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Austin, Garfield Park, North Lawndale

Vegan Fast Food On The West Side? After Bayless Training Program, Future Chef Wants To Make It Happen

Bolstered by an 8-week culinary skills program at the Hatchery, Austin man wants to bring healthier options to his neighborhood.

Impact Culinary Training
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GARFIELD PARK — Marcus Hawkins is a young man from the West Side with big dreams.

With skills he’s picking up during Chef Rick Bayless’ Impact Culinary Training program this summer, Hawkins plans to one day open a healthy, vegan fast-food restaurant in Austin’s food desert.

“It’s more about the health thing for me,” said Hawkins, describing how he wants to one day create food destination in a central thoroughfare in his home neighborhood.

“Eating a lot of vegetables and fruits, it’s one of those things that give you more energy and more life. I just want to put that out for everybody and create great flavors for whoever want it.”

One week into Bayless’ culinary training program, Hawkins says it has helped him to think critically about how to design plant-based alternatives to typical meals.

“For lunch and for breakfast … we’ll make one meal with meat and one meal without meat. It kind of shows you how to separate, and still make the food taste good for both sides,” he said.

The 8-week program leverages the workforce development infrastructure the Hatchery in East Garfield Park offers as one of America’s largest food incubators, and combines it with Bayless’ decades of experience as a James Beard Award-winning chef and restauranteur. Hosted in the Hatchery’s teaching kitchen, the cohort of 16 to 24 year olds will be learning everything from knife skills to plating.

At the end of the training program, the chefs-in-training will be matched with some of the city’s most prestigious restaurants for a four-week internship. Some of the participating eateries across the city include Lula Cafe, Luella’s Gospel Bird, Big Jones, Duck Duck Goat and Honey Butter Fried Chicken.

“Impact Culinary Training is all about bridging the gap between our thriving restaurants scene and the young adults from some of Chicago’s underserved neighborhoods, said Bayless in a statement. “We want to equip our graduates with opportunities and the skills they need to get good jobs in our world-class restaurants.”

Census data assembled by the Greater Chicago Food Depository shows that large swaths of the West Side, including Austin, Lawndale and Garfield Park, suffer the greatest impacts of food insecurity in the city, with over 50 percent of residents lacking access to healthy, affordable food options.

Hawkins says the restaurant he envisions will make it easy and exciting for foodies to incorporate nutritious foods into their eating habits.

“It’s a limited selection on the West Side right now that serve vegan and vegetarian dishes,” he said.

He wants to prove that plant-based food can be just as tasty as any other cuisine.

“Most people think that being vegan and vegetarian isn’t really tasteful, but I want to change everybody’s mind and help them healthwise,” he said. “I’ve seen that food actually can transform your body in a great way.”

Pascal Sabino is a Report for America corps member covering Austin, North Lawndale and Garfield Park for Block Club Chicago.