Executive Chef Cooks for Poor

Once a highly paid chef, Jeff Ansorge now combines his love of food and talking about Jesus in a soup kitchen

Jeff Ansorge
Jeff Ansorge attracted media attention when he left a six-digit salary to serve the ‘down and out’

Jeff Ansorge is a quiet guy in his 40s who can be found on any weekday hard at work with other volunteers in a soup kitchen in northeast USA, co-ordinating between 140 and 180 lunches to a single-file line of the poorest residents in the community.

It's a daily routine Jeff enjoys, which is remarkable for a man who was, until recently, one of the highest paid chefs in a Providence-based steakhouse called The Capital Grille.

After becoming sous-chef, he was tasked with opening new restaurants for the chain, including one in downtown Minneapolis, a five-star, New York style chophouse and gentleman's club. There he met his former hostess wife and they married in 2002.

The restaurant life was exciting, but by the time he became a father in 2005, Jeff was burned out from the demanding schedule of an executive chef. He tried a slower pace in a smaller jazz club steakhouse in Minneapolis, but was enticed back to The Capital Grille with six-digits' worth of salary, bonuses, and stocks.

As the months and years passed, an abiding depression became increasingly visible to his wife and his family. He had given up smoking pot or cigarettes after his first child was born in 2005, but he drank sporadically at night after work and began to rely on anti-depressants.

Late in 2010, Jeff's life really crumbled.

"I crashed with my depression. I wanted a divorce. In the fall of 2010 two of my brother-in-laws confronted me. 'You cannot do this,' they said. They would confront me with Scripture (from the Bible).

"Burned out, by 2010 ... "I crashed with my depression. I wanted a divorce"

"One day they... [visited] me and asked me about basic Christian truths: Do I believe in Jesus? Do I believe that God created the world and Adam and Eve?

As a nominal Roman Catholic, Jeff recalls saying, "yes, absolutely."

"They both told me about their lives and explained spiritual warfare we face in this world. The next morning in my car I turned on a radio station and heard a preacher say word for word the same thing my brother-in-law said the night before. That's when it happened — God opened my eyes."

Jeff always thought of himself as religious, but he did not talk about it.

But now he had experienced the regenerating grace of God in his life. Never a reader, Jeff got a copy of the Bible and read the New Testament for the first time. He read it in ten days. His new zeal was becoming obvious, but his newborn life only drove a wedge deeper into his marriage.

One month later, his wife asked him to move out, filed divorce papers, and ended their nine-year marriage.

As the months passed in his new life in Christ, Jeff found himself less and less interested in maintaining the lifestyle at The Capital Grille. The company had grown into a mammoth corporation and Jeff was ready to move on, permanently.

Having experienced forgiveness through Jesus Christ, Jeff turned to the non-profit food industry where he could integrate his love of food and his burgeoning desire to talk about Jesus. After submitting his résumé to several other non-profit organisations, he was hired by the Salvation Army.

Jeff left a restaurant that averages a bill of $80 per person to serve lunches in a former gym at a cost of $0.63. A lot of people thought he was crazy to make the move. But even making $100,000 a year, Jeff didn't own his house or cars — he couldn't escape his debts. When he left The Capital Grille, he decided to sell off his employee stocks to pay off his cars and his house and all his debts.

"Now I make less than 40% of what I once did... But I'm out of debt. I own my house and cars. It was worth it," he says.

The only paid staff member in his new kitchen, his new daily routine is to run the hot lunch program, during the school year cook for an at-risk youth program (snack and dinner), and help with Friday food give-aways of up to 5000 pounds of food.

Sometimes, when volunteers don't show, he pulls off lunches by himself.

After a year, Jeff is starting to see a return on investment in the lives he serves.

"I've seen so many people come through the door that are hard. When I first got here there was one guy in particular, I would ask his name and he would tell me, 'I just came here for a meal, that's all.' And that was it. He ate and left. Months later now this same guy comes in and we chat and engage in conversation. I have seen this tangible life change, knowing it happened by being a reflection of Jesus."

"When I got here I was all about streamlining, efficiency, changing things, making it good — so focused on the food. At the same time I was leading the devotional. But over time God has opened my eyes to see the food is secondary."

Instead, he only wants to help those who turn up every day to his gym-turned-dining room, to fill their hungry stomachs with food, but, more importantly, to offer hungry souls the all-satisfying bread of Jesus Christ that endures for all eternity (John 6:27, 35).

By Tony Reinke ©2013 Desiring God Foundation. Edited version of full story: HYPERLINK "http://www.desiringgod.org/blog/posts/cooking-for-eternity-the-story-of-jeff-ansorge"

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