By Amy Kawata

BALTIMORE (WJZ) — For the past three years, Steven Allbright has been leading the soup kitchen staff at the Franciscan Center in North Baltimore, feeding the souls of our community.

“Eight years ago as I came out of prison, February 21st… eight years later, I’m the executive chef here. Who would imagine?” said Allbright, the kitchen’s culinary director. “I’m an ex-offender returning citizen, I’m also of course in long -term recovery.”

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The New Jersey native’s inspiring story here in Baltimore starts in prison 15 years ago.

“In 2007, I went to prison for assault over on the Eastern Shore and ended up while in prison deciding what I wanted to do next in my life,” Allbright said. “I couldn’t leave Baltimore, so a friend of mine said, “Grow where you’re planted.’”

So, upon release in 2014, Steve enrolled in the culinary training program at Stratford University’s Baltimore location, and that’s where his passion for cooking evolved.

“Food for me is healing. It’s a conversation starter, it brings people together,” said Allbright. “We work with a population here at this center that is, I always say is killing itself… and what I mean by that is sugar diabetes, high blood pressure, obesity.”

That’s why he decided it was time for change at the Franciscan Center.

“My vision was one, to serve healthy nutritious meals to people that needed it. Two, take those folks from trying to introduce showing a marvelous plate, something really healthy and having them with the idea that could be a better version of me,” Allbright said.

Last year, Allbright also launched the “Dignity Plates” free 12-week culinary training academy with chef Steve Corrozi.

“Now, we’re teaching them not only nutrition and healthy food, but how to prepare that, how to make healthy foods, so they can take that for a career or to take back to their families,” he said.

Participants in the program range from ages 17 to 72.

“Some people are coming out of prison, some people are coming from homelessness, some people have stable households, but the ultimate goal is to get them back to stability,” Allbright said.

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His goal is to inspire people in the community, like chef Tre Simms, who owns the local catering company “Get Stuffed,” to hone their skills.

“This program is excellent,” Simms said. “Honestly, I wouldn’t be as far as where I would be now and I wouldn’t feel as confident. Because of them, I’ve been able to learn more things about different countries, places, sauces.”

Chef Allbright’s work in the community has touched so many, he was recognized as one of Baltimore’s 2022 Homecoming Heroes, an honor given to Charm City’s most accomplished natives and alumni from around the U.S. and world.

“Chef Steve is an authentic person,” said Robbin Lee, executive director of Baltimore Homecoming.  “I think he embraces his role so beautifully and he’s done so much to grow the Franciscan center.”

It’s a recognition the non-profit organization, Baltimore Homecoming, says means much more than just an award — it’s about building a strong network within the community and beyond.

“It’s so important that we need to combat the more national narrative that painted about Baltimore often. So, highlighting things like the people, leaders and doers who are building a better future for Baltimore is so important,” Lee said.

“I think the world would be a better place if more people took time to not just look at themselves but do something for the next person,” said Allbright.

Allbright said he just hopes to make Baltimore a better place one plate at a time.

“The greatest gift I get is serving a meal and seeing a smile come to someone’s face,” he said.

If you’re interested in the Dignity Plates Training Academy or would like to donate to the Franciscan Center, click here.

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