Culinary Graduates: the end of one journey and the start of the next

A December Friday just before the holidays, spirits ran high around Inter-Faith Food Shuttle. The reason? It was graduation day for 8 students from our Culinary Job Training Program (CJTP)! With friends and family present, these eight students received their certificates of completion in what is always an emotional and triumphant ceremony, but only after their final test: preparing food for the graduation luncheon! The dishes they prepared included, among others: roasted autumn root vegetables with our farm raised peanut, hubbard, acorn & pumpkin squash with pineapple & papaya;  Creole shrimp & SC stone ground white grits with parmesan & scallions; and roasted sweet potato with fresh basil & white truffle oil. What a menu! I can tell you that it all tasted as good as it sounds!

Many students shared emotional moments with family and friends, recalling the journey they took to be standing there holding that certificate. Inter-Faith Food Shuttle works with human services agencies to recruit unemployed and underemployed individuals with severe life challenges to provide them with the training and resources necessary for a steady career in food service. One student could not be in attendance, but sent a heartfelt note to her fellow classmates, which Chef Khaleel read aloud at the ceremony. Another student chose to share the poem, “Heaven’s Grocery Store” with the class.

This 61st class of students worked extremely hard to get to graduation day. Under the tutelage of professional Chefs Terri Hutter and Khaleel Faheemud-Deen, they learned knife skills, cooking terminology, and got plenty of intensive hands-on cooking experience. They even helped cook for and serve at a catering event for 450 people at Bland Landscaping! These students are also now certified in ServSafe food safety and sanitation practices, and have been coached in professional work habits. They have honed their life skills as well, working with social worker Sharon Mitchell and two social work interns, Andre and Tayana, on how to get along with co-workers, balance life outside the kitchen, and manage stress.

Now armed with a new skill set, these students will be entering the workforce in a permanent way, embarking on their next journey - this one of steady employment and self-sufficiency. They now join the ranks of over 345 students who have graduated from the program since its inception in 1998. Believing that all deserve an opportunity to create better lives for themselves and their families, IFFS job coach Sue Jones works with students to find and maintain employment. Consistently, over 70% of the Culinary Job Training Program graduates are employed eighteen months after graduation at places like Centerplate at the Raleigh Convention Center, university dining halls, hospitals, and other local cafeterias and restaurants.

The students' time during the program is not all about self-improvement, but it is about making a difference in the lives of others as well. During their time at Inter-Faith Food Shuttle, students help feed their community, converting thousands of pounds of food from a variety of food donors into nutritious, well-balanced meals, which are then delivered to local soup kitchens, shelters, and children's programs that feed those in need. CJTP students reduce food waste by taking donated fresh produce into our commercial kitchen, cooking it into nutritious meals, and blast freezing it so that food with a limited shelf life will be available months later. We are so grateful for the contributions they have made to help end hunger in our community during their time with us, so proud of each of their journeys, and so excited to see each of them succeed!