Monthly Archives: September 2012
Other than changing lives, do you know what else gets us stoked?… Being featured on NPR! Our friends WAMU 88.5 – American University Radio, including Sabri Ben-Achour of the show Latitudes, visited the Kitchen to learn more about Healthy Corners, our work combating food deserts, and how we use local produce.
We spoke with Richard Lee, Lead Culinary at the Nutrition Lab, about our most consistent group of volunteers, the students of Cohn’s Kitchen. These students are part of Cohn’s Culinary & Hospitality Management Academy, a job training and workforce development program started by Paul J. Cohn, a legend in the DC culinary world and long time friend of the Kitchen.
Q: Who is Cohn’s Kitchen and how have they became regulars at the Nutrition Lab?
Richard: Oh, the kids, I get to talk about the kids! The Cohn’s Kitchen students recently graduated high school and are now pursuing careers in the culinary arts. The program provides a year of training and hands on experience for fourteen underprivileged young adults who are passionate about starting careers in the restaurant industry. At the end of the year the students receive help finding jobs in DC area restaurants; much like I received training and job placement assistance through DC Central Kitchen’s Culinary Job Training Program (Richard is a graduate of CJT Class 77).
Elizabeth Scott, co-founder of Cohn’s Kitchen, reached out to us about volunteer opportunities for the students. Since the beginning of September, they have come every Monday and Tuesday for four hours of hands-on experience in the kitchen.
Q: What was your first day like working with the students?
Richard: I like to orient all our volunteers with a history of DC Central Kitchen, a little bit of my own story, and what we do at the Nutrition Lab. so On the Cohn’s students’ first day, we briefly went over the day’s work, safety and sanitation in the kitchen. From there, we just got to work.
Q: What have the students helped you work on in the kitchen over the past few weeks?
Richard: One of the great things about these students volunteering here so often is that they get to be involved in so many different types of production, from helping us prepare meals for the schools and the shelters to assisting with items for catering events. Every day I assign them to different aspects of what we do down here, and as a result, they get plenty of opportunities to learn new skills along the way.
Q: What has it been like working with this group of volunteers?
Richard: It’s a great experience working with them. I saw all these kids come in dressed out in chef uniforms and it reminded me of when I went through the job training program at DC Central Kitchen. They help me help them. It’s a good group of kids.
DC Central Kitchen’s Nutrition Lab is preparing daily lunches for seven of the ten schools we’re serving this year. We caught up with Tim Miller, Executive Director of Contract Foods for DC Central Kitchen, to see how things are going two weeks into the school year.
Q: Tell us about the decision to move some of the school meal production over to the Nutrition Lab:
Tim: Of the ten schools that we serve, only two have fully functional kitchens. Last year, we produced the majority of our meals for the schools without kitchens out of the cafeteria at Kelly Miller Middle School. This year, we decided to share the workload by moving some of that production to the Nutrition Lab. We’re taking advantage of our new kitchen space while streamlining our production, procurement and transportation. We are also taking the next step to becoming a more centralized operation.
Q: How many meals is your team preparing each day?
Tim: Right now we’re preparing at least 3,000 meals at the Lab each day. Of those meals, 2,200 are for DC Public Schools.
Q: Who is responsible for preparing the meals?
Tim: Everyone who works at the Lab shares the workload of the operation. The same folks who do catering one day may be working on meals for DC Public Schools the next day and vice versa. We try to diversify the tasks so that our cooks continue to learn new skills and grow. Right now we have eight cooks in the kitchen who are putting these meals out every day, seven of whom came from DC Central Kitchen’s Culinary Job Training Program.
Q: Walk us through the process from making the food to getting it into the schools and onto kids’ plates:
Tim: We buy a lot of product, veggies and such, in bulk to be shared amongst our different programs. Once those items arrive at the Lab, we allot the appropriate quantities for each program’s menu. The food for the schools is then prepared (peeled, cut, seasoned, cooked, etc.) and portioned out for each school. We vacuum seal each menu item and send it off to the schools with finishing instructions for the cooks serving it up to students at the schools.
Q: What is your team working on today?
Tim: Today we are sending out homemade macaroni and cheese, hand-cut sweet potato wedges and over 1,000 pounds of hand-peeled and chopped carrots.
This slideshow explains each step of DC Central Kitchen’s meal production process from acquiring food donations to turning that food into healthy meals and distributing those meals to our partner agencies.
Located just two blocks from DC Central Kitchen’s main headquarters, we were thrilled to learn that Jones Day, an international law firm, had selected DC Central Kitchen as the beneficiary of their summer fundraising activities.
In a matter of weeks, Jones Day staff and attorneys raised an impressive $27,000 through an array of in-office auctions, competitions and even a karaoke sing-off.
But the generosity of the Jones Day crew didn’t end there. On the morning of September 11, 2012 – 25 Jones Day employees filed into DC Central Kitchen to take the day’s first volunteer shift to remember the day’s events.
Donning hairnets and rolling up their sleeves, the Jones Day volunteers chopped, peeled, marinated, and roasted in the hot, bustling kitchen. While their intention was to commemorate the day’s events, the day of service also served to connect the Jones Day volunteers more closely with their local community.
Many Jones Day volunteers commented that they passed DC Central Kitchen on their way to work each morning and assumed it was just another soup kitchen. After spending the morning working side-by-side with Culinary Job Training students and graduates, they realized DC Central Kitchen is truly about empowerment.
President Obama, who commemorated the 10th anniversary of the September 11, 2001 attacks by volunteering at DC Central Kitchen with the entire First Family last year, wrote, “By joining together on this solemn anniversary, let us show that America’s sense of common purpose need not be a fleeting moment, but a lasting virtue — not just on one day, but every day.”
If you are inspired by Jones Day and are looking to get involved, contact Abby Elsener at firstname.lastname@example.org to discuss fundraising opportunities for your organization or group.
We caught up with Marianne Ali, DC Central Kitchen’s Director of Culinary Job Training, to chat about the status of the new culinary classroom.
Q: How is the construction of the culinary classroom going? When do we expect students will be able to use the classroom?
Marianne: The classroom is basically ready for the next class in October. We are just waiting for a few minor touch-up tasks.
Q: Why do we need a culinary classroom? How did you get the idea?
Marianne: It really was about space and equipment and a having a professional classroom space that would create an optimal learning environment.
Q: With a new classroom space, what are some of the future challenges you see in coordinating job training with meal production?
Marianne: I do not foresee any challenges. In fact, I see this as a huge benefit across the board and the students will still be able to participate in high volume production. At the same time, Chef Rock and I are planning to coordinate our other menus to be consistent with our healthy school food menu. This will enable the training chefs to teach the students to follow a recipe, scale up recipes, and to work within a time line which will teach the students a sense of urgency. At the same time, this will enable our procurement manager to streamline product and food purchases for all of our programs. Our students will also be able to work with volunteers on special projects, thus creating the interaction that we believe will promote a valuable experience for both students and volunteers.
Q: Are your chef instructors excited?
Marianne: The chefs are excited and nervous as this is a new venture that will create multiple classes at the same time. That said, there are a lot of benefits as I mentioned.
Q: What can you do now that would have been difficult before because there was no dedicated classroom?
Marianne: Smaller groups in the classroom will allow us to provide more personalized attention to students and to hone in on working with each student to build skills.