Interview with Atrium Kitchen Head Chef Traci Calderon

Located in the heart of Pike Place Market, the Atrium Kitchen is a state-of-the-art commercial kitchen. Designed to be a community resource, the kitchen is available for rent by community groups, individuals, chefs and Market vendors. The Atrium Kitchen is also a food-business incubator, and they welcome blossoming chefs who are seeking to test out their concepts with Pop-Ups and cooking classes.

We had the chance to chat with Atrium Kitchen Head Chef, Traci Calderon and learn more about her life’s passion and her mission to help the community!

Traci serving at Nourished Neighborhood. (Photo Credit: Barbie Hull Photography)

Tell us about you! Where are you from, what was life like growing up?
I grew up in California, a tiny town named Milpitas, sandwiched between San Jose and Fremont. I had one home growing up – my parents owned their home for 45 years, adding on an entire second story. My Dad lived to make my Mom’s dreams come true, and my mom loved to be anywhere my Dad was (except deep sea fishing – she drew the line at that!) My Dad owned his heating and air business which is where I learned I could be a business owner too. My mom was literally the mom who would have fresh baked cookies waiting when we got home from school.

Your mother very unfortunately passed away from early-onset Alzheimer’s Disease. Tell us about her and her passion for life and how she inspired you.
My mom, originally from Pennsylvania, was a quiet and shy woman, but she loved throwing a party! Especially with our huge family! My mom’s parents divorced when she was very young and her father moved to California, which is how my mom ended up moving there in the early 1960s. While growing up my mom spent weeks on end at her grandparents and aunt’s farms.

My Dad’s father came from Mexico in the early 1900s, and my Dad along with his four brothers and a sister grew up very poor in Redwood City. Food was not always guaranteed, and it was usually beans, rice and tortillas.

So maybe it was a combination of both my parents growing up without food security that shaped our household. Food was the focal point for all occasions – from our Sunday dinners to special holiday dinners – my mom and dad both loved getting in the kitchen and creating new recipes or making our favorites. One of the most epic things they did together was build an Adobe oven in our backyard in the late 1970s (keep in mind we lived in a traditional neighborhood of tract homes!). The Adobe oven and my parents homemade pizzas cooked in the oven are still talked about by family, friends and even a few strangers! Food was an expression of love in our home. I didn’t know it at the time, but the message was shaping me and my future.

Thankful Box (Photo Credit: Barbie Hull Photography)

Tell us the story about how Nourished Neighborhood: Community Meals at Atrium Kitchen came to be.
Nourished Neighborhood: Community Meals by Succulent Catering was truly born out of a place of love but also grief as well. It’s hard to tell how life’s hardships will reshape our own private world, but I know this to be true: doing good for others in the memory and essence of those who have moved on will always be the way out of darkness and back into the light.

To date we have served 3,589 plates of food since February 2017. $1,368.36 has been received in donations which we then have donated to the Pike Market Senior Center and Food Bank and the Houston Food Bank after the hurricane last year. Nourished Neighborhood is 100% funded by me and my businesses.

My mom’s rapid decline into dementia beginning at 58 years old was heartbreaking. Eleven years we watched the once bustling woman who ruled our family Kitchen slowly forget all of her homemade recipes for enchiladas and pizzas and BBQ. I was her care giver for several years and we would work on recipes together until it became too overwhelming for her. So then I would just take her grocery shopping and then I would make dinner for my parents. Eventually my mom’s needs exceeded what I was able to do for her so I found a day care center that allowed her to still live at home with my Dad, allowed my Dad the chance to keep his business going, and allowed me the chance to be her daughter again instead of her caregiver. All the while, meals together were our time to come together. When my mom was placed on hospice in 2010, I learned that “hospice” meant 6 months or less to live. After 11 years of watching my mom evolve into a frail, frightened, woman without the ability to speak or comprehend conversation she was finally at peace.

In the next five years from November 2010 up to his sudden passing on May 21, 2015, my Dad adapted to life without his love of 44 years. He came to visit me in Seattle more often, exploring my new town with me. He still loved food and seafood in particular, and he enjoyed coming to my cooking classes I was teaching at Pike Place Market. My Pop even came to one of the public meetings on the expansion of the Market in early 2015. He loved the Market!

Nourished Neighborhood: Community Meals was born out of my desire to feed seniors. In the fall of 2016 I’d read that Meals on Wheels could possibly lose its funding. The thought of people like my parents working hard all of their lives and then being hungry during their “golden years” was unacceptable. I knew I needed to do something. So after a very brief conversation to find out if I could use the Atrium Kitchen for this free meal, I came up with the name and picked a date. All in about hour total. I know something is right and meant to be when the dream manifests quickly. It’s important for me to add that I was also still grieving my Dad (and in some ways my Mom, my ideal parents, my divorce, and the loss of so many dear ones in a short span of time) and I needed help out of the grief. I wanted to do something. And that something became Nourished Neighborhood.

Tell us about your second program, Kindness in the Kitchen. What is it about?
Kindness in the Kitchen, a pay-it-forward pop up is another way we can support the food insecurity need in our community. And in addition to feeding people , we are giving others a way for them to contribute. People love to do something nice for someone else – it gives them a hit of oxytocin and that makes people feel good. So this was a way for us to fund another meal and give our community a way to help their community. The breakfast menu is always $5.00 and a pay-it-forward card is $5.00. To date we have had 89 pay it forward cards redeemed!!! (We started in February 2018). All funds raised from Kindness in the Kitchen help fund future Kindness in the Kitchen pop ups (food cost, packaging costs) and it is also now helping to cover the expense of Nourished Neighborhood.

How can the Seattle community get involved?
There are several ways the community can get involved:

  • We welcome volunteers on the Tuesday before the first Wednesday of the month at the Atrium Kitchen from 10:00-4:00 to help prep the Nourished Neighborhood meal.
  • Volunteers are welcome to come help at Nourished Neighborhood: Community Meal on the first Wednesday of the month, from 10:30-2:00.
  • We are also accepting contributions to help fund Nourished Neighborhood (currently funded 100% by my catering company Succulent Catering.)
  • Guests are welcome to purchase $5.00 pay it forward cards for Kindness in the Kitchen.
Tacos for days with Pam, Fara and Traci. (Photo Credit: Barbie Hull Photography)

What are some of your favorite meals to cook for others?
All of the recipes of Nourished Neighborhood are either family recipes or inspired by family moments. For the June menu I have created a Bahamas/Caribbean themed menu inspired by my parents’ favorite family vacation we took in the 1980s. I will be making a Jerk marinade from scratch using habanero peppers, which my dad loved to grow. In addition, I really enjoy making tacos, enchiladas, and pizzas, all from my parents recipes.

Since this is What’s Up NW, what are your favorite Northwest places to hang out (eat, drink, chill, have fun, etc)?
My favorite nice restaurants are Joule and Harvest Vine. I enjoy grabbing a beer on the patio of Maggie Bluffs, or a chocolate porter at Bad Jimmy’s, and summer isn’t complete without a Number 2 from Paseo’s in Shilshole. I love working out at Beautiful Bike in Seattle – it is the coolest cycling studio that has a true, authentic old-Fremont vibe with its creative space, live drums during workouts and knowledgeable trainer, Peter Cannon. I also love chilling on the Beautiful Bike courtyard where I planted my first community garden this spring.

Are there any charities that are near and dear to your heart that you work with and why?
I contribute to the Pike Market Senior Center and Food Bank, and the Alzheimer’s Activity Center in San Jose, California, because they took great care of my mom.

Traci and Pam filling tacos. (Photo Credit: Barbie Hull Photography)

What are you looking forward to in 2018 and into 2019?
I look forward to reaching the goal of feeding 300 people at a Nourished Neighborhood lunch. I look forward to talking more about food insecurity and how one person can make a difference. I look forward to growing the cooking class program at my Atrium Kitchen at Pike Place Market.

For more information on Alzheimer’s and Dementia, visit the Alzheimer’s Association website here.

https://www.atriumkitchenpikeplace.com/

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *