Ben Miller and Cristina Martinez own and operate El Compadre: The People's Kitchen

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Billy Penn presents CravePhilly, a video and story series by Hope Cohen about the people who create food, restaurants, and agriculture in the Philadelphia region.

In Spanish, compadre means friend, or someone you can trust. It’s a perfect name for the restaurant-turned-community kitchen run by Cristina Martinez and Ben Miller.

Officially called El Compadre: The People’s Kitchen, it emerged during the pandemic after a chef friend asked to use their then-shuttered space near 9th and Ellsworth to cook meals for a local charity. The couple, who own the acclaimed South Philly Barbacoa down the block, seized on the idea.

In partnership with Jose Andres’ World Central Kitchen and the 215 People’s Alliance, Martinez and Miller transformed the cafe into a mission-driven community space dedicated to feeding Philadelphia families dealing with food insecurity.

Each week at El Compadre, a rotating roster of chefs volunteer to prepare hot meals for local organizations to distribute to hungry people across the city. Each chef brings a different background and creative style to the table — one day an African influence, one day Mexican, one day French — keeping the recipes exciting and fresh.

This winter, chef Tia McDonald Raiford joined me there for a day of service. The fun began as we arrived at the kitchen to find that day’s unique ingredient list. We felt like we were on a reality TV cooking show — tasked with using our creativity to craft a balanced menu from the collection of produce, meats, and spices on hand.

Check out our video diary from the day below.

YouTube video

El Compadre’s kitchen is well-equipped with staple ingredients from a combination of generous funding and donations. For any additions, its location in the middle of the 9th Street Italian Market makes it easy to obtain anything a chef could need. We were joined by a kitchen manager, a dishwasher/assistant, and several volunteers from local culinary programs who help get the job done.

Throughout the day, we peeled, chopped, spiced, and baked fresh pumpkin. We combined roasted turkey with tomatoes, warm spices, raisins, onions, and olives in picadillo style. We worked Romanesco broccoli and baby bok choy into the mix. And with a team of all ages and backgrounds, we fed our city and learned from one another.

The People’s Kitchen provides up to 250 meals daily, picked up each afternoon to be served that evening to various Philadelphia families.

Ben Miller and Christina Martinez have always kept community at the center of their vision. El Compadre is a welcome addition. Through their generosity, innovation, and extreme hard work, the mutual aid landscape of our city continues to grow.

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Hope Cohen is a cookbook author, chef, consultant, and video host on a mission to expand viewers’ palates for global food and culture through storytelling. She has...