Dressed in a cheerful, lime green chef’s coat, Phil Jones carefully sets out trays of freshly prepared salads, roast chicken and sides at COTS in Detroit on Sunday afternoon. The celebrated Detroit chef gently peels back the foil covering the dishes, unleashing warm aromas of coriander and turmeric into the air.
“This program means so much to me, because I know that a hand up is what a lot of folks need,” Jones says. “Coming from a matriarchal family, I truly believe that we need to support the women in our lives so much more than has been done.”
With help from the staff at his healthy meal delivery service, Farmacy Food, Jones worked all weekend to prepare a fresh Mother’s Day lunch for 70 women and children at COTS and Alternative for Girls in Detroit. COTS helps families overcome homelessness, while Alternative for Girls works with homeless and high-risk girls and young women.
Jones is no stranger to putting in long hours to help his community – his efforts to feed thousands of Detroiters in need during the pandemic earned him the title of Free Press Chef of the Year in 2021.
But the chef, who has helmed kitchens in some of Detroit’s most iconic eateries, including the Rattlesnake Club, Fishbones and COLORS, says this isn’t about titles or fanfare. It’s about healing.
“Five years ago, my grandmother passed on Mother’s Day. It changed my feelings toward the day. Then I lost my mother on Christmas (in 2020), which really set me back emotionally and caused a lot of pain,” Jones says. “And so, last year, it just came to me that I need to work myself out of that feeling, out of that funk.”
That’s when Jones decided to enlist the help of his Farmacy team to plan a different kind of Mother’s Day celebration. He calls generosity “the fiber” of the company, which he co-founded with Chief Executive Officer Kwaku Osei in 2020. The subscription-based meal delivery service aims to eliminate confusion around making healthy food choices through education, while providing healthful, nourishing meals at affordable prices.
“(Farmacy Food has) a spirit of giving that seems to be infectious with our staff,” Jones says. “And while the effort came from me initially, it’s really close to the hearts of all of our staff members.”
On Sunday, one of those staff members was Jones’ 11-year-old goddaughter, Harper Copeland, who volunteered to help Jones set up and serve the Mother’s Day meals. As Copeland worked fastidiously to set out utensils and condiments at COTS, women and children slowly trickled in, filling plates to the brim with roasted chicken, candied yams, rice pilaf and Jones’ signature Accra banana cake.
“We’ve got Orange County chicken, which is a celebration of a sorghum chicken recipe from the South,” Jones says. “Sorghum was one of the first crops that folks of color who were being released from slavery used. The flavors are just remarkable, so I wanted to pay homage to an older recipe that speaks to Black and brown heritage here in the United States.”
“It’s simple meal, but it’s high quality, and I believe that it’s something that has universal appeal.”
At COTS, where Detroiters struggling with homelessness can access emergency shelter, transitional housing and a host of support services, mobility coach Shanithia Jhons says a simple Mother’s Day meal can mean a lot.
“The hardest job in the world is being a mother, and we don’t always get appreciated,” Jhons says. “There are some moms here (at COTS) who didn’t have anything to celebrate today. So just to be able to have a Mother’s Day meal with (their) kids is really appreciated.”
A stoic and soft-spoken man, Jones accepts the thanks with a gracious smile. But he insists the effort is “not completely selfless” for him – not only is sharing food with his community therapeutic, he says, but it’s also rooted in his hopes and dreams for a brighter future for families like the one he grew up in.
“What my grandmother accomplished in life was rather significant, but had she just had a little bit more support, or had she just known that she wasn’t alone … I know that she could have gone further,” Jones says. “I would probably have benefited from it, too. So there is some longing here – for a world that would have been better for me had my parents been better supported.”
To learn more about chef Phil Jones and Farmacy Food, go to farmacyfood.com.
Lauren Wethington is a breaking news reporter. You can email her at [email protected] or find her on Twitter at @laurenelizw1.