A random act of kindness starts like this: a rain of cocoa powder, dark and rich and intensely chocolatey, poured into a big ceramic bowl with sugar and butter, then creamed with vanilla and eggs, then flour and salt (a very simple recipe; use excellent chocolate; don't forget the salt). You stand in your kitchen, wooden spoon in hand, probably eating batter from the bowl. After the brownies come out of the oven — the room clouded with the aroma of chocolate, the surface of the brownies like geology — you let them cool, try not to eat them all — and then give them away.
To whom? Does it matter? Life is good and you're reminding the world, and yourself, that it is. And that it's even better, of course, with chocolate.
This is what Chris Knight, an Iowa-born journalist in Paris, decided to re-enact, repeatedly, this summer, making and bestowing free brownies upon total strangers through his project Darn Brownies. "The goal is to give away brownies for free for no reason at all," says Knight, "and to encourage other people to do the same thing or something similarly ridiculous every now and then." And this week, he's here in Los Angeles. With brownies. Maybe for you.
Knight is in California this summer because he had the good sense to marry a Frenchwoman, and the French government allows you to take time off to hang out with your kids when they're little (the Knights have two children, ages 5 and 2). And if you could spend that kind of free time near the beach in California, wouldn't you? Take time off, bake with your kids, start a free brownie movement. Maybe save the world, or a tiny quadrant of it, one batch of Valrhona brownies at a time.
See also: 13 Best Brownies in Los Angeles
Knight was in San Francisco holding a free brownie event last week, setting up his table at Brenda's French Soul Food in east San Francisco. This week he's in L.A., sourcing Valrhona and Cote d'Or chocolate, taking the kids to Milk, and figuring out where to set up.
Speaking of which, if you have a restaurant with an outdoor space for Knight to set up his project, maybe in or around Playa Vista or Marina Del Rey, let him know.
The brownies are free, of course, but the idea isn't only contingent upon a single random act of culinary kindness. Knight hopes to continue the process, pay it forward if you will. He'll give you a free brownie, but also a Darn Brownies mission statement and business card and probably ask you to sign up for the movement and promise to do something nice for your community. (Go price very good brownies; this is a serious bargain. And really, shouldn't you be thinking like this anyway?)
No, Knight is not secretly a cult leader, nor is he being paid to do this; he's funding the project entirely himself. Knight just wants the project to inspire others to commit, albeit vaguely, to doing good stuff for other people, "like giving away cake." He says he may start a Kickstarter campaign to raise money, or sell T-shirts.
At the San Francisco event (if you can call it an event; it's more like a bake sale crossed with a Dennis Kucinich farmers market booth), Knight says he made about 40 brownies, five of which he ate himself. He gave away the rest, and signed up about 25 people for his free brownie community project.
"The brave people who stopped by the stand to ask questions and have a brownie said it sounded like a nice project and most of them signed up and said they would try to do something nice," says Knight. "In L.A., I might make a few more brownies. I have a feeling brownies are more popular here than in San Francisco. People coming to my stand told me San Francisco residents are suspicious of anything free, so I hope that is not the case so much in L.A."
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Note to Knight: Welcome to Los Angeles! You may need to make more brownies.
In the meantime, while you're checking darnbrownies.com to see when and where you're getting your next homemade brownie fix, you might check out Knight's website for his mother's brownie recipe. Because, as with all good stories, the beginnings are old, in this case a Kansas City Christmas many years ago, when a neighbor took out a bowl and a wooden spoon, and began stirring some chocolate while thinking, not about herself, but the people around her.