For Chef Gordon Russell, food is much more than nourishment. It’s a unifier of people, an expression of culture, and a healer of the body, mind and soul.
“I have a deep and serious passion for food and people — they are as one,” Gordan said. “We eat to live because food is a medicine that powers our bodies and structures our days, binding communities, cultures and families.”
Gordon and his wife, Cheryl, are proprietors of The Welcome Table, a restaurant, culinary training center and catering company in Henrico, Virginia. For five years, they’ve been volunteer chefs for the American Heart Association’s Simple Cooking with Heart program in the greater Richmond area. In that time, they’ve taught thousands of people, mainly black and Latino families, how to eat healthy without sacrificing flavor.
The couple’s culinary focus is low-sodium, high-nutrition meals that adhere to AHA dietary guidelines. Salmon-and-vegetable stir fry over herb rice, vegetable quiche and chicken salad are fan favorites.
“I am from the Caribbean, and within island culture, there’s a high incidence of hypertension, strokes and diabetes due to poor eating habits and poor living conditions,” Gordon said. “My mom had hypertension and one of my brothers had a stroke in his early 40s. To save his own life, he lost weight and changed his lifestyle.”
Cheryl is equally motivated by medical misfortune in her family.
“A cousin on my father’s side had a massive stroke in her early 40s,” she said. “One day, she and her mom were planning her 50th birthday celebration, when she walked across the room, dropped to the floor and died of another massive stroke. My father’s mom also died after multiple strokes.”
Better eating habits could have prevented those tragedies, the couple said. That’s why they’re taking their message everywhere – communities, schools, churches and even prisons. Last month, they conducted two cooking demos for a capacity crowd of 700 guests at 5th annual Power to End Stroke Jazz Night in Richmond, Virginia.
“Cooking with heart makes a big difference,” Gordon said. “The plate is my canvass to fill with brightly colored vegetables, healthy meats, fish, poultry and pasta. The culinary field began as a way to make extra money before I was formally trained. Now, it’s my inspiration.”
Looking to get involved with the American Heart Association in Richmond? Fill out our volunteer interest form to get started.