Decatur Chef Helps the Hungry Because He's Been There

Karim Shamsi-Basha for Alabama NewsCenter

He grew up poor, and he went to bed hungry at night.

But when you look into his eyes today, you see resolve to help prevent local children from experiencing the same. Chef Jake Reed is fighting hunger through bike rides with Chefs Against Hunger, and through his gourmet restaurant - Albany Bistro in Decatur.

“Last year we did a Chefs Against Hunger bike ride locally to raise awareness for hungry children in this area. Nationally, one in five children go to bed hungry every night. In this area, it’s actually one in four. So we started a campaign with the help of local volunteers and that turned into the bike ride,” Chef Reed said, “We had over 150 riders here in town and raised over $7,000. This year, I am going to the No Kids Hungry bike ride in California.”

Albany Bistro looks like a house and sits in the middle of a quaint neighborhood. It was built in the early nineteen hundreds and used to be a grocery store. Chef Reed turned it into a restaurant in 2009. Now it shines as an elegant dining room with fancy chandeliers and modern art, combined with Southern food and a gourmet twist.

“Albany Bistro is a small family owned restaurant that we started in 2009. We focus on Southern cuisine in an elegant atmosphere. I try to bring recipes that my grandmother and mother passed down through our family,” Chef Reed said.

Feeding the hungry is not just a ‘feel good thing’, for chef Reed. He experienced hunger when young and made a pact that he would do everything in his power to help others.

“I grew up in poverty. I remember when I was younger my family received government commodities, I remember that very well. With a lot of help from the community and an education, I was able to come out of that poverty. Now I’m using my career to help others,” Chef Reed said.

For lunch, I had the acorn squash stuffed with rice and beans, sitting atop of a bed of sautéed arugula lettuce. It was divine. The food at Albany Bistro is a well-designed combination of modern essence with traditional and Southern influences, perhaps one of the toughest cuisines to perfect. A couple of decades ago, a chef by the name of Frank Stitt in Birmingham began the movement of converting Southern food into elegant gourmet fare.

“We follow the concepts Frank Stitt pioneered in our offerings, and try to elevate Southern food to become unique and elegant,” Co-owner Rick Brown said.

After lunch, I asked chef Reed if he wanted to add anything.

“I gotta tell you, this is so rewarding, even without the thanks. I know what it’s like to be on the wrong side of poverty, and just to know that I’m making a difference in the lives of others, it gives me a great feeling,” Chef Reed said.

Chef Reed continues to raise thousands of dollars to fight the hunger he grew up feeling in his stomach when young. My next North Alabama dinner outing? Albany Bistro in Decatur for sure.

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