In the middle of all the frenetic energy of managers, cooks, dishwashers and volunteers, a calm presence resides in the back of the kitchen. Soft spoken, yet determined, Lamont Harrison’s journey from the inner city of Baltimore to the Friendship Trays kitchen was anything but easy.
Although Lamont’s family was poor, he recollects, “we didn’t know we were poor.” However living in an economically deprived area meant his options were limited. “I was surviving, but I wasn’t living.” He found easy answers in the form of drugs, and eventually found himself on the wrong side of the law.
“The problem with jail is you get used to it. It’s just not scary anymore.” Lamont knew that lack of fear was a bad omen. He needed to change, and fate put an opportunity in his path.
His girlfriend was relocating to Charlotte, and he decided to join her. Despite being scared, this was the chance he needed to move on, literally and figuratively. “I needed a change of pace and environment,” Lamont reflected, a decision that helped reset his course.
After kicking drugs and moving up the ranks from dishwasher to cook at Rafferty’s Restaurant, Lamont heard about an opening at the Community Culinary School of Charlotte. The program attracted him because he could work, learn, and eat-all for free. Plus watching others succeed pushed him to succeed as well-others including Sibyl Durant, former Friendship Trays’ kitchen manager.
Even though the girlfriend is ancient history, the people who supported him along the way-like Sibyl-have stayed with him. “She was really encouraging. She brought me into the Trays kitchen. I could see [from her example that] a good attitude will get you ahead.”
“I think I’ve been here for nine years, but I’ve lost count,” Lamont says with a chuckle. “I love working with the different volunteer groups. There is never a dull moment. The biggest challenge I face most days is making sure I’ve got what I need, and making sure the volunteers know what to do. It’s a big operation.”
Despite his training and experience-and overcoming homelessness and drug addiction-he doesn’t see himself as a role model. “Well, I guess I am,” he said when asked again, “Although if I can do it, so can you. Don’t give up. Keep pushing.”
Though not considering leaving Friendship Trays for a while, Lamont dreams of opening a small breakfast café, serving home-cooked meals, including his signature grits and Baltimore-style crab cakes. “I would love to have it uptown, near all the money. And on the weekends, you’ll find me fishing.”
We’re fortunate for now that Lamont, our unflappable chef, has chosen us as a stop on his inspirational journey.