With pre-plated salads and desserts on tables and a delicious buffet-style spread, our second class of culinary students completed their last task of the Food Bank’s Culinary Training Program— to create a menu and prepare all the food for their own graduation.
Throughout their 12-week journey, five students learned basic culinary skills to help them jumpstart their career in the food industry.
“Being here it gave me a sense of a community and family. I felt right at home. They had lots of information, tons of information,” culinary student Raven said.
For Raven, a mother of three kids, it was the opportunity she had been looking for. After having kids, she couldn’t afford to go to culinary school, but our free Culinary Training Program gave her the chance to get closer to her dream of teaching kids and families how to eat healthier.
“I feel like [graduation day] is the best day ever because I’ve always wanted to do this, but I couldn’t afford it after I had kids. Then when they said the program was free, I was like ‘that is the program for me’,” Raven said.
Completing the program meant waking up at 5:30 a.m. to get her kids ready, learning new culinary skills at the Food Bank during the day and then working at night to help support her family.
“It took a lot of persistence and courage to follow through with the program because I didn’t have any income,” Raven said. “I had to start working at night just so I could be here and get the certificate.”
Despite the challenges, Raven put on a hair net each day and joined her classmates at the Food Bank. During the mornings, students were given classroom instruction. While in the afternoons, they headed into the kitchen for hands-on training.
Throughout the course, Culinary Trainer Chef Dimitra taught students equipment operation, knife skills, cooking techniques and even focused on specific cuisines throughout the program.
During seafood week, students learned how to fillet a fish properly, how to cook different shellfish like scallops and make different seafood dishes like ceviche. Pasta week was a favorite for the students—they made pasta from scratch, which was a first for all the students.
To test their skills and time management, students competed against each other in chopped challenges where they created their own dish in a specified amount of time. During these challenges, students also made 1,000 Value Added Meals that would be distributed to families in need.
For Raven, making the Value Added Meals hit home. Raven was living in New Orleans when Hurricane Katrina hit. Afterwards, her family turned to food bank pantries to help get back on their feet. The support she received from food bank pantries is something she hasn’t forgotten.
“It’s amazing. It feels great to be able to do what somebody has been able to do for me,” Raven said.
At the end of the graduation, students left with the culinary skills necessary to continue to their career, along with a chef uniform and kitchen utensils.
“Being part of this program has enhanced my skills. I can go into the workplace being confident. With the certificate, I know that I can tackle any task that’s ahead of me,” Raven said.
We are so proud of our culinary graduates and we can’t wait to see what the future holds for them. Congratulations!