By Dev Jaiswal
Burritos. Sandwiches. Leftovers.
Local Firas Ayyad noticed that these meals most commonly comprise the food drive donations made to Los Angeles’s unhoused population. When thinking about what his own food initiative could look like, he wanted to break out of the box and give those facing hardship an elevated dining experience.
“We make meals to distribute to the homeless around the area,” said Ayyad, CEO of the Marina del Rey-based nonprofit No Res Gourmet. “But the concept that would differentiate it is that it’s a gourmet meal.”
The group cooks up recipes like Tuscan chicken stew, triple berry cheesecake, chocolate hazelnut cream pie and Moqueca fish stew.
Ayyad explained that gourmet meals are usually inaccessible to those that are unhoused because they require money, reservations and special attire. But Ayyad wants to change that and make healthy, thoughtfully-made food more equitable.
He did his first gourmet meal distribution on Christmas Eve 2019 and has been doing so every week since. No Res Gourmet runs off volunteers — usually three to four every week — and donations, which can be made on its website. One hundred percent of donations go toward food costs, as operational costs are kept separate.
Ayyad decides on the menu each week, and volunteers cook, package and distribute the meals with him. Food is made with health and sustainability in mind, using local produce and groceries. It’s served in recyclable or biodegradable containers with sustainable silverware. No Res Gourmet averages making about 100 meals per week. Ayyad cited the novel coronavirus as slowing down his cooking rate due to limitations in accessing commercial kitchens and partnering with shelters. Still, his goal is to provide 20,000 meals in 2020.
“I would love to reach out to more local organizations here, either restaurants that want to collaborate or sponsors that can either donate or help with the effort in any way,” Ayyad said.
This year, No Res Gourmet has partnered with one organization that provides breakfast for those living in a San Diego homeless shelter. Ayyad said that figuring out how to maximize the impact of his work has been difficult. Restaurants, dinner parties, food festivals and live cook-a-thons are some ideas he has listed on the website for how to expand operations, and he is open to new ideas.
Ayyad has worked in social activist roles for many years. He holds a Masters in International Affairs and Economics from UC San Diego and has spent time in Palestinian refugee camps in the West Bank through a United Nations college program. He shared what made his work with No Res Gourmet satisfying earlier this summer.
“When I distribute gourmet meals, they are surprised and they say, ‘Hey, you made this for me? Like you took the time to make this for me?’” Ayyad said. “And they kind of feel a sense of hope, like somebody cares and they’re not so disconnected from the rest of us.”
Visit noresgourmet.com to learn more, make a donation or sign up to volunteer.