On the Line: Troy Hashimoto

Troy and I met a few years ago through a mutual friend. But we didn’t get to talking until a year ago, when I was volunteering at a Thanksgiving meal in Santa Ana. His connection to the industry is different from most subjects, but it’s really about what he does outside of work that makes this interview inspiring. In a day and age where raising awareness and money towards our favorite charities is how many of us express philanthropy, Troy Hashimoto embarks on a more spiritual journey through his stewardship with Tiajuana’s Casa Hogar and Newsong in Santa Ana.

Let’s talk about your first experience at Casa Hogar Sion.
The first time I went to Casa Hogar was on a whim. Some friends were making their monthly visit, and I knew they always made food for the kids. When I found out that no-one wanted to cook, they told me they were going to get supermarket fried chicken and potato wedges— I was appalled at the thought. But why would I care, since I’ve never even been down there? I offered to go down and cook, even pay for all of the food. But in return, they had to buy all my tacos and beer.

Once we got there, as we unloaded the cars, all of the kids stood around and just watched us unload all of the goods. All of this for them, and they didn’t even offer any help. I met the founders and the staff of the orphanage and got to know them. I even talked to some of the kids. My heart began to soften.

Once we got back to OC, my mind was made up. I’d be going back again. And again. Six months after the first visit (and to this day), now when we arrive, the kids flock to all of the cars and they help unload everything!

What was your original career path before choosing culinary arts, and what changed your mind?
I received my degree in Criminal Justice. Went to the police academy and injured myself. While recuperating, the doctor recommended I re-evaluate careers. That’s when I started investigating a career in the Culinary Arts. And the rest is history.

Tell me about a typical weekend going to Casa Hogar: the planning,  the group that joins you, the most recent meal you’ve served.
Now that I’m visiting twice a month, their food is always on my mind. Mid-month, our group is small, 12-15 people. At the end of the month, there can be 40-50 that join, even more during the holidays. The kitchen team is usually four to five of us. And some of the kids assist and train with us.

The synergy of the group is amazing. Chefs, non-chefs, and people just wanting to take part in doing something good. And no-one ever just comes once. Bosscat, Ten Asian Bistro, and Capital Noodle Bar have joined us. And the list continues to grow. Anyone is welcome to join. The kids need good role models, and are always happy to meet new people. And I need help coming up with menus!

I usually start planning their meal at least 10 days in advance, knowing that it’s going to change up ’til the day before. We just made Chile Verde with Chicken, Spanish rice, sauteed corn and fruit cups for the kids. They like simplicity. Last year, they ate quesadillas every visit as a side dish.

Was there anything you learned while working in restaurants that you wished they taught you at The California Culinary Academy in San Francisco?
The realities and the stress of working in a full production restaurant. A lot of what we learned was in a controlled environment. Students now graduate with no sense of time or urgency.

I also want to know about your work with Newsong Church in Santa Ana.
When Newsong Church relocated from Irvine to Santa Ana, food became an integral part. They got a food truck, but no-one ever really ordered from it. So the church had to pay the difference for not meeting the minimums.

I was approached two years ago and asked if I’d like to take part in a pilot program in cooking for the community. We started serving a free lunch after each of the services on Sunday. After two years, the program runs off of donations.

It’s great to see everyone stay around after to have lunch. We don’t have a full kitchen. And we cook off a couple of standalone propane burners, a six-foot grill and a couple of prep tables. People are often surprised at what we pull off.

Newsong also hosts a weekly community event every Wednesday. The Mix is an open house for the Santa Ana community. Dinner is provided. There are also classes and activities. All are complimentary. Also, The King’s Table is a dinner hosted once a month for the homeless that reside in and around the Civic Center of Santa Ana. It’s a multi-course, full-service sit down meal. Everyone is shuttled over. No strings attached. It’s just a way to build community. At the conclusion, they are sent back with lots of gifts.

How does assisting the less fortunate make you feel?
It feels good to be able to help others. Things are never done out of obligation or sympathy, but it’s done because we want to share the gifts we’ve been blessed with.

Best culinary tip for the home cook:
Don’t dry heat non-stick pans! Ruins the Teflon coating.

What do you do at Sysco?
The official title is “Marketing Associate”. I’m actually in sales, opening up new accounts, maintaining and growing existing accounts. Most people don’t realize we do more than just sell. We consult, assist in menu development and costing, marketing, etc. There’s not a lot we don’t do.

What is Branded by Compassion?
Branded by Compassion is a non-profit my friends and I started a few years ago. Going to the orphanage, serving the kids and doing outreach is something we love. But we wanted to take it beyond just bringing food, supplies and other things down. We wanted to show people we’re in it for the long haul. We use the non-profit to raise money and bring awareness.

Future goals are to help support other groups, both locally and globally, that support women’s and children’s groups. We used Casa Hogar as our launching platform, since this is the organization we’re most familiar with. Even though the partners have since stepped down from the organization, it continues to grow and thrive.

Tell me about some of the community projects/events that Sysco has been a part of.
Sysco Riverside has been a great supportor of the community. After the hurricanes in Texas, Chef Dee Nguyen of Break of Dawn asked if we would be able to assist in a fundraiser he wanted to do for the victims of the hurricane. We were able to get all of the products donated for the dinner at Break of Dawn for participating chefs. In addition, Sysco Corporate was matching dollar for dollar donated by Sysco associates to aid in disaster relief. After talking with my manager, Keith Milligan, and our president, Saul Adelsberg, we were to have the money raised at the pop-up dinner matched by Sysco! 100% of the proceeds went directly to disaster relief food, supplies, etc.

Chef Dee also recently hosted a dinner to help raise funds for Branded by Compassion to help Casa Hogar, and again Sysco provided all of the food for the chefs participating in the event. In December, Chef Dee hosted a dinner for the late Fifi Chao, with proceeds to go toward Patrick Chao to assist in covering expenses and such. Again, Sysco was a partner in the event.

One stereotype about your industry, and whether it’s true.
That we “spit” on or mess with people’s outrageous orders. No, we never do. Integrity runs high in the kitchen. But we do talk a lot of shit. The dishes are made a specific way; please respect the components that comprise them.

Where did you grow up, and where do you call home?
I was born in Gardena, California. But we moved to Huntington Beach when I was young. I still feel like I’m a South Bay boy at heart. Amazing food and culture, and tons of Japanese food up there.

Religion is a big part of who you are. How did it play a role in discovering your calling?
I actually found religion late in life. Kind of funny: as an atheist (major pagan), I was invited to Newsong Church in Irvine by my best friend. I respectfully declined the invitation, but was informed I was not allowed to join for dim sum unless I went to service first. As I explored Christianity, there were countless times food was mentioned. Food naturally brings people to the table.

What’s your favorite childhood memory?
Spending the summers in Salt Lake City, Utah, where I first learned how to cook at my great uncle’s restaurant. We spent the mornings fishing, and the evenings cooking at the restaurant. This is where it really all began.

You’re making breakfast; what are you having?
Eggs. Perfectly cooked, whether it’s over easy or scrambled, nothing bugs me more than overcooked eggs! And, of course, either Spam or Portuguese sausage. And rice.

Tell me something most people don’t know about you.
I’m an Eagle Scout. I know, hard to tell!

Last thing you looked up online:
Chile Verde with Chicken! Wanted to make sure we made the kids an amazing meal.

Hardest lesson you’ve learned:
Humility. Always honor those who have brought you up the ranks, and make them proud.

How can someone learn more about volunteer work (or donating) with Casa Hogar or Newsong? Anyone looking to participate or learn more can always call or tr**@bb**********.org" target="_blank">email me. Support is needed year-round, so I’m always looking for people looking to get involved.

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