Agricultural Journeys of a Chef: A Peace Corps Acceptance into East Africa
Tuesday, April 26, 2016
Congratulations! On behalf of the entire Peace Corps family, I'm delighted to invite you to serve as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Uganda. You've been selected to serve as a/an Agribusiness Development Specialist, departing June 1, 2016. By accepting this invitation, you will join hundreds of thousands of Americans who have answered the call to service and made a difference in communities around the world.
- Peace Corps (November 2015)
"Consider this to be an experience you are doing on behalf of those who couldn’t Michał. You cannot ask for a better opportunity at this time.” Determining my decision to accept my Peace Corps assignment came with struggles I assume many others had before embarking on their service. The fear of living in an unfamiliar country, giving up opportunities to see family, friends and loved ones on a daily occurrence, or even having the access to a mobile device with WIFI staying up-to-date with all things social media. My decision to accept came quite unorthodox by way of a dream, but in the end having the opportunity to continue my career with food with an international agriculture development piece to it couldn’t come any sooner.
The year was 2010, and within that summer I remember three things. First, I was on an externship at the Rome Sustainable Food Project (RSFP) at the American Academy in Rome. Second, the World Cup was playing on every radio station from the Vatican to Trestevere, echoing throughout every piazza with cheers and the roars of each point being made. Third, I learned the importance of quality ingredients and the impact each of them can make into a composed dish. It was within my summer externship in Italy, abroad from the Culinary Institute of America, that helped ignite my hidden passion for agriculture. I have urged many to visit and experience the treasure that is the RSFP, made possible by being an intern yourself or by invitation from a current fellow or employee. The experience alone was beyond anything I have curated within any kitchen myself and it was because of Chef Mona Talbott and Chef Chris Boswell, along with farmer Giovanni Bernabei, and esteemed individuals like Carlo Pettrini and Alice Waters that made the entire experience magical. Little did I know then that I gained a taste of something I longed for in the years to come.
We were entrusted to be the leaders of our industry, something we heard at the beginning and end of our academic studies at the Culinary Institute of America. It is with that same degree of expectation that I intend to lead with my agricultural research and work. Flash-forward a year later into my baccalaureate studies when I became the first student to successfully submit a Fulbright application through the CIA. This was one of my most exciting moments as a student, and also the most stressful. Wanting to bridge together one of the world’s premier culinary colleges with opportunities in food research and cross-cultural understanding throughout the world was just the tip of the iceberg. Being a source of information for future students wishing to attain a Fulbright to research food further was an accomplishment within itself.
With the help of a former student and RSFP alum, in combination with an esteemed collection of CIA staff members, excitement lingered after submitting my first proposal. I mapped my entire next year to be devoted to agricultural studies and plans for graduate studies to bring together the research I was uncovering at each website and dog-eared page I stumbled upon. Unfortunately within the new year, learning of my Fulbright denial into what was to launch me into the studies I so passionately held onto, my career lead me down a different path. A path straying not too far from my research, but creating smaller steps back into agriculture.
Having the opportunities to work with companies like Martha's Table and Harper Macaw has given me the ability of working within Washington, D.C., and readying myself for the Peace Corps. From working with youth and helping to establish healthy eating programs within at-risk neighborhoods to building a cacao assessment, working within the production of chocolate and building sustainable strategies at Harper Macaw, my experiences have better prepared me for what type of work I may be assigned within the Peace Corps. The prospect of also working within Uganda’s rising cacao industry also excites me. With a handful of weeks left until my departure to the country reveled as the "Pearl of Africa,” I am anxious at the opportunities that await me. The start of my journey in Africa may be unknown, but my future in agriculture will continue with my progress.
Contributing Writer | Chef | Cacao Fanatic
Peace Corps | Uganda 2016-2018
Agribusiness Development Specialist