In a culture where top chefs enjoy celebrity status, Omaha Salvation Army Kroc Center executive chef Kevin Newlin manages to stay humble and grounded. In fact, Newlin was confused as to why anyone would want to write a profile about him.
Don’t be fooled by his modesty. Newlin has trained some of Omaha’s top chefs during his tenure at Metropolitan Community College, and he is doing crucially important culinary work for the community. His Kroc Center programs have introduced countless kids to fresh foods that they might not otherwise eat.
“Sometimes kids will see blueberries or cucumbers or mushrooms, and they seriously will not know what it is because they’ve never seen it fresh before,” says Newlin. One of his favorite tricks is to first give kids cucumber slices, and then a couple days later give them pickles and explain the correlation. “To see the looks on their faces when they realize the pickle used to be a cucumber is fascinating, and it’s really something that drives me in my career where I am right now,” he says.
The summer feeding program offered by the Kroc Center (funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture) has grown exponentially. “We served just under 10,000 fresh, hot meals from May 23 to Aug. 12,” says Newlin. He’s responsible for rallying the food donations that help make this program possible, and he also plans and prepares the meals. “The kids get fresh food every day. We try to use fresh food as much as possible, but we’re restricted by budget.”
“Sometimes kids will see blueberries or cucumbers or mushrooms, and they seriously will not know what it is because they’ve never seen it fresh before,” says Newlin.
In September, Newlin was responsible for coordinating the celebrated Omaha chefs who participated in the fourth annual Kroc Center’s BaconFest, a local scholarship fundraiser.
His attraction to the Kroc Center was largely due to his desire to spend more time with his children. “I’ve been here since the beginning,” says Newlin, noting that before he accepted the role at the Kroc Center he was chief of operations at Metropolitan Community College’s Culinary Arts Program. His love for teaching compelled him to retain his position as an adjunct professor with MCC until last year. “I miss it because I miss the teaching aspect,” he says, adding that he also misses working with some of the people there.
His love for food is the reason why he also works at The Grey Plume three nights a week. “Cooking, for me, is a lifelong process,” he says. “Nobody knows it all and you’re never done learning, and if you think you are, then you probably don’t have food in your soul.”
Newlin says he noticed that his role at the Kroc Center has changed his own perspective when it comes to helping the community. “Since I came here, I notice that my willingness to help people has increased. I’ve always volunteered, but it’s more now.” Whether he’s conducting a cooking class for kids or running the Kroc Center Program designed to help people learn the skills necessary to obtain a Douglas County food handlers card, Newlin is busy helping others.
“I love to feed people,” says Newlin with a shrug, trying to sum up everything he does in simple terms. He isn’t looking for praise. He simply wants to share his love for food with others.
Visit omahakroc.org for more information.