When chef Brandon Foster told his father, Ken Foster, that he was leaving his position as executive chef at Denver’s Vesta to take on the role of executive chef at nonprofit organization Project Angel Heart, Ken was ambivalent. “I said, ‘You’ve spent your whole life working and you’re at the top of your game. Now you’re going to throw it away to go to a nonprofit?’” As a person who worked for nonprofits throughout his life, Ken says, “I knew what Brandon was getting into.”
Brandon’s response: “There has to be more to life than making incredible meals.”
Brandon took the job at Project Angel Heart, which provides free meals to people with life-threatening illnesses, in 2016. He was the executive chef there until July 2020, when he died suddenly at the age of 40. Denver’s restaurant community was hit hard by the loss of the chef, who is universally described as kind, gentle, and good-natured. Friends set up a GoFundMe campaign to benefit Brandon’s wife and three children, which quickly exceeded its goal. Now, Project Angel Heart has announced the creation of the Brandon Foster Culinary Excellence Fellowship.
The Fellowship is a two-year training program that will place new chefs in the Project Angel Heart kitchen in full-time professional roles. Fellows will receive training in nutrition, kitchen management, and food policy, and will have plenty of public speaking and networking opportunities; they will also receive a $20 per hour wage.
“Rather than just creating a fund, we wanted to have [the Fellowship] specifically represent Brandon’s values,” says Ken. To that end, Ken envisions the Fellowship being awarded to individuals who are from marginalized communities who wouldn’t necessarily think of the kitchen as a career, or who may not have access to the same opportunities Brandon did.
“Brandon and I talked about this a lot,” he recalls. “The field is very male and very white, and can be hostile to people from other backgrounds. The atmosphere in the kitchen can be a misogynistic, tough-guy world, but his kitchen was never really like that. He came to Project Angel Heart and built a kitchen that was full of queer and trans people.”
The program is currently accepting applications and hopes to bring on its first fellow in June 2021. Additional fellows will be added depending on funding, so if you are able to contribute, do so here. For every $150,000 raised, Project Angel Heart will be able to add an additional chef to the program.
“It is an homage to Brandon and to his values,” says Ken, “but it’s also a way to make an impact on the field that he would have wanted to make.”
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