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'Kitchen Savages' | DC man cooks up new recipe to fight crime and poverty in his neighborhood

After years as an elected leader, Darrell Gaston turns to the kitchen to improve his neighborhood.

WASHINGTON D.C., DC — From carjackings to shootings, people living in D.C. and city leaders are trying to come up with a solution to put an end to these brutal crimes.

In one neighborhood, there's an anti-violence community activist who is trying to develop the perfect recipe to combat these issues.

From a D.C. Council run to serving as an Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner, Darrell Gaston has been trying to change his community for years. However, he recently realized, for him, the government is not the answer.

"I said you know what? After 14 years, I have to give it up. I had to give it up not only for my mental sanity but also because I knew in order to be part of the solution, I had to be on the outside,” he said.

For Gaston, the outside means opening his own restaurant, “Kitchen Savages.” 

"One of the young people that I was helping said you should name it “Savage Kitchen” because they think we're savages and they want to throw us away, but we can redirect that savage energy into the kitchen,” Gaston explained.

Gaston cooked up the idea for this restaurant at the height of the pandemic, after seeing a dramatic increase in deadly crime, the urgent need for healthcare and people struggling financially in Ward 8.

That's why most of the 23 people he hired, are his neighbors. 

"They're returning citizens, they're high school dropouts, they're single dads, they're single moms,” Gaston said.

They're also talented. The head chef at “Kitchen Savages,” was laid off during the pandemic. Bernard Collins said he spent months looking for stable work. 

"At the time, my wife was pregnant. So, I was kind of getting doubtful at first, going through the motions as any man would, getting scared, like, what am I going to do? I Kind of went into panic mode. Did DoorDash to try and make ends meet,” Collins described.

Another “Kitchen Savages,” employee, Elizabeth Scruggs, worked at a grocery store and was also out of work for months. She knew Gaston from the neighborhood, and he hired her on the spot. 

"After the interview was over, I was walking down the street and I started crying. I was like, God, you're alright,” Scruggs recalled.

"I know the failure of this is not an option. Failing means, the people that I hired- I don't want to cry. Failure means the people I hired won't have an opportunity to feed their families. They won't have an opportunity to make sure they don't go back to jail. They pay their rent. This is much more than just putting food down on a table. This is about saving lives,” Gaston said.

The main ingredient being used in his restaurant's recipe, is simply, care.
Gaston said he's being guided by his mother's love, whose picture greets everyone at the front door.

"She's my motivation for living. Anyone who lost a parent, there are days when you don't want to get up, but, I don't have an option not to get up. When she was sick, dying in the hospital of COVID, she still motivated me to get up and work. She said baby you got to do this,” Gaston said.

Gaston said his mother also knew this was about more than business, but getting his community back to the table, using his experience in city government and good food to solve their problems.

"Rather than keep complaining about something, are you calling 311? Are you testifying at city hall? What are you doing to make your voice heard?" Gaston continued. "The solution is simple. We can't fight each other. We have to love our way out of this situation."

This isn't Gaston's first restaurant. He opened up a “Kitchen Savages” in Southwest D.C. in 2021, where he's also using that kitchen to teach teens about the culinary industry.

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