everything,” Baker said. “It focused me, it gave me a purpose and it gave me a role. It really helped me to have a goal to strive towards and gave me structure.”
Things have come full circle for Baker. When he needed help opening Gravitas in 2017, he launched an online Kickstarter campaign to raise $25,000. It ultimately raked in $36,594. The one-Michelin-star restaurant was only the beginning. Michele’s, his French-American restaurant, recently landed a spot in the Michelin Guide.
“I’m a man of few talents,” Baker said. “The talents I do have, I really think that I owe it to my community and those around us to try to use those talents to have an impact and to hopefully benefit the less fortunate.”
Ryan Ratino, chef-owner of the Michelin-starred Bresca, is mindful about reducing the restaurant industry’s carbon footprint.
In 2018, the French bistro-inspired restaurant became the first D.C. restaurant to commit to analysing its operations and going carbon neutral through Zero Foodprint. Founded in 2013 by chef Anthony Myint to help restaurants and diners reduce their climate impact, the nonprofit addresses climate change by using member donations to create healthy soils.
After filling out a detailed questionnaire that covers everything from the cuts of meat used to how much gas they use in the kitchen, the nonprofit scores an individual restaurant’s carbon footprint, and how much money it should donate to offset that. If a restaurant uses more sustainable meats such as poultry as opposed to beef ribeye, for example, the donation falls. The money supports farmers and ranchers eager to invest in regenerative farm practices on their land.
“That’s one we’ve leaned heavily into with Bresca since day one,” Ratino said of the charity.
Ryan Ratino © Rey Lopez
Between deforestation, food processing, storage, manufacturing and waste, the global food system contributes to about a third of all greenhouse gas emissions. A typical restaurant meal generates between 10 and 15 kilograms of carbon dioxide. Jônt, Ratino’s new, two-Michelin-starred restaurant, plans on joining Zero Foodprint as well.
Ratino has been active in other ways. He loves animals — his pit bull Amelia is six years old — and he frequently donates dinners for two or four to auctions at events that support the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.
The proceeds from an auction Ratino helmed for Bresca’s fifth-year anniversary dining series supported the Human Rescue Alliance to promote pit bull adoptions. The D.C.-based nonprofit supports pet owners who have a difficult time looking after their furry friends.
His work at charity dinners doesn’t end there. In 2019, he was one of 19 prominent chefs taking part in Chef’s Table, a dinner that supported the HMSHost Foundation, which fights poverty through food, shelter, education and workforce development.
For March of Dimes in D.C., Ratino has provided a tasting for VIP guests after the Signature Chefs event has concluded — his official title for the last two years has been ‘after-party chef’.
“The chefs’ contributions to March of Dimes is invaluable,” the charity’s donor development manager Jordan Ludwig said of Ratino and Baker. “Along with demonstrating their commitment to our mission, they mobilise others in their industry to support as well. Through the generosity of donating their time and talent, they have helped us raise significant funds for the March of Dimes.”
At the beginning of the pandemic, Bresca worked with Andrés’ World Central Kitchen to help provide meals to front-line and hospital workers. Bresca and Jônt have deep connections to Andrés. Between eight and 12 employees, as well as Ratino, made their bones at one of Andrés’ restaurants.
“José Andrés is such a big footprint in D.C., and we respect José Andrés so much, so we wanted to be involved in making sure we support the work they do as big or as small as we could,” Ratino said. “It’s an easy one for us because we’re connected to them — you feel connected to it.”