For most people Thanksgiving means good food, family time and a break from hectic work schedules, but for many it’s a reminder of the cruel realities faced on an everyday basis. The last thing anybody should have to worry about during Thanksgiving is being hungry, which is why By Any Meals: A 5 Borough Food Drive was created. The brainchild of By Any Means’ Aristotle and the hood’s favorite chef, Hood Chef is a unique alternative to the traditional food drive concept. Forget about cold turkey sandwiches and canned vegetables. Visitors to the By Any Meals truck are treated to five-course meals. Last year’s inaugural food drive, which made stops in neighborhoods like Washington Heights and Coney Island fed over 800 appreciative New Yorkers. “They really appreciate that they’re getting a warm plate with five different courses that’s cooked with love,” says Hood Chef.
For year two, the bar has been raised. Celebrity Chef Roblé Ali has been brought on board and in addition to his Roblé & Co., this year’s sponsors include Go N’Syde, G.Y.M. Project and #HashTag Lunchbag. The “Meals on Wheels on steroids,” as Roblé calls it, is looking to deliver 1,500 plates this Thanksgiving and is calling for people to get involved in every way possible. “We want them to donate not only money, but their time and if they can’t donate either for them to at least share and spread the word,” says Aristotle. “There’s no excuse to not get involved.” A few weeks before Thanksgiving, Life+Times caught up with Aristotle, Hood Chef and Chef Roblé to discuss what separates their food drive from others, giving back with swag and the future of By Any Meals.
Life + Times: Where did the idea for By Any Meals originate?
Aristotle: It actually started with something Hood Chef was doing. He was telling me about an event he had done where he fed about 200 hungry New Yorkers. There’s just something genuine about Hood Chef. Whenever he has a platform and has the resources his first instinct is to give back to people. That was really just a big inspiration to me and it changed my thought process on what kind of executive and entrepreneur I wanted to be. The first thing I wanted to know was how I could get involved and how could we make it bigger and better. Initially our goal was to feed 500 people and we were fortunate enough to feed over 800. I wanted to extend that to my circle and my peers and obviously associate my brand with giving back as well. That was the inception.
L+T: Hood Chef, how did it feel seeing your idea not only embraced, but taken to another level?
Hood Chef: I was really happy and fortunate that Aristotle was able to take it to the next level. We have Chef Roblé on deck now. It’s going to keep getting better every year. The addiction to giving back is spreading. That’s what we’re trying to do also. I give when I don’t even have shit, so it is dope that that’s the type of shit that Aristotle is on. He pulled together the right dynamics and resources to give this idea a larger platform. Now I get to just be me and get my cook on. I no longer have to worry about the logistics of all the shit he has to worry about [laughs]. It was definitely a blessing.
L+T: Chef Roblé, what made you want to be a part of By Any Meals?
Chef Roblé: Aristotle works closely with Kevin Liles, who is a good friend and longtime client of mine. Whenever Kevin calls, I’m going to take a listen to what he’s talking about. He gave me a brief synopsis of what the guys were doing. The timing was perfect also, because I’ve been looking for something charitable to do around Thanksgiving that involved food. I didn’t really have a lot of ideas, but then I heard about By Any Meals. I saw it as a Meals On Wheels on steroids, which I loved. When Aristotle showed me some videos of what they were able to accomplish last year I instantly knew it was something I needed to be a part of.
L+T: There are so many campaigns fighting hunger, especially during the holiday season. How does By Any Meals differ from all of the others?
Hood Chef: I feel like we’re doing it with swag. A lot of other initiatives can’t connect on a certain level like we can, especially with young people. We dress fly and party in clubs, but we still give back. A lot of people don’t usually see that. We’re real people that they actually see giving back and we’re really doing it from the heart. People see that, because they are able to follow us. They see our motives and see that it’s all year around. With Thanksgiving we’re able to do it on a grander scale, but throughout the summertime we do pop-up barbecues all over the city. We always do this. It’s just something we just do.
Aristotle: I think our biggest distinction and unique advantage verses the other options out there is that we’re young and we’re not backed by corporate agenda. We are all on our journey in our own right and by us coming together we’re able to execute something that multimillion dollar companies fight really hard to execute. I think the main thing is that we’re a bunch of young kids coming together, we’re remaining ourselves and we’re utilizing our resources to do something bigger and better. One specific instance of that and a moment of clarity for me was last year’s stop in Coney Island. It was right after Hurricane Sandy hit, so we were really helping people. We weren’t just serving homeless people. We were serving everyday New Yorkers affected by Sandy and there was this great moment where a huge Fortune 500 company pulled up right next to us and saw what we were cultivating. They were offering a free meal as well, but it was a cold sandwich in a box, whereas Hood Chef created a menu which was a five-course gourmet meal. That Fortune 500 company was stationed about five feet away from us, yet no one went to that truck. I think that was the energy, the quality of the food and the heart, love, energy and passion that we put into it as oppose to just throwing a couple million dollars into throwing a cold sandwich into a box. That’s the biggest distinction for me.
Chef Roblé: One difference between By Any Meals and other initiatives – which are all great in their own right. I’m not saying one is better than the other. Anything giving back is great in my opinion – is that we’re bringing the food to the people. We’re bringing it to your hood. I think that’s such a great thing. Also, all of this food that we are making is coming from scratch.
Hood Chef: They are real appreciative for that too. They really appreciate that they’re getting a warm plate with five different courses that’s cooked with love. You can always tell when the food is cooked with love. That’s the secret ingredient. That’s what separates us from the others. When you put love and positive energy into cooking – I think good thoughts when I cook – the energy translates into the food on some Alchemist shit [laughs].
L+T: How will By Any Meals use style and swagger to get more young people excited about giving back?
Aristotle: The goal beyond feeding people is to inspire the youth to give back. Seeing Hood Chef find that balance and seeing him deliver his message to people in a way that they can understand and inspiring them to want to give back is what it comes down to. As far as our tactics for it we’re all just get-it-done type of guys. The name “By Any Means” is really appropriate, because we are going to figure it out by any means. We’ve applied that mentality and philosophy to this. When people see that energy it makes them feel confident that we are going to get it done, which makes them want to be a part of it.
Hood Chef: I give Aristotle the credit for the swag, because he wanted to fully wrap the truck this year. Last year the budget wasn’t right, but this year he was set on fully wrapping it. That adds to the style and swag of what we’re doing. People may see it from a block away and be like “I like the way they are coming out. They got style.” Back in the day if you were coming up in the hood you wanted to be fresh for Thanksgiving. You wanted to have the freshest clothes on. It’s like rocking a fresh pair of kicks or something. We want people to realize that we’re doing good things, but with style and swag.
L+T: Of course feeding those in need is the goal, but in the long run, what do you look to accomplish with By Any Meals? How far do you see it going?
Hood Chef: I want to have a truck in every borough just feeding as many people as possible. Aristotle wanted to feed 20,000 and that was in the first year. He was aiming high from the jump, so I know a truck in every borough will be coming soon enough. We’ll have a captain in every ship and we’ll just feed the people. It has potential to go from state to state also. It’s only going to get bigger and bigger. You never know, we may even be able to feed enough people to fill Madison Square Garden one day.
Aristotle: I really think the sky is the limit with just the people that we’ve gotten on board within two years. We haven’t really figured it out the long-term vision and already this caliber of people wants to get involved. I’m just really fortunate that Hood Chef came back for the second year and that the amazing Chef Roblé has come on board and that Kevin Liles is helping produce it. It’s just a beautiful feeling and it’s really surreal. I’m just excited to help more people and excited to inspire others to do the same.
L+T: How supportive have your peers in your respective industries been?
Chef Roblé: After I signed on, which wasn’t too long ago I sent out a group text to a few people and a surprising number of people said they’d help us cook and serve food. It was double what I expected. It’s a holiday and we’re asking grown people to take the day before Thanksgiving to cook and then to leave their family and spend the whole day of Thanksgiving serving food. It’s great that so many people are willing to sacrifice time with their family to help those in need.
Aristotle: It’s amazing how people are willing to donate their time on Thanksgiving Day to give back. I’m not saying that being with family isn’t important, but to dedicate your time to give back to someone else on a day where you actually have an excuse to sit in your house and be lazy is just amazing. Seeing how people can find it in their heart to go outside and help others for no money is just so surreal. I can’t even articulate it.
L+T: What were some of the obstacles faced with last year’s food drive that better prepared you for this year’s?
Hood Chef: Timing was our biggest issue. Last year we ran out of time. It was to the point we had to just drop off the food at the shelters. People still ate, but we couldn’t serve the food like we wanted to.
Aristotle: We had an issue last year where we had a huge sponsor on deck. They were going to fund the whole thing and backed out at the last minute. I ended up having to put up $5,000 of my own money. We were able to partner with Dorell Wright of the Portland Trailblazers, who also put up $5,000. We’re just going to get it done one way or another, whether people want to help out or not, but that was definitely a hurdle that I think we won’t have to worry about this year.
L+T: What do you want people to take away from By Any Meals?
Chef Roblé: It’s simple man. Pay it forward. Take that gift and enjoy it, but reach out to help that next person out when you have the opportunity to. We all must keep paying it forward.
Hood Chef: I just want people to raise that love vibration really high. Don’t be afraid to say you love somebody. I want to make loving people cool. I want to create like a love fest [laughs].
Aristotle: I want people to give back and inspire others to do the same. It was a great moral victory feeding the people that needed it the most. I don’t care what music video I shoot or what magazine cover I shoot or what campaign I’m a part of, because none of that compares to having this woman say to me “Without you I don’t know when would’ve been my next hot meal.” Nothing has made me feel the way I felt after that day.
L+T: Aristotle, it was a really big year for J. Cole. How do you feel knowing that the world is finally seeing in him what you saw years ago?
Aristotle: It’s amazing. I’m super proud of him. I think he’s epitomizes the concept of hard work paying off. He’s been that way since I’ve known him, so I’m not surprised that he finally has the opportunity to spread his message and spread his music and that people are accepting it. I think that for any artist, whether they are making food or making music or shooting videos there’s nothing better than being appreciated for your art, people appreciating your message and them wanting to listen to it. I wish him success in all that he does.
Those looking to learn more about and/or get involved with By Any Meals can visit byanymeals.co.