Starfish Cafe: Southern Regeneration
“Hi, this is Aric – I’m either unavailable, or I’m avoiding someone. Leave me a message, and if I don’t call back… it was you.”
“Hi, Aric – this is Paul, returning your call. Hope you’re not avoiding too many people. You might miss a few who are worth it. Call me back when you can.”
If all you knew of chef Paul Buck was that one voicemail, it’d be all you need. Funny, assertive, and willing to give everyone a chance… even if the rest of the world doesn’t.
And it’s that exact approach that led him (and a few others) to start the Starfish Café in Savannah, GA.
“All we’re trying to do here is help people a bit down on their luck – homeless, recently out of prison, recovering from drugs, whatever” explains Buck, as he instructs a group of three on the proper way to achieve a reduction.
“These people have been pushed to one side, been given up on and [have] given up on themselves. We take them into the kitchen and in a 14 week process, prepare them the best we can for life inside a kitchen.”
But after seeing how he heads up his kitchen — and how his students respond — you can tell his philosophy is meant to extend beyond the culinary.
“You know, when they first come to us, they’re nervous” Buck says. “They’ve been told they’re not worth anything, and that leads to them getting into trouble, which leads to more self-doubt. What I’m trying to show them is that they can turn things around.”
You know how starfish can regenerate parts of themselves that have been lost? That’s the idea.
It’s not always a success story.
“We start with a group of about a dozen or so, and usually end up with six,” Buck says. “It’s not easy, this transition — nor do I make it easy in the kitchen.”
He smiles at that last part, as if giving away something he shouldn’t.
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Is he a tough chef, educated in London, with more than 35 years of experience under his belt? Yes.
But if you’re ever in Savannah and stop by the café, you’ll hear his accent in the back, a constant source of encouragement and enthusiasm for his crew — people whom the rest of the world forgot.
I hope you’re not avoiding too many people. You might miss a few who are worth it.
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