After the Table

Meet the Hosts: Chefs Jason Hammel and Paul Kahan

Pictured above(left to right) are: Chefs Paul Kahan, Jason Hammel and Matthias Merges of Pilot Light

Edited by: Cassaundra Sampson and Kimberley Rudd
May 4, 2018

Usually, when someone says there are too many cooks in the kitchen, it’s not a good thing. But for the founders and organizers of Pilot Light, having many cooks means serving many children, and that’s all good. Pilot Light is a nonprofit organization that strives to teach students where food comes from and what its impact on the human body is, helping them to develop healthy relationships with food using lessons in math, science and social studies, according to Kendra Julion, community programs director. Founded in 2010 by four chefs who were inspired by First Lady Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move” initiative, Pilot Light works in 14 Chicago Public Schools, largely on the south side. We spoke with Kendra and two of Pilot Light founders – Chef Paul Kahan and Chef Jason Hammel – about their On the Table involvement.

What drew you to host an On the Table gathering this year?

I’ve been working in Chicago Public Schools for almost 10 years as one of the founding chefs of Pilot Light. On the Table gives us this opportunity, along with the rest of Chicago, to go out and meet with the community, go outside of the classrooms and really engage with the community.”

Jason Hammel

Pictured above: Chef Jason Hammel, 2018 On the Table host

Pictured above: Pilot Light program manager, Kendra Julion

Everyone knows that when you gather around a table, you connect to each other. And when anyone sits with these chefs, even for 10 minutes, they’ll learn something about food from them.”

Kendra Julion

What are some issues you’d like to discuss at your table?

I’d like to focus on giving the community a clear understanding of what Pilot Light is and the role of food education. I look at education, and I look at food, and I see them as a cure for all the bad things in the world. I know that’s too optimistic, (but) I feel like a child that’s engaged, a child that’s learning and understands the importance of food in his or her life can make better decisions.”

Paul Kahan

Pictured above: Chef Paul Kahan, 2018 On the Table host

We believe that talking about food will create empathy in society and in the world. It’s through this conversation around the table we can help create empathy and kindness, and we do that with food in the classroom, but now we can do that with the community around a table.”


Why are these issues important to you? 

People in this country are really divided, and kids are really feeling that division between adults. We want to create positive communication because discord is at an all-time high; so this On the Table is one of the ways that we can positively respond to it.”


What do you hope to accomplish through your table?

We want to walk away with an action plan on how to engage with members of the community on the daily basis of food education.”


We want to serve a great conversation and engage the community in learning food and using food in education. We also want to meet great people and feed them. On the Table is our chance to expand our vision for Pilot Light and learn from other people in the community on what our goals would mean to them. We’re really hoping to raise questions and get answers about how our program and resources can help, and how we can improve the next program year.”