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Shared Kitchens at 2Life

Shared Kitchens empowers older adults by transforming their kitchens into spaces of intergenerational exchange through the communal preparation of food.

Two Asian older adults cooking

What is Shared Kitchens?

Shared Kitchens is made of Kitchen Leaders who share their wealth of culinary experience to plan and cook community lunches. The surrounding community is welcomed into the Shared Kitchen to partake in nutritious and affordable meals as well as learn about the recipes. Shared Kitchens creates inclusive environments that encourage people to share knowledge, share stories, and share meals across generations. We first learned about Shared Kitchens from Sarah Gunawan, an architect and teacher, who won an award for this concept through the, “In Good Company: The 2018 Optimal Aging Challenge.” This global innovation challenge, led by the MIT Age Lab and a group of industry, academic and government partners affiliated with Governor Baker’s Council to Address Aging, sought ideas for the improvement of well-being in aging populations through breakthrough technologies, community resources and solutions that reduce social isolation and loneliness among older adults. We thought that our residents might enjoy the program so we wanted to bring it to 2Life.

The Meetings

We first hosted an info session to describe the concept with residents. Our staff and volunteer team included myself, Sarah Green-Vaswani, Lucy Tsitlenko, Ryan Zheng and Sarah Gunawan. We had seven residents attend the info session. They brought up their concerns about the amount of work it would be but we more concerned about if people will like their food. One suggestion they made was to do taste tests of their recipes and then vote on items. The residents were very interested in the project but very worried that other residents would not find the food good enough and would not come back. They said that the $2 ticket cost adds to the pressure. They also suggested that there is a Head Chef for each week that instructs them on what to do. The 2Life team reiterated that the food does not have to be perfect and its about being a team but we agreed that we might need to extend the schedule to allow for taste testing and maybe do less than four lunches.

During our second meeting we discussed how we could make this program more workable for 2Life. Resident, Mrs. Liang, attended. Resident, Xingke, was not able to attend because she had English tutoring that morning. We brainstormed more ideas and we landed on the common food of dumplings since there are different forms of dumplings all over the world. They are easier to make as a group and prepare for a large amount of people. Using dumplings as a common theme, each luncheon would honor a different culture, region or country’s dumpling. We would make one meat and one vegetarian with two sides to make a full lunch. We decided to first start out with Chinese dumplings and then move into other regions and communities such as Spanish, Russian, Middle Asian, Korean, Indian, Polish, Jewish, Italian and more. The Kitchen Leaders do not have to remain the same for each time. Each luncheon would have a Guest Chef or main Kitchen Leader and then residents, and the staff members part of the group will cook the food under their instruction. Instead of putting the cost on residents participating in the lunch, we decided to create a cookbook of all the dumplings to use as a fundraiser at the end of the project to help cover some of the costs as well as record stories and honor the people from the project. 2Life will help with translation and collecting the recipes. Sarah Gunawan will help with design and printing the book. Mrs. Liang felt that this would be better since the pressure of $2 tickets made the task of cooking lunch more daunting for residents. We decided to use a deposit for tickets to ensure that residents attend. Residents will give a dollar or two when they reserve their lunch ticket with Sarah Green-Vaswani, and when they attend the lunch, they will get it back. We will cook for 30 people and sell 20 tickets to make sure that the 10 Kitchen Leaders will also have lunch, which includes staff and residents.

Menu for First Lunch

We discussed in detail the right quantities and the recipes. Most of these recipes came from the group members’ memories and took time to go through and write on paper. The residents met one time on their own prior to our last planning meeting to taste test each other’s soups and dumplings to decide which recipes to go with. The full recipes will come out in our “International Tour of Dumplings” Cookbook.

  • Chicken Corn Egg Soup
  • 2 packs of Chicken Tender cuts (about 20 pieces)
  • 2 Dozen Eggs
  • 4 Large bags (about 3lbs) of Birdeye Frozen Corn
  • Salt
  • 1 Big Piece of Ginger Root
  • Black Pepper
  • Corn Starch
  • A Little Toasted Sesame Oil
  • 1 pack of Bean Curd Sheet
  • Vegetable Side - Green Beans
  • 5 lbs of Fresh Green/String Beans
  • Fresh Garlic
  • Salt
  • Olive Oil
  • Xingke Hu will bring the Chinese Kimchi vegetable pickles

Dough for Dumplings - 5lbs of King Arthur Flour

Vegetarian Dumpling - Making 150 Dumplings

  • 2 Packs Dry Bean Curd - 4 pieces per pack - Chang Shing Fire Spice Bean Curd
  • 2 Dozen Eggs
  • 2.5 lbs  Chinese Chives (much larger and more fragrant than American Chives)
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • Corn Starch
  • Sunflower oil
  • 1 bunch of Scallions
  • Bottle of Sesame Oil

Meat Dumpling - Making 150 Dumplings (Side note: we had a great conversation around not using pork and if that still made it a dumpling)

  • 2 Middle Size Napa Cabbage
  • 3 lbs of Ground Chicken (3 packs)
  • 1 Bottle of Kikkoman Soy Sauce
  • 1 Bottle  of Vegetable/Sunflower Oil
  • Toasted Sesame Oil
  • 1 big piece of fresh Ginger
  • 1 bunch of Scallions

Dough

  • King Arthur flour
  • Water
  • Salt
  • Pepper

Resident Cooks

  1. Xingke Hu
  2. Liu Huiying
  3. Xiao Yu Wang
  4. Dexin Wei
  5. Xun Liang 

Staff & Volunteers

  1. Kate White
  2. Sarah Green-Vaswani
  3. Ryan Zheng
  4. Lucy Tsitlenko
  5. Sarah Gunawan
  6. Olivia Yang (volunteer on day of lunch to assist in cooking and interpret)

The First Luncheon

We began cooking the afternoon of May 1st, prepping the dough, green beans and chicken for the soup. We presented the resident cooks with the aprons that Sarah Green Vaswani’s mother in law had embroidered their names on.

The next morning, on May 2nd, the resident cooks, staff and volunteers gathered and prepared all the food. We laughed, we rushed around the kitchen and residents grabbed last minute supplies from their apartments that we needed or forgot. We learned that there were secret additional ingredients such as home cooked chili sauce slow cooked over time with other spices, and ginger water that highlights the essence of ginger without the stringy texture. At noon, residents who had signed up for the sold out event arrived. We served the meal of ten dumplings, soup and green beans and then cheered on the resident cooks to thank them for all their hard work. We then joined all the guests and had family style meal. It is hard to capture in words the joy and humor of the day so please check out all the photos and videos.

What encapsulated for me the whole project was what Mrs. Liang said at the end of the day, “I’m not even tired [even though she had been cooking for five hours] because of how happy they [guests] were. It makes me so happy that I have so much energy.” Mrs Liang was our main leader who had recruited her friends and neighbors because of their complementary skills sets. Xiao Yu Wang is known as the master dough maker and Liu Huiying is known as the best stuffing maker. Xingke always makes Egg Drop Soup for her family and Dexin Wei loves to roll out the dough. Their friends and husbands joined us while we cooked to lend a hand in stuffing. Through intensive collaboration and incremental planning, the project became resident led and informed while the staff became the assistants. We needed the time and many discussions to make it this valuable and meaningful endeavor. We felt like a team and the food meant more to us than just a lunch but a showcase of our history and art.

Our next stop is Russian dumplings!