A beloved chef takes on institutional food and sparks a revolution
Good food generally doesn’t arrive on a tray: hospital food is famously ridiculed, chronic student hunger is deemed a rite of passage, and prison meals are considered part of the punishment. But Chef Joshna Maharaj knows that institutional kitchens have the ability to produce good, nourishing food, because she’s been making it happen over the past 14 years. She’s served meals to people who’d otherwise go hungry, baked fresh scones for maternity ward mothers, and dished out wholesome, scratch-made soups to stressed-out undergrads. She’s determined to bring health, humanity, and hospitality back to institutional food while also building sustainability, supporting the local economy, and reinvigorating the work of frontline staff.
Take Back the Tray is part manifesto, part memoir from the trenches, and a blueprint for reclaiming control from corporations and brutal bottom lines. Maharaj reconnects food with health, wellness, education, and rehabilitation in a way that serves people, not just budgets, and proves change is possible with honest, sustained commitment on all levels, from government right down to the person sorting the trash. The need is clear, the time is now, and this revolution is delicious.
APPLE BOOKS REVIEW
This isn’t a cookbook—it’s a manifesto. Chef Joshna Maharaj believes that all people deserve to fill their bellies with good, wholesome food, no matter where they are—and she wants to help local farmers and producers in the process. Maharaj has spent the last 14 years transforming the way that food is prepared and served in America’s hospitals, prisons, and universities. Her casual, unfussy writing style made us feel like we were on her side immediately as she details her fight to bring quality, hospitality, and sustainability to institutions like a Toronto community food center, the Scarborough Hospital, and Ryerson University. We had never even questioned the sad state of most institutional meals, but as Maharaj recounts her experience in these giant kitchens, we came to realize how powerfully food can improve—or degrade—both the physical and mental well-being of those who eat it.