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Daryl Foriest helping with karate and a kitchen

MICHELLE MARQUES Special to the AmNews | 5/23/2013, 4:06 p.m.
Daryl Foriest helping with karate and a kitchen

"When I pass away, what will my funeral be like?" asked Daryl Foriest.

An unsettling thought from someone who, at 41, seems to have it all: a family, home and resume that boasts serving the likes of Oprah and Michael Jackson and experience as the executive steward of the Four Seasons Hotel.

A year ago, Foriest lost his older brother, Dexter, to diabetes complications. Before his death Dexter Foriest had created group homes for disadvantaged youth in Hampton, Va. At his funeral, gang members, families and children testified about his impact on their lives. As Daryl Foriest listened to how his brother helped young people get off drugs and reconnect with their families, he began to examine his own life.

"I'm spending 10 hours a day making money for these five-star hotels, and at the end of the day, I'm not affecting the lives of people in my community," he said.

On his way home from his brother's funeral, Foriest resigned from his job.

"I trusted what I was feeling in my heart and, with my brother watching over me, that God would put me in the right situation."

Two weeks into his resignation, Foriest was offered his current position as director of meal services at the Community Kitchen and Food Pantry of West Harlem. The community kitchen is one location of the Food Bank for New York City, which works to end food poverty throughout the five boroughs. The West Harlem location offers free programs such as tax assistance, housing services and nutritional seminars that encourage healthy eating.

"Hypertension and diabetes are hereditary in my family. With my brother's, passing it's even more important to me to serve food that will combat those issues."

Foriest's commitment to healthy cuisine starts in the kitchen, where he uses his degree in nutrition from Dominican College and his experience in upscale dining services to stretch his clients' culinary imaginations. He challenges his staff to come up with 25 new ways to make chicken. Trans fat and fried foods are swapped for fresh vegetables and homegrown rosemary, thyme and basil. Whole wheat pasta with turkey meat sauce, honey baked chicken, and tilapia draw in people from Brooklyn, Staten Island and Queens who are tired of eating the same old thing.

"If you're working, making money and in a good financial situation, you're going to try your best to extend your culinary tastes. What makes my clients different? Why should they have to suffer?" he asked.

Foriest's work doesn't stop in the kitchen. He's partnered with local yoga studios and martial arts teachers to encourage his clients to be active. He also reaches out to local barbershops and beauty salons to get free haircuts and wash and sets for his clients going on job interviews. His generosity and amiable nature has earned him trust in the community and with his clients. Recently, Foriest connected with a young student after seeing him eating alone in the community kitchen.

"When you see someone everyday and they are on the verge of tears-I have children and grandchildren-it drove me crazy."

Foriest learned that the boy was using the community kitchen as an escape from his parents, who were addicted to drugs.

He was failing all of his sixth grade classes, so Foriest offered him his office as a quiet place to do his homework. After going from a 57.8 average to a 94, the boy was offered a scholarship to a local Catholic school. He now plays for Foriest's summer youth basketball team.

"All he does is smile now. I've been able to meet his parents, and the father and I have reached an understanding and he has sought help. They come down to the community kitchen now and eat together."

Foriest values the work that he does because it pays him in a way that his jobs at luxury hotels could not. "When you look at how much your soul is worth," he says, "it's based on your contributions to society and making an impact that's priceless."