Just as a lighthouse provides direction to sailors in the night, Chef Claudy Pierre and his food justice organization act as a beacon of hope for local Pittsburghers and Allegheny Country residents during tumultuous times. His work providing food and nutritional classes for local communities distinguishes him from most culinary experts.
Pierre is a Haitian-American, born in Brooklyn, New York. He was one of nine siblings. As a child of such a large family, he often found refuge while cooking meals with his grandmother and matriarch of the family, Marie Lucienne Dessources. He said he was motivated to assist with cooking meals because that brought the privilege of being one of the first to eat. He fondly recalled his grandmother began by giving him small tasks preparing meals. Gradually he took on more and more responsibility until he looked up one day to find himself in the kitchen preparing the full meal alone as she called out orders from the next room.
As the founder of Eminent Hospitality Solutions and The EAT Initiative (short for Empowerment, Awareness and Training), a nonprofit group, his focus is the availability of food to everyone regardless of economic status.
Through his business and nonprofit organizations, Pierre creates a necessary bridge for many in the City of Bridges. One of the big events for the EAT Initiative is the celebration of World Hunger Day in October. He creates an event to unite several cultures and illustrate the importance of food.
From the Big Apple to the Steel City
Food has always been a cornerstone of Pierre’s life. Coordinating the large family during the week was difficult, but on Sundays, his family sat down to dinner together and often invited families and friends from the neighborhood to partake in the feast. Sundays were for being social and gathering for dinner. From this upbringing, he developed the motto for his businesses: “Food has the power to connect and heal.”
“Food has the ability to heal a heartbreak, many illnesses and is one of the most important drivers for success in the classroom, athletic field or the corporate office,” he said. “Food builds relationships as, throughout most cultures, people eat to celebrate or mourn. Simply put, food unites. If you don’t eat well, your well-being will suffer.”
Growing up, Pierre received several athletic scholarship offers but lost them due to poor grades and behavior. He quickly realized his calling was culinary on an invitation to visit Le Cordon Bleu, a now-closed culinary school in Pittsburgh. His “aha” moment occurred coming through the Fort Pitt tunnel, which opens to a spectacular view of the city. He turned to his mother and said, “We’re doing this.”
He did not waste a moment of time, quickly becoming embedded in the Pittsburgh restaurant scene, landing an opportunity on his second day in the city at Greg Aluzan’s Steelhead Grill. Most importantly, he found a mentor who would eventually bring Pierre along to his team of chefs at Eleven, a contemporary kitchen in the Strip District. In a short amount of time, Pierre was recruited by the Big Y Restaurant Group which was the parent company of Seviche and Sonoma Grill among other establishments, run by Yves Carreau. While working for the Big Y Restaurants, Pierre was encouraged by Carreau to hone not only his culinary skills but place extra emphasis on learning the business at the front of the house.
At 23, Pierre was offered a position within the Waldorf Astoria hotel — the energy and allure of New York drew him back to the city. However, in the city that never sleeps, he did not sleep and longed to make it back to the Steel City. More importantly, he was going to be a father.
Pierre returned to Pittsburgh and redirected himself to his faith and reconnected to his roots, finding solace in his community at the Mt. Ararat Baptist Church. He began the Eminent Hospitality Solutions, initially getting catering gigs through connections at his church. His mantra became, ‘the devil is in the details,’ which applies to dishes he prepares, the business he runs and the schedule he keeps.
One Door Closed and Another Opens
Pierre’s path diverges from the usual culinary masters when the topic of community arises. He formed the EAT Initiative as a way to reinvest in his community through food. The nonprofit group offers classes for students and seniors to prepare healthy meals conveniently. He encourages children to ask a parent or grandparent to sit with them to chop fresh fruit and vegetables in a simple snack prep for the week. The thought behind this simple task is that if it’s available and you’ve done work for it, the likelihood of choosing a healthy snack increases.
During the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, the EAT Initiative created the Third Meal Program, providing a nutritious meal for the students or seniors who relied on their school or center lunch. Over 130,000 meals have been served and 70,000 Blessing Boxes have been given out. The return on investment into the city of Pittsburgh is measured in terms of the ‘people are more successful, upward mobility and more excited about life.’
Pierre and his team are preparing to extend the reach of the EAT Initiative, through a digital platform, Food Secure City, as a method to get people excited about connecting around food and other resources. Using data from the last census, the site will provide information around STEAM (science, technology, engineering and math), focusing predominantly on employment opportunities, arts and philanthropy.
No matter how busy the week is, Pierre continues the tradition of the Sunday sit-down meal with his three children, Claudia Marie, Khloe “Koko” Michelle and Carter Michael Maxamus, passing on the power of food to the next generation.