After 26 1/2 years at Medtronic, Carline Bengtsson started her second act in the kitchen.
As the founder of Dine4Dinners (dine4dinners.org), she caters private meals and donates a portion of the proceeds to hunger relief organizations. Since officially launching the organization last summer, she has raised funds for the equivalent of more than 31,000 meals, and counting.
It took two "aha" moments to get her there. First was the loss of her husband, Lars, nine years ago. That brought clarity about her passion for cooking. She was sitting at her desk, daydreaming, and fired off an e-mail to family and friends.
"I said, if you guys were food critics, what would you say about my cooking?" Moments later, she had confirmation in the form of rave reviews.
She let sink in the words of countless friends who told her what a great cook and host she was. Within a year, she self-published a cookbook with wine pairings, called "Carline's Fork and Cork: Simply Delish!"
The second epiphany struck when wrapping up her Medtronic career as an engineering program manager. The company allowed employees to earn points that could be converted to gift cards, donations or purchases. Bengtsson had to use her 19 points before her retirement, and selected an organization she had volunteered with before, Feed My Starving Children (fmsc.org).
But the math of it all shocked her.
Her 19 points could feed one child for 19 weeks — or 19 children each for one week.
She felt she could do more.
"This was my moment where I said, this is what I need to do — use my cooking and give back in this way," she said. "I exited the door at Medtronic, and that's how this door opened up for me."
Born in Jamaica and raised in St. Paul, Bengtsson, 58, always loved to entertain and experiment with different cuisines; she calls her signature style of cooking a "mosaic." A self-taught chef, she draws on the curries she grew up with, and her travels throughout the world, including to Sweden, which she found she had an affinity for after meeting her Swedish-born husband.
(Bengtsson currently sits on the board of trustees of the American Swedish Institute; she's also a commissioner on the economic development advisory committee for Lindstrom, where she lives.)
Her love of feeding others became a twofold mission.
She would create private dining experiences in other people's homes. And she would give 25% of the proceeds to the hunger-fighting charity of the host's choice.
She began working on her plan before the pandemic hit. By June, when she launched, it turned out to be a timely solution.
Janet Stormo hosted a Dine4Dinners experience with two other couples in her Stillwater home last fall. A former colleague of Bengtsson's, she was familiar with her cooking and was one of the first to sign up for a dinner. She had never hired a private chef before.
"At the time, we were hesitant to go out to restaurants," Stormo said. "So to have someone you trust come into your home, and friends you also trust, it opened a comfort level. We were able to relax and have an enjoyable time."
Stormo directed the proceeds from that night to Meals from the Heart (mealsfromtheheart.org).
"It was nice to be able to have an impact while also having a good time," she said.
To date, most of Dine4Dinners' donations have gone to that organization. Other recipients include Feed My Starving Children, Second Harvest Heartland (2harvest.org) and local food shelves.
Business is booming. Bengtsson has a waitlist for upcoming meals for six to 10 people, which run $75 per person, plus a $250 fee. With a quarter of that going to charity, Bengtsson isn't making much on the endeavor. But it's worth it, she said.
"It benefits the foodies, but it's also about paying it forward to those in need."
All she had to do was listen to those "aha" moments.
"I didn't know I was on this path," she said. "I didn't realize that this was what I was going to end up doing for the back half of my life.
"Jumping off the deep end, not knowing what I was getting into, it's been an absolutely awakening time."
Sharyn Jackson • 612-673-4853