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From Fine Dining to Food Empowerment

Chef Francis’s journey of giving back empowers individuals facing disadvantages to open their minds, hearts and taste buds to nutritious food.

“I was happy with my achievements in hospitality and the restaurants I worked in, but I always felt the need to do more for the community, to give something back,” says Chef Francis Flood, reflecting on his professional journey while sitting at a table at Ozanam House, where he volunteers to run free cooking classes using minimal equipment and basic ingredients.

Francis’ journey has evolved from environmental science (he holds a science degree) to fostering human connection through food. Among his many achievements, Francis worked with celebrity chef Jamie Oliver at the renowned London restaurant, Fifteen, training vulnerable young people to become flourishing chefs.

At Ozanam House, he empowers individuals facing disadvantages by opening their minds, hearts and taste buds to nutritious food, while equipping them with minimalist yet effective cooking techniques.

Using culinary skills to support people in need

Initially from just outside Dublin, in Ireland, Francis’ adventures took him across the globe. Still, it was in Australia where he found his true calling: using his culinary skills to support people in need.

Today, Francis combines his love for cooking with a mission to empower individuals experiencing homelessness or living in accommodations with minimal cooking facilities.

Francis’ journey into volunteering with VincentCare, part of the St Vincent de Paul Society Victoria Group, began in 2017. A hospitality agency had placed him as a ‘temp’ at the old Ozanam House kitchen, planning and preparing meals for residents and so-called ‘drop-in’ clients. Here, he met VincentCare volunteer coordinator Louise Augustinus. She introduced him to the world of volunteer work.

After his temporary work stint, Louise suggested teaching practical, nutritious cooking skills, the Irish chef didn’t hesitate: “I am very passionate about people being able to cook their own nutritious food. It’s empowering,” he says.

Enabling people to take control of their diets and food budgets

His main goal, with his free classes for Ozanam House residents and visitors, is to demonstrate that nutritious meals can be made quickly and affordably, enabling people to take control of their diets and food budgets.

“All of our food is cooked with just one electric frying pan and simple utensils – a whisk, a single knife, a spatula, some bowls and one source of heat,” Frances explains.

As a professional manager of a food bank in one of Melbourne’s suburbs, Frances observes the increasing demand for these cooking styles, skills and, of course, food with his own eyes every day.

“Some people can get very emotional when they turn up asking for food. You can hear the fear in their voices and know they need help,” he explains.

Francis has also noticed that people seeking food relief want groceries and ingredients rather than prepared meals. Hence, his volunteering and professional work have become two sides of the same coin: addressing the immediate and long-term needs of people in need. Something that gives him the fulfilment he was looking for: “It’s great to be able to help and do a small thing that will make someone’s life a little bit better for a little while.”

Dedication to volunteering stems from deep empathy and gratitude

Francis’ dedication to volunteering stems from deep empathy and gratitude. “I come from a really big family, a proper Irish Catholic stereotype,” he laughs. “There was always a safety net for anyone in the family if anything ever went wrong. When you’re walking down the street, and you see people who haven’t had that safety net, people who might not have been as lucky as I was and still am, I always want to help,” he explains.

His approach to cooking is also deeply personal and rooted in the idea of connecting and creating lasting memories through food. “I think everyone has food from our lives that we like and maybe food from our childhood that brings back happy memories. To be able to recreate that yourself or recreate those memories for your own family and friends, I think, is really important,” he shares.

Francis is also particularly passionate about passing on this knowledge to the next generation: “We’re coming into second generations of people who have lost food knowledge. A lot of family-style food that we were taught at home was cheap and nutritious. If you don’t have that knowledge, food ends up being more expensive, relying more on prepared food. So, the more knowledge you have, the more economically you can cook for yourself.”

Culturally diverse dishes that brings people together

In his classes, Francis often teaches culturally diverse dishes that resonate with the participants on a personal level and brings them together. “I made dumplings last time. So many cultures have dumplings. Italian ravioli, Japanese Goyza, Chinese or Taiwanese dumplings – they’re all essentially meat or vegetables wrapped into pastry, fried or boiled. We call them different things, but they’re essentially the same,” he explains.

This commonality in food traditions helps build a sense of community and connection among participants who love sharing their memories. “It has always made me angry when people say that anyone who cannot afford food should be grateful for everything they get,” shares Francis. “Everyone is different, but food is a fundamental part of our lives, and we need to give people appropriate food choices – no matter their cultural background.”

Through his work, Francis proves that food is more than just nutrition; it is a powerful tool for empowerment and change.

Interested in volunteering? Click here to start your volunteer journey today. 
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