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Concourse House Recipe Book

Updated: Jun 25

By Kyla Guilfoil, Freelance Writer

Cover image for the recipe book featuring former CH mother, Kareem and her twin daughters. Art by Charles G. Esperanza.

For so many homes, their center lies in the kitchen. The kitchen is where familiar smells, voices and warmness fill the air; where people gather to share the ultimate comfort: food.


The Concourse House, a women and children’s shelter in the Bronx’s Grand Concourse, is seeking to bring that sense of home into its walls. As a project over the last few months, the shelter’s art director and resident artist have been working with mothers in the Concourse House to develop a cookbook of their recipes.


“When I think of home, I think of recipes and smells and cooking and, you know, gathering around a table, so I would say that's like a kind of backbone to my way of thinking about this,” Jess Rolls, the head of the arts program at the Concourse House, said.


Rolls said she was inspired to bring this cookbook together to create that sense of home in the shelter, especially since so many of the mothers at Concourse House come from a range of cultures.


“It's just really fun because we are a shelter that serves many women from across the New York metropolitan area and we all come from different cultures and different languages,” Rolls said. “So that can really be represented in food and it's just a really great connector of bringing together people.”


Rolls explained that each Wednesday any mother is welcome to come forward with a recipe and cook it for the group in the shelter’s kitchen. So far, recipes have included those from Jamaica, Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic. 

Fruit and veggies page from the recipe book, featuring drawings by CH mothers, children and staff. Layout by Adrianne Hutto, intern.

She added that the shelter was able to add a budget to the program so that mothers can request to make any meal of their choosing and the groceries for it can be covered. This, Rolls said, makes it possible for any mother who feels comfortable and interested in sharing their cooking with the group to do so.


Beyond the magic of sharing meals together on Wednesdays, which fills the Concourse House’s kitchen with wonderful smells, warmth and a sense of community, the cookbook initiative also provides a place for art to flourish.


Rolls connected with one of the shelter’s resident artists, Charles Esperanza, to help with the art in the cookbook. Esperanza, who has published his art in multiple children’s books, published a cookbook-like children’s book in 2021 titled, “Soul Food Sunday.”


Esperanza told Concourse House that he loved working on that book, which focuses on a child helping his grandmother in the kitchen while she prepares one of their family’s longtime recipes. So, when Rolls approached him about the project at the Concourse House, he was all in on the idea.


Esperanza said he believes that working on the cookbook has been a great way for mothers and their children to become more comfortable in the shelter and connect to others living there.


“I've seen a lot of [mothers] just get really creative and really into this recipe project upon entering and actually, you know, making a dish and sharing it with everyone,” Esperanza said.


“I think someone eating your food and enjoying it is probably one of the highest forms of flattery, so I think this project has been a very good introductory thing to people who you know, are coming from very difficult situations and have probably felt unsafe before entering our doors and this project is a way to help them feel welcomed,” he added.


On top of enjoying the meals with the residents on Wednesdays, Esperanza has also been working with mothers and children in the shelter to develop the artwork that will go into the cookbook. The residents have helped with handwriting recipes out for the pages and drawing images to represent the food.


Esperanza said that it was particularly inspiring to him as a children’s book author and illustrator to be working with kids who have “these fresh, new ideas that, you know, I would have never thought of and created myself.”


“Their work is very authentic and very creative, so I get a lot from it,” Esperanza said.


Rolls explained that having the residents involved with the book’s art has been an impactful experience by being able to watch the mothers and children become a part of the design and look of the cookbook as it develops.


“We want it to feel like it's the voice of our residents, so you can imagine it's really fun having like a kid scribbling the words for a recipe and then you have some beautiful design coming from someone else,” Rolls said.


The cookbook will include recipes like pasteles, Jamaican curry chicken and rice and beans, as well as a feature on plantains, which are a key ingredient for several of the mothers’ recipes.

Concourse House Art Program Intern, Adrianne Hutto has worked with Rolls and Esperanza to bring the book together using digital layout. After the moms and children share their recipes and drawings, they are scanned and then added to the book.

"The moms get excited seeing their recipes come to life," Hutto said. "Seeing them get excited about the idea of being in a physical book is really special."

Hutto joined on the project because of her passion for food and cooking, which has helped to take the recipes off the page.

"I've been able to bring in food I've made at home using the recipes in the book or even to make it at Concourse House," Hutto shared. "We've had mac and cheese, cake and cupcakes. And we've held a pizza making program and a burger and fries tasting program. They're always a big hit, so it's a good way to get the mothers who might not be aware of the project more involved."


Ultimately, Rolls and Esperanza said they hope the cookbook can be something that the residents can use to feel more at home in the shelter, as well as contribute to something they can look back on once it is finished.


“This cookbook has work from kids who might have just been with us for a month or maybe much longer than that,” Esperanza said. “No matter how long they were here, they still made an impact on this community and the cookbook can be something they can look back on.”

Rice and Beans page from the recipe book features drawings by CH mothers and a written story by mother Esmerelda. Layout by Adrianne Hutto, intern.

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