Past struggles inspire Lode foodie to give back

The Record (Stockton)December 31, 2013 

— Ethan Masters is not Katniss Everdeen. But there are some similarities between Masters and Everdeen, the heroine in “The Hunger Games.”

Masters, 21, has definitely seen both sides of hunger as it plays out in Calaveras County. Growing up here, he said there were times so hard his family sought help at the local food bank.

Now, he’s a seasoned veteran of the restaurant industry in Murphys, having worked in providing wine and gourmet meals and catering weddings for a clientele that includes many well-heeled tourists from distant cities.

Masters is also a leader in an effort to make things better for those in his community. He’s creating a cookbook to raise funds for the Resource Connection Food Bank, which serves the county, and he aspires to use that project to launch a nonprofit school to train others in skills they will need to succeed in the food business.

So he’s looking for recipes, and not just from other Murphys restaurant scene insiders.

“I would like recipes from all over, everything from the classics to the creative,” Masters said. “I want this book to relate to everyone.”

Jeannie Hayward, executive director of the Resource Connection Food Bank in San Andreas, said she was inspired by her recent meeting with Masters to discuss the cookbook project.

“When you see a youth like Ethan come through who has lived in poverty and he is determined to make a life for himself and be creative in how he does that, I see that and I say there is hope,” Hayward said.

Masters’ connection to the food business started when he was 13 and a friend of his parents opened a bakery. He asked to see what it would be like to work there.

“My mom drove me down at 3 o’clock in the morning to open the bakery and learn how to bake bread,” he said.

He was still a teenager when he was hired to manage a local pizza parlor. More recently, he worked for a time with Lila & Sage Bakery and Catering.

“My dream is to be in the kitchen, but every job I’ve had, I get put in the front of the house,” Masters said.

Right now, Masters said, he’s chosen to work part time as a waiter at V Restaurant so he has time to devote to the cookbook project. He held his first meeting this week with the project committee he recruited.

Masters said he’s wanted for a long time to help the food bank that once helped him. That’s why he first thought of making a community cookbook as a fundraiser.

But it was when he happened to mention it to Hayward that he first realized it could lead to something more.

It happened after the Grape Stomp, an annual event that fills Main Street in Murphys with festivities. Masters had leftover desserts that needed to be either used or disposed, so he called Hayward to donate them to the food bank.

She was enthusiastic about the cupcake donation, so he also mentioned the cookbook. “That’s when it evolved,” he said.

Masters realized that a nonprofit organization focused on food could give him a way to help everyone, from wounded veterans to young people needing job skills.

Masters said he’s been fortunate to learn the value of hard work. He saw his father start a construction firm and his mother earn her real estate license as they gradually created a better life for his family.

“They are hardworking, and they taught me to work hard,” Masters said.

Yet he also knows that the shrinking economy has left many people in his generation without much work experience. He hopes to create an organization where those who are willing can come to work and learn.

Right now, however, his goal is to assemble 400 recipes by March. Then, he plans to publish a ring-bound cookbook by June. If he sells 500 copies at $20 a pop, he estimates he can raise $7,000 for the food bank after paying the expenses of publishing the book.

“My goal is to sell the 500 copies by the end of 2014,” he said.

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