Live, Learn, and Protect the Bounty of the Chesapeake
Welcome to Our Common Table
Chef John Shields’ call to action to rebuild our local food economy consists of promoting healthy, local, bay and body friendly food that brings us all to a common table. That is why he started his newest project, Our Common Table, to support and create initiatives and partnerships that engage communities to live, learn, and protect the bounty of the Chesapeake region.
John has devoted his career and life to celebrating and protecting the Chesapeake region and those themes are expressed throughout his many cookbooks and public TV cooking shows. His latest book, the New Chesapeake Kitchen is a mix of cooking, philosophy, lifestyle, and education, and is what guides John’s educational outreach projects.
Whether engaging the youth of Baltimore City to adapt a healthy lifestyle, starting a scholarship fund through the Baltimore Community Foundation and CollegeBound, showcasing the farmers and the watermen, or delighting the patrons of his Gertrude’s restaurant at the Baltimore Museum of Art, John is a champion of all things Chesapeake. The region’s seafood, agriculture, recreation, culture, and cuisine are unique and a decline in one area affects all the others. We can all play our part to conserve and restore our regional Chesapeake food economy.
Teamed up with long-time friend and senior marketing executive, Josianne Pennington, as Executive Director, Our Common Table embraces this urgent call to envision opportunities that demonstrate just how vital our region is to all of us. Interested in partnering, sharing some great ideas, getting involved – come join us at Our Common Table.
"John Shields has done an amazing job showing us how to preserve the traditions of the region while also respecting the environment around us—he understands how important it is to maintain our local food economies so that future generations can also know the beauty and the bounty of the Chesapeake Bay."
—José Andrés, Chef/Owner, ThinkFoodGroup & minibar by José Andrés
Irena Stein is a photographer, restaurateur, immigrant, sustainability advocate, and
humanitarian whose spirit is deeply rooted in humanizing society. Irena came to America from Venezuela on a Fulbright Scholarship to Stanford University where she graduated with a Master’s in Cultural Anthropology. Since then she has merged her passion for art, food, community, and environmentalism into a seamless blend in a city that craved it--Baltimore, Maryland. These passions quickly came together when she officially entered the culinary world in 2002 and opened two cafés at Johns Hopkins University. The first one at the Space Telescope Science Institute, Café Azafrán, and the other in the Humanities building, Alkimia. Both locations have been pioneers in introducing sustainability and zero waste at Hopkins. Azafrán has provided healthy and diverse cuisine to the brilliant minds of astronomers, astrophysicists, and spacecraft engineers for 15 years. Her cafés not only received recognition for their sustainability practices and delicious fresh food but also as the first establishment to bring the traditional Venezuelan arepa to Baltimore.
The overwhelming support in the city led her to pursue her dream of bringing a taste of Venezuela and her childhood outside of Hopkins and into the greater Baltimore community. This new restaurant endeavor, Alma Cocina Latina, made Irena the first to bring contemporary and imaginative Venezuelan cuisine to the United States. The restaurant became wildly popular, gaining attention from Baltimore Magazine (2016 Best Chef, 2017 Best Restaurant, 2018 Best Ambiance, Top 50 Best 2020), Baltimore Sun (Top 10 Restaurant 2015, Top 10 Dishes in 2016, Top 10 Restaurants 2017, and 2020 Marylander of the Year), and even a rare 3.5 stars by famed Washington Post food critic, Tom Sietsema. For over 7 years Alma has led the Baltimore food scene with innovative and transformative ideas not only with their cuisine, but in shaping how we view food in our society. Behind all of Irena’s concepts is her belief that food is the key to breaking social barriers, bridging communities, and ultimately the foundation of world peace.
In 2020, Irena made that passion for social change into a reality with her newest initiative, Alkimiah. Alkimiah was a community meals program in partnership with Mera Kitchen Collective that provided healthy, high-quality, and sustainable meals to communities for free during COVID difficult times, in partnership with Jose Andres’ World Central Kitchen. Alkimiah fed over 150,000 people, and has been recognized nationally by Bon Appétit, The New York Times, Baltimore Sun, United Nations Environmental Board, and more.
Since, Irena continues to create bridges with the community. Whether that is by mentoring young people aspiring to get into the restaurant industry, actively helping Venezuelan Pemón Indigenous communities lead programs of ecotourism, or implementing a rainforest to table program working directly with indigenous communities in the Amazon to support their micro economies, Irena continues to be a liaison between her home country of Venezuela and Baltimore.