THE BELTWAY OF GIVING: From the Classroom to the Kitchen
Washingtonians are no stranger to fine dining. Travel + Leisure and Food & Wine have both given the city’s food scene notable accolades, and a number of chefs have joined the ranks of James Beard Foundation finalists, including Cathal Armstrong of Restaurant Eve, Johnny Monis of Komi, Peter Pastan of Obelisk, and Vikram Sunderam of Rasika. Yet these chefs weren’t always on top. They all started somewhere— perhaps in the back kitchen cleaning dishes as a teenager, or mirroring their mentor just out of culinary school. Throughout the District, youth are being groomed to take the reins of the next great eatery gaining critical skills to succeed in the workforce.
Cohn’s Kitchen, founded by Elizabeth Scott and Paul J. Cohn’s of Georgetownbased J.Paul’s, Paolo’s and Neyla, is part of Cohn’s Culinary and Hospitality Management Academy. Working with local chefs, restaurateurs and local business leaders, Cohn’s partners with the District of Columbia’s Department of Employment Services (DOES) and the Summer Youth Employment Program (SYEP) to provide students exposure into the industry.
“Local chefs and restaurants recognize the need for well-trained employees. Cohn’s Kitchen youth are educated and empowered by the opportunity to learn about kitchen management and leadership, preparation and cooking, recipe and menu development and restaurant management,” Co-Founder and Executive Director Elizabeth Scott explains. “We teach the kids to work their way up and a set of skills that go well beyond the kitchen. They learn responsibility.”
Like Cohn’s Kitchen, D.C.-based Brainfood provides after school and summer programs that allows youth to spread their culinary wings. Brainfood first opened its doors with the goal of using food and cooking to provide high school students with supervised and structured after school activities.
For two days a week, the All Star Program introduces participants to life and leadership skills through food and cooking workshops at their Chinatown, Columbia Heights and Mount Vernon Square locations. Graduates of the program have thrived and gained the opportunity to work with guest chefs and food industry professionals like Chef Teddy Folkman of Granville Moore’s and Chef Sina Molavi of Occasions Caterers who is also a Brainfood alumnus.
“While driving youth toward a culinary career has not been our primary goal, it does certainly happen,” said Executive Director Paul Dahm. “We have had some participants go to culinary school, including the Culinary Institute of America. But the skills we are teaching are those that translate to and beyond the kitchen.” Dahm touts the program’s success in teaching the students reading, math, science and how to communicate with others and to demonstrate their creativity. “These are all skills necessary to do well in school and to compete in the job market,” he said.
However, the opportunity to learn doesn’t always start in the kitchen, it can be rooted in local community gardens. Kid Power has provided nutritional and service-learning programs for more than 1,000 youth throughout the D.C. area. Founded by Max Skolnik nearly a decade ago, Kid Power tackles issues around food insecurity and creates budding entrepreneurs one farmers market at a time.
“Kid Power works with students from lowperforming, under-served public and charter schools that typically reside in food deserts. Too many of our students and their families did not have access to fresh food, nutritional information, or cooking classes,” said Skolnik. “We created VeggieTime to attack the root causes of food insecurity. Youth and their families manage city-wide gardens, incorporate high-quality produce into their daily lives, raise funds through market sales and support food-related service projects and advocacy initiatives.”
More than 50 Veggie Time gardens are located throughout D.C. where students sell a portion of their harvest at farmer’s markets in Columbia Heights and Petworth, partake in weekly cooking classes and local schools harvest sales that target the surrounding communities and donate to families in need.
HOW YOU CAN HELP
Cohn’s Kitchen: The 2nd annual Battle of the Bistros takes place July 30th at Clyde’s Gallery Place. Battle of the Bistros challenges teams of students to put their summer job training and education to the test in a friendly competition for the “Best New Restaurant Concept.” Tickets are $10 a person at http://battleofthebistros. eventbrite.com
Kid Power: Visit the Kid Power table at the Columbia Heights Farmer’s Market on August 4th or donate a greenhouse, gardening equipment or irrigation systems for their larger garden sites. Email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
Brain Food: The 6th annual Brainfood Grill- Off fundraiser hits D.C. September 13th. Sponsorships are still available and guests can purchase tickets at http://brain-food.org/brainfood- grill-off ★
Jade Floyd is a managing associate at a D.C.-based international public relations firm and has served on the board of directors for several non-profits. She is a frequent volunteer and host of fundraising events across the District supporting arts, animal welfare and education programs. Follow her on Twitter @ DCThisWeek.