Posted by: Hil | April 28, 2013

Homeboy Industries Lo Maximo Dinner

Yesterday, the Lemonator and I had the opportunity to attend a benefit dinner that aided one of our favorite charities:  Homeboy Industries.  Homeboy Industries is a big deal here in Los Angeles.  Los Angeles is the gang capital of the country and Homeboy Industries is the largest gang intervention and rehabilitation program in the country.  Homeboy provides a way out of the cycle of self-destruction and violence for many people who see few other options.  Homeboy Industries provides tattoo removal, mental health services, case management and job training to formerly incarcerated and formerly gang-involved young people.  Homebody Industries runs several businesses—including a bakery and a restaurant—that serve as job training sites and help fund Homeboy’s other services.  People deemed “unemployable” by most of society are able to get their first legitimate jobs at Homeboy, earning money to support their families and finding a new sense of confidence and accomplishment.  By offering both work and support services in a single location, Homeboy Industries significantly increases the likelihood that participants will take advantage of the full range of services offered.  In addition, former gang members who work at Homeboy Industries have the opportunity to work side by side with former rivals.  Gang violence is an incredibly difficult and complex problem, and Homeboy Industries truly makes a difference.  Their motto says it all: Nothing stops a bullet like a job.  Los Angeles needs them, and they need all the support that they can get. Oh, and they make really delicious bread, too.

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Dinner was preceded by a mass celebrated by Homeboy Industries founder Father Greg Boyle (also known as Father G).  Father Greg is an amazing speaker—if he ever comes to speak in your neck of the woods, you should go hear him.  It is also a funny life experience to attend a mass in a room full of people in cocktail dresses!  Next came wine and hors d’ouevres prepared by Homegirl Cafe and Homeboy Bakery.  These were delicious and definitely the culinary highlight of the night.

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A Homeboy Industries event would not be complete without lots and lots of freshly baked bread.  You could smell it from across the room. 

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At the end of the night, they gave away bags of it for free. I scored a big loaf of sesame bread and a bunch of little cinnamon raisin rolls.

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Homegirl cafe serves fresh, light modern versions of classic Mexican dishes.  Everything is colorful and seasonal, with an emphasis on fresh fruits and vegetables and beautiful presentation.  Homegirl cafe is famous for their salsas.  From top to bottom:  roasted poblano salsa, mango salsa, and guacamole.  All three were amazing, but the roasted poblano was my favorite.

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Camarones aguachile.  The Lemonator thinks that the beautiful presentation was a pun—rock shrimp indeed!

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I had two of the camarones and a skewer of al pastor with red and green chile sauces.  The al pastor was a nice savory-sweet combination and the shrimp were amazing.  The fresh, zesty lime flavor really came through.  I would have happily eaten a plate of those.  I also managed to grab two amazing passed appetizers—a watermelon, queso fresco, green apple and purslane skewer and a spoonful of scallop ceviche.  Both were beautiful and delicious.  Both were going fast enough that I didn’t have a chance to snap a picture!

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The recipes for all of the food we ate are included in the cookbook Hungry for Life by Homegirl Cafe head chef Pati Zarate.  Of course I had to pick up a copy.  I love that kind of fresh, happy colorful food and am working on expanding my repertoire of Mexican recipes.

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We also had to pay a visit to the cheese table, which featured a variety of fresh fruit, cheese and handmade Mexican candy.

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I had berries (of course!), herbed queso and a piece of sweet potato candy. 

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And some wine to go with.

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Next we headed over to dinner.

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Dinner was catered by the venue. To start we had a white and green asparagus salad with a balsamic reduction.  I am so stealing this idea.  It was simple but looked beautiful on the plate and was very seasonal. 

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The main course was a surf-and-turf affair with forbidden rice, Brussels sprouts and carrots.  Our table got into a minor debate about what the grain was underneath the meat.  It was obvious from the color and texture that it was not normal white rice.  Guesses included wild rice and bulgur wheat.  I said that it was black rice (also known as forbidden rice).  Eventually someone flagged down a waiter to settle the dispute.  I was right—it was forbidden rice!  I need to see if I can find black rice to cook at home sometime—it is both delicious and good for you.

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Since it is Homeboy Industries’ 25th anniversary, we also celebrated with cake from the Homeboy Bakery. 

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Father Greg made his way around to say hi to everyone.

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During dinner, we got to hear testimonials from a number of the homies who are currently working for Homeboy Industries in various capacities.  Wow.  No two stories were exactly alike, but they shared common themes.  So many of the people who spoke were exposed to neglect, addiction, abuse and violence from very early ages.  They described what Father Greg would refer to as a “lethal absence of hope.”  One young man shared how when he was six years old, he had a teenage neighbor who was a mentor to him.  His neighbor would tell him to stay away from gangs and to cross the street when he saw certain people coming.  He made sure that he got to school on time.  His neighbor would tell him that they were both going to graduate from high school and go to college.  His neighbor was shot to death right in front of him while they were walking together to school.  When he was six years old.  Even more striking than the horrific circumstances the speakers described was their tenacity and courage in choosing the difficult task of rebuilding their lives from the ground up.  Again, the words from Father Greg’s wonderful book, Tattoos on the Heart come to mind:

  • “Here is what we seek: a compassion that can stand in awe at what the poor have to carry rather than stand in judgment at how they carry it.”
  • “If there is a fundamental challenge within these stories, it is simply to change our lurking suspicion that some lives matter less than other lives.”

Speaking of which, if you haven’t read it yet, please find a copy of Tattoos on the Heart:  The Power of Boundless Compassion by Homeboy Industries founder Father Gregory Boyle.  It is a beautiful, hilarious, heartbreaking, hopeful book about the redemptive power of love and the dignity and worth of every human life.  It is a book that has meant a lot to me on a personal level. 

I don’t blog much about my work.  Suffice it to say that what I do for a living gives me the opportunity and the responsibility of witnessing a lot of human suffering.  In particular, I spent some time a job that gave me an up-close-and-personal glimpse of poverty, gangs, urban crime and the prison system.  I will never be the same after doing that work.  I wouldn’t want to be.  Things that used to be abstractions to me are now specific names, faces, families, and stories that would break your heart.  At times, the pain I witnessed was overwhelming.  I strove to do my job to the best of my ability, but I remained keenly aware that our society is deeply fractured and broken in ways that are beyond the scope of my job and beyond my individual ability to fix.  Despite the tremendous success of his programs, Father Greg maintains that “success” and “results” are not really the point.  Father Boyle writes:

I want to lean into the challenge of intractable problems with as tender a heart as I can locate, knowing that there is some divine ingenuity here, “the slow work of God,’” that gets done if we’re faithful.  

Me too. 

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