By Laura Samuel Meyn
Photos by Ron Jenkins
Micheline Hynes knows what it means to be hungry. In working for the Tarrant Area Food Bank, she helps those on a budget eat better.
In her earliest food memories, Micheline Hynes is standing on a high-back chair at the age of 6, helping her family make nachos with beans, cheese and pickled jalapenos. The nutrition services manager for Tarrant Area Food Bank lived with her grandparents on an acre in Southlake back when it was still rural; they instilled in Hynes a strong sense of how to make the most of seasonal produce, which the family grew in addition to raising goats and domesticated rabbits. Her early gardening skills would veer into the eccentric. “My grandfather taught me how to weed those big thistle things with a shotgun.”
Her grandfather’s Coast Guard career broadened Hynes’ tastes as they landed in such food meccas as New Orleans, San Francisco and Hawaii. But they didn’t always eat well. “I think food insecurity for us was situational. We were a middle-class family, but there were times when things got tight, and the food we put on the table was different,” she says. “In high school, my best friend and I started a food pantry after a member of our church had called around asking for food.”
As a student at Texas Woman’s University, money was tight, too. “It was difficult to sit in nutrition classes and later have plain pasta with butter because that’s all you can afford,” she says. “I almost lost it talking to another student about what we ate for breakfast; she said she had blueberries on oatmeal every day, and I remember thinking, ‘How can you afford that?’ ”
It’s a question that has fueled her career. In 13 years at TAFB, Hynes has been instrumental in establishing budget-conscious culinary programs. Cooking Matters, a national effort she brought to the food bank in 2007, focuses on teaching low-income women with children to cook healthful, inexpensive meals. (The slaw recipe here is her take on a Bobby Flay dish.) Those who sign up for the free program, taught by volunteer chefs, get six weeks of basic cooking instruction including knife skills — and all ingredients. “That can be the difference between whether you eat fruits and vegetables or not,” says Hynes.
More culinary instruction can be found in TAFB’s Kitchen Garden Cooking School Harvest series, taught by Community Garden coordinator Becca Knutson. The monthly series focuses on a fruit or vegetable that grows well locally, with a cooking demonstration and samples, and is open to anyone. When she’s not spreading her love of vegetables through the food bank, Hynes volunteers as chair of the Tarrant County Food Policy Council, which fights food waste. She serves on committees for the Fort Worth Food + Wine Festival, including one that supports high school seniors interested in culinary careers, a cause close to her heart as a member of Les Dames d’Escoffier, an organization of female food professionals that also funds scholarships.
On a special night, you might find Hynes at Ellerbe Fine Foods in Fort Worth. “It’s one of those places where you’re dining; other places you feel like you’re just eating,” she says. A more frequent favorite hangout is the back acreage of her Azle home; she loves to sit by the fire with a glass of wine, watching the night sky.
The grandparents who taught her how to garden now live with her, which has shifted her cooking toward comfort foods such as a chicken and white bean chili recipe from the Cooking Matters program. She experiments with foraged items like yucca flowers. “Sauteed with butter and garlic and put on poached eggs, they’re so good — they taste like artichokes,” she says. “What I love about food is there’s always something new to learn, something new to try, there’s no reason to ever get bored.”