The Kitchen Community is building a food revolution starting at the roots.
Have you heard of that old saying, “You are what you eat?” Or maybe this one: “The children are the future.” These two simple truisms are often overlooked. They may be known and often times heard, but there’s no significant motivation to abide by these simple words of wisdom.
Kimbal Musk and Hugo Matheson, Colorado founding fathers of the farm-to-table movement, took action to not just follow one of these phrases, but both. They’ve created The Kitchen Community, a non-profit founded in 2011 that builds outdoor Learning Gardens across the U.S., teaching students about healthier food choices and ultimately building stronger communities through food.
To start things off, there’s a whole other life behind the story of The Kitchen Community. We may have caught your ear at ‘Musk.’ The Musk we’re talking about is the younger brother of Elon Musk, who is the mind behind PayPal, Tesla Motors and SpaceX. Kimbal Musk was on board with all of these innovative companies since day one. It’s clear that the entrepreneurial spirit runs deep in the family. Both brothers have ideas of changing the world for the better.
“Getting involved with the internet, especially in the late 90s, was very, very exciting and I wouldn’t change anything about those experiences, but my passion has always been food,” says Musk.
South African-born and now Boulderite Kimbal Musk shied away from the sultans of Silicon Valley (although he’s still on the board for Tesla and SpaceX) and decided to pursue his childhood interest – food.
“Growing up, I cooked in the house, and when I cooked everyone would sit down and eat, and it was just kind of the way I connected with my family,” says Musk. “The moment Elon and I sold our first internet company I knew I wanted to pursue food and become a trained chef.”
So that’s just what he did. Musk moved across the country to New York City to pursue his passion.
“I moved to New York and lived only a few blocks from the French Culinary Institute, so I decided to enroll. For a year I spent six hours a day being verbally abused by master chefs. In the class of 18, only six of us graduated,” says Musk.
Dog Meet Dog World
After graduating in mid-2001 and officially achieving his childhood dream, Musk knew what he had to do next: open his own restaurant. The perfect foodie destination? Boulder, Colorado.
After only a week of living in Boulder, Musk’s black lab freed himself from the leash on Pearl Street and caught the attention of an Englishman at a local coffee joint. Call it what you will, but most people call it fate that Musk met Hugo Matheson. Matheson had recently moved to Boulder from England to accept a job as an executive chef at a local restaurant, and the two fellow chefs naturally became chummy.
Matheson then invited Musk over to his house for dinner. With Musk’s NYC, French-trained background he was pleasantly surprised with the simple and casual dinner Matheson created in his kitchen that night.
“It was completely different than what I learned in New York, where you’d spend six hours preparing and cooking something,” says Musk.
Musk jumped at the opportunity to work under Matheson’s tutelage and landed a job as a line cook. They worked together for a year until eventually in March 2004 the pair opened their own restaurant with the goal to serve simple, healthy cuisine.
The name the two chefs settled on established the preface for the restaurant: The Kitchen. Simple, honest menu options you could cook in your own kitchen. Unlike other restaurants in 2004, The Kitchen only used high-quality, fresh ingredients from local vendors and farmers, which made the simple recipes taste amazing. Now in 2015, farm-to-table is a household name, but it’s safe to credit The Kitchen, Musk and Matheson as the forefront innovators who met the new demand for real food.
“I would say that my mother was the largest influence in what I do. Then Rose Grey and Ruth Rodgers gave me faith you could build a business while buying the produce you want. It was opposite to buying as cheap as you can,” says Matheson.
A New Vision
It didn’t take long for the Boulder community to realize fresh is best, and for Musk and Matheson to recognize that restaurants can (and do) impact the food culture. With this realization, their vision expanded to tackling a pressing problem in the United States: obesity. Something that started to skyrocket in the mid-90s and 10 years later in early 2005 had become a full-blown epidemic.
Enter The Kitchen Next Door. Similar in style to The Kitchen, Next Door is faster, less expensive and filled with community tables for getting to know your neighbors and taking care of families. Musk wanted to create a greater and healthier community through food. Starting with the kids.
Building upon the mission of the Kitchen Next Door, Musk and Matheson had a new idea to clean up our nation’s food system and affect communities on a larger scale.
“I broke my neck in 2010 and decided to put all my time and energy into my passion for a world thriving on real food. Hugo and I had been supporting a school garden program called Growe Foundation in Boulder – a wonderful organization that we still support to this day. I wanted to continue reaching kids in schools but go about it a bit differently to make a larger impact in areas of the country who are in food deserts,” says Musk.
That’s when after researching the best options, Jen Lewin designed The Kitchen Community Learning Gardens. The gardens are outdoor classrooms that introduce kids to healthy, nutritious food and education on gardening.
“I believe that by increasing kids’ exposure and preference for fruits and vegetables, we can help them take the first step toward a healthier lifestyle,” says Musk.
Since 2011 when the operation first started, there are now 260 Learning Gardens in schools across Colorado, Chicago, Los Angeles and Memphis. The Kitchen Community is successfully reaching more than 140,000 students every day.
“We hope to make even more impact by building 1,000 Learning Gardens in schools across 10 communities by 2020,” says Matheson.
Not only is this local non-profit planting the seed for improving childhood nutrition, but the initiative also helps with socialization and student achievement. Tackling childhood obesity is the underlying goal, but they are taking a more grounded approach.
“We are hoping to build healthy behaviors over time, as well as increasing student academic engagement and increasing kids’ knowledge and likability of fruits and vegetables,” says Matheson.
Because the children are the future, and you are what you eat.