In May, Project Angel Heart announced the establishment of the Brandon Foster Culinary Excellence Fellowship in honor of the chef, who served as the Denver nonprofit’s executive chef for four years before his sudden death in 2020. Now, Ellis Birrell has been named as the first fellow in the new program.
Birrell’s been in the kitchen since childhood. She grew up cooking dinner for her family once a week, and counted the kitchen as a primary space for family time with her sister and mother. She discovered Project Angel Heart, which provides medically tailored meals for people living with serious illnesses, in 2020. “Being in this kitchen, it was a good work environment,” she says, “and we’re cooking to help people, which is fantastic.”
The fellowship includes two years of training in kitchen management, nutrition, food policy, and public speaking, plus an hourly wage of $20. (Ken Foster, Brandon’s father, insisted of the program, “This is not going to be an unpaid internship, it’s not going to be a minimum wage gig. It’s a serious stipend to help people.”)
Birrell, who is trans, is aware of the value of the opportunity. “Transgender people don’t really get opportunities like this,” she notes. “There are so many things that hold us back. This opportunity wasn’t something I was expecting, but it’s an opportunity to learn so much. It gives me hope that you can fit in in a kitchen if you are trans. We have a lot to offer if we’re just given a chance.”
Ken Foster agrees: “There’s no reason for the culinary field to be closed to women and LGBTQ+ people. [This fellowship is] committed to the diversity of people so they can impact the field.”
The Brandon Foster Culinary Excellence Fellowship is an ongoing program, and donations to support it are still being accepted here. For every $150,000 raised, another young chef will be awarded a fellowship. For more information about the program, visit Project Angel Heart’s website.
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