A well-stocked pantry gladdens the heart of Shyla Hecht who prepares about 70 home-cooked meals per day for guests of First Place Family Center, the First Place Annex, and the Youth House.

YouTube Chefs Stir Inspiration for Tables of SVdP Family, Youth Shelters

As dusk settles on a Friday, Shyla Hecht’s week is young, but old-style culinary experience wafts from her First Place Annex kitchen. YouTube’s Chef John and
Maangchi would be proud to know that, respectively, they inspired the pork chops with gravy to be drizzled over oven-roasted potatoes, and the pot of vegetables-and-noodle stir fry that radiates freshness. The chefs might be interested to know that for some diners, such fare is their first hot meal in recent memory.

Shyla is reminded of this as newcomers to the Annex behold the food. In addition to preparing dinner five nights a week, including weekends, she does breakfasts to be reheated in the morning and to-go plates for First Place Family Center and the Youth House, and she maintains pantries at both facilities. In all, it totals about 70 meals per day for five shifts, with Night Shelter volunteers taking up the slack during Shyla’s mid-week “weekend.”

An avid home cook, Shyla honed her craft in a fast-paced kitchen dedicated to the multi-faceted needs of Alzheimer’s patients. Trained by the longtime cook, she eventually stepped into the role of kitchen manager/trainer.

As a one-person show, she’s still teaching. An example would be steamed artichokes, unfamiliar to most who approach her service window. By dinner’s end each will have learned to slow down, detach each tender leaf, and decide for themselves which is the better dip – straight mayo or garlic butter.

“I enjoy feeding good food and teaching about good food,” Shyla said. And personally, she prefers the garlic butter.

The day-to-day menus are less exotic, but each meets a threefold test: balance, freshness, and tastiness. She expects it of herself, and of her teenager who has prepared one complete family meal each week since she was 8.

“It’s an important thing to pass on,” Shyla said, because food is comforting, whether served at home or in a shelter.

“It’s nice, regardless of your situation, to be able to come in and eat a good, healthy meal.”