By Rebecca Gardon
Yesterday we attended Kitchens for Good’s inaugural class graduation to celebrate the culmination of its pilot 13-week culinary job training program. The new social service is designed for people 18 and older who have various barriers to employment. They might be youth who have aged out of foster care, veterans, survivors of domestic violence, ex-cons or recovering addicts. One thing is certain: they each have an unwavering drive to change the trajectory of their life.
Kitchens for Good mission is to break the cycles of food waste, poverty and hunger through innovative programs in workforce training. Its intensive culinary program takes a “whole-person” approach to vocational training, incorporating culinary arts, nutrition education, resume writing and financial literacy. Attending classes 40 hours per week, students practice their culinary skills while also giving back to the community by preparing healthy meals for distribution to hunger relief agencies.
The curriculum is led by Ivan Flowers, who brings 25 years of fine cuisine experience to his position as Chef Instructor. Previously Chef Ivan spent two and a half years at the beloved San Diego seafood house, Top of The Market. Before setting in SoCal, he owned Fournos restaurant in Sedona, Arizona; was Executive Chef at L’Auberge de Sedona; and created extraordinary cuisine for T. Cooks at Scottsdale’s Royal Palms Resort among others.
Kitchens for Good’s pilot class launched in fall of 2015 with 10 students. It received over two dozen applications. Founder Chuck Samuelson expects 15 students in the next class (April 2016) and looks forward to expanding. He has already changed the original model to better accommodate an ever-growing number of applications: each 13-week session will start every six weeks, essentially creating two overlapping tracks. Additionally, he wants to establish an on-site restaurant where students can continue training for another month after they graduate.
We first visited Kitchen for Good back in February. Our fishmonger Tommy Gomes opened up to the students about his life and how he overcame his personal demons. Later he demonstrated how to break down a yellowtail and identified culinary uses for all the different cuts. Each student had the opportunity to work on a fish of their own, with Tommy and Chef Ivan assisting where needed.
Following Tommy’s presentation we were asked if we would be open to taking on interns. By the following week Kayla Brown was cutting fish behind our counter. The graduate is now working full-time at Draft Republic, a local brewpub offering upscale bar food and craft beer. Since Kayla’s departure we have welcomed Ja’mount Bradley. His internship at Catalina Offshore is additional to the coveted job he landed at Bracero, a modern Mexican eatery owned by acclaimed chef Javier Plascencia.
Kitchen for Good’s program uses the nationally renowned curriculum developed by LA Kitchen and DC Central Kitchen, two organizations that have graduated over 1,500 individuals over the past 25 years, with a 90% success rate of full-time employment within three months of graduation. As of fall 2015, its goal is to graduate 80 trainees annually, who will collectively earn over $2 million in salaries, and contribute over $200,000 in payroll taxes a year.
Congratulations to Kitchens for Good, and its inaugural class of 2016!
“Kitchens for Good believed in me when I felt no one else did.”– Ja’Mount Bradley
“Kitchens for Good has given me the foundation to finally become the person I want to be,that I can be proud of, and get my foot in the door doing something that I love and have so much passion for.” — Kayla Brown