I was a chef/personal chef/food consultant originally from Philly but after many years of cooking and moving around Los Angeles became my home. I am now the Executive Director/Founder of a stateside charity, Stu and The Kids and Chiang Mai, Thailand is home now. I worked for amazing chefs including Wolfgang Puck, cooked for many celebrities in their homes and had the best time working in the crazy world known as the restaurant industry. I said, see ya later to my beloved Venice Beach, CA in 2009 to help, to teach, to learn, to live and to volunteer in Chiang Mai, Thailand at the Wat Don Chan.
650 kids from 8 different hill tribes in the northern parts of Thailand live at the orphanage/children’s home and range in age from 3-23. Finally after nearly 6 years Stu and The Kids is now a real, deal, full-blown, 501c3, tax-exempt, nonprofit charity that gives out scholarships to Hill Tribe kids for university or technical college. Below is a bit about how it all got started and why I do what I do……….
After an amazing eating tour all around Thailand with 3 other chef buddies in 2006, I realized I wanted to spend more time in this beautiful country as well as learn as much as I could about the food, the people, the culture and all of it’s places. Something had changed in me, I was not sure exactly what but I knew I had to find out what and why. When I went back to Los Angeles, I found a place, the Wat Thai LA and began to learn. While studying Thai at the Thai Temple in North Hollywood, CA, I began working closely with my language teacher and founder of Project Thailand, Dara Sutthisuwan. In 2006 Bodega Wine Bar in Santa Monica, CA allowed us to use their space to host a beautiful and cultural fundraiser filled with friends, Thai cuisine, live music and dance. Due to the generous donations I received from my fundraiser I was able pay to build a water well, purchase baby fish for their lake, seeds to plant for the year and new tools to use, shoes and school supplies for the local children. The success of the water well project and the fun I had with the kids in Sa Kaeo made for a life changing experience.
I was on my way to Sa Kaeo, Thailand to build a water well via Project Thailand when I learned about the Wat Don Chan from a group called DCCT. I figured if I was already going to be in Thailand why not volunteer with both organizations and learn valuable, efficient and effective ways to help others. My first visit to the Wat Don Chan was September 2008 along with 27 other skilled DCCT volunteers from all over the world. We taught the kids English, arts and crafts, dance, music, jewelry making, photography, first-aid, and of course, cooking. For two weeks we lived as the kids lived and participated in the same activities including sleeping in the dorms, exercising, playing, learning and eating the same food. At the end of the 2 weeks tourists and locals were invited to visit the orphanage and see all that we had done with the kids. We sold tons of crafts, food and had an amazing show featuring Eastern and Western music and dance. The evening was brought to a close by lighting off wish lanterns that were hand made by the Monks to bring good fortune to the kids.
After such a great experience I decided to ask the Monks if it would be helpful to stay for an extended period of time and if so what would be involved. They said I could live there at the Wat and we could do many projects. So I went beck home and figured out a way to do it. Rented out my house on the beach, rented my car and sold most of my things. In September 2009, I moved to Chiang Mai and that started my 2 years of living in the Wat.
My main job during the week became teaching cooking and English to the older kids and some of the Monks. On the weekends I would drive out to visit different hill tribe villages so that I could learn as much as I could about these different groups of people, it was a blast and I made lots of new friends. This is where I began to understand their customs and cultures, all of which are different in many ways. I also saw how they made money, although not much, saw wild elephants, ate many new things including field mice, hunted bats in a limestone cave, ate the bark off of trees that kept us hydrated as well as getting familiar with the “squatty toilet”, lol I LOVED EVERY MINUTE!
OK, so after a long time of learning the ways of the Thai people and Hill Tribe folks, now what? Well at the Wat I saw that after the kids left school some of them were not ready for the “real world” and did not have money to continue their education. Some of them went back to their villages, some took jobs, making little money working at noodle shops and some got caught up in jobs at bars or became working girls. How can I help change this? Scholarships to continue their education, easy right? LOL, not so easy but so up for the challenge.
I go back to the states to raise funds every year or so and the fundraisers are always a lot of fun. Usually on the east coast, in New Jersey I cook a variety of Thai dishes at Blueplate, my friends Jim and Michelle Malaby’s restaurant and in LA they are always different, check out some of the blog post on our site for more info and fun pictures. Stu and The Kids now have 6 kids continuing their education, 3 in Technical College and 3 in University. 2 kids already graduated from Technical College and are working in their field of study, electronics, 1 of them in Korea.