An Unexpected Kitchen: The George Foreman Grill

Story Note from The Kitchen Sisters

More 'Hidden Kitchens'

George Foreman, pictured with his mother, Nancy Lee Foreman, in an undated photo.

hide captionGeorge Foreman, pictured with his mother, Nancy Lee Foreman, in an undated photo.

Courtesy George Foreman
As a young member of the Job Corps, 17-year-old George Foreman met Charles "Doc" Broadus (right).

hide captionAs a young member of the Job Corps, 17-year-old George Foreman met Charles "Doc" Broadus (right),who taught him how to box. At left is Foreman's old friend Barney Oldfield.

© Col. Barney Oldfield & The Nebraska Coast Connection/Courtesy Oldfields.org

This story snuck up on us. We heard from Margaret Engel, managing editor of the Freedom Forum's Newseum in Arlington, Va., and co-author (with her twin sister Alison) of Food Finds: America's Best Local Foods and the People Who Produce Them, about her idea of the ultimate hidden kitchen: the George Foreman Grill. We weren't quite on her wavelength. Then she explained.

So many immigrants, homeless people and others of limited means living in single-room occupancies (SROs) have no kitchens, no legal or official place to cook. To get a hot meal, or eat traditional foods from the countries they've left behind, they have to sneak a kind of kitchen into their places. Crock pots, hot plates, microwaves and toaster ovens hidden under the bed. And now, the latest and safest appliance, the appliance that comes in so many colors it looks like a modern piece of furniture: the George Foreman Grill. It is, quite literally, a hidden kitchen.

'Hidden Kitchens' Hotline

Hear calls related to this story we received from listeners:

Listen: Minneapolis' Kitchen of Opportunities, Feeding the Homeless

Listen: How Stews Filled a Hungry Childhood in N.J.

We had never considered such a hidden kitchen, or the issues around it, in quite this way. We bet that George Foreman hadn't, either. So we called him. The stories he told us — about growing up hungry and angry — were stunning.

This story also led us to the streets. We called our colleague, Steve Edwards at WBEZ, to see if he could help us locate any hidden grills in Chicago. He contacted The Chicago Coalition for the Homeless, which in turn put us in touch with Jeffrey Newton. Jeffry has been homeless or in shelters most all his life, from boy's homes, to reformatories, to prison by age 17. Then he moved out on the streets, where every day he goes "trailblazing" — looking for food, shelter, work, the resources he needs to make it through the day.

Jeffry learned to cook from his grandmother. He feels an urge to cook, especially for other people — under the overpass on Chicago's Wacker Drive; on a George Foreman Grill plugged into a power pole; with a hot clothing iron to toast a grilled cheese sandwich.

We also called Glide Memorial Church in San Francisco's Tenderloin District. We knew they would know. They offer a stunning array of services to the poor, to those in recovery, to those needing assistance, both spiritual and physical.

Pat Sherman lived for quite some time in SROs with no kitchen, where cooking was forbidden. She now has a home and works in Glide's walk-in program. Sherman — whose recipe for "Hidden Beans & Rice" is linked to above — was quite ingenious when it came to cooking. Her Crock-Pot doubled as a pencil holder and a flower pot — nothing that would arouse suspicion. When nobody was around to check, she would slow-cook her beans while she went to school, then come home to a hot meal.

This tip about the George Foreman Grill gave us a new vantage point to think about hunger and poverty — and made us look at life on the street through new eyes. -– The Kitchen Sisters

Hear More from Foreman

Listen: Foreman on How Growing Up Hungry Fueled His Boxing Career

Listen: Foreman on His Stint in the Job Corps -- and His First Encounter with Bob Dylan's Music

Story Producers

Produced by The Kitchen Sisters (Davia Nelson & Nikki Silva), with production help from Laura Folger, Kate Volkman and Melissa Robbins.

Story Collaborators

Special thanks to: Steve Edwards & Chicago Public Radio WBEZ; Margaret Engel; Benjamin Golvin; Scott Vogel & Salton Inc.; Don Falk, Anita Mascol and Dalene of the Tenderloin Neighborhood Development Community, SF; Pat Sherman of the Glide Memorial Church Program; and Elizabeth Chur and the St. Anthony Foundation; and The Chicago Coalition for the Homeless.

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