Combating Hunger, Creating Opportunity

DC Central Kitchen is America's leader in reducing hunger with recycled food, training unemployed adults for culinary careers, serving healthy school meals, and rebuilding urban food systems through social enterprise.
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Graduate profile: LaShawn Turner

, June 11th, 2015

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As I walked into the bustling kitchen of Geppetto Catering at 9am on a Friday morning, it was clear the staff had been hard at work for several hours before I arrived. Tartlets were being stuffed with seasoned ground chicken and placed in the oven, completed platters of fruit salad were wrapped and refrigerated for delivery, and the sound of an industrial-style dishwasher buzzed in the background as cooks jostled between the lines of the kitchen galley.

I was there to visit LaShawn Turner, a graduate of DCCK’s Culinary Job Training program who has been happily employed by Geppetto Catering for “eight wonderful years,” as LaShawn herself described it.

LaShawn came to DC Central Kitchen in 2007 after spending several years in various training programs and looking for full-time employment as a single mom. Out of work and trying to care for her then 2 year-old son, LaShawn enrolled in the Culinary Job Training program because she always loved cooking and she heard that the culinary certifications offered through the program, such as the ServSafe food handler certification, would make her a more desirable candidate for future employers.

LaShawn described her experience in the program as “supportive,” but recognized that perhaps the most important part of her training was the self-empowerment classes.

“I was shy,” she said with a smile. “Self-empowerment brought me out of my shell a lot and helped all of us learn how important it was to support each other.”

Thanks to our workforce development team and LaShawn’s own drive to succeed, she secured an interview with Geppetto Catering the day before she was set to graduate from DCCK. She was offered the job on the spot and started work a day later.

Now eight years later, LaShawn swings around the kitchen like she’s a member of the family. And according to Geppetto Catering owner and DCCK supporter Josh Carin, that’s exactly what she is.

“She makes me smile. She makes the people here smile. She has become a true member of the Geppetto family.”-Josh Carin, Owner, Geppetto Catering

LaShawn explains: “This is what I’ve always wanted to do, and as long as I can stand up straight and come to work every morning, I will. I love my job. Like I tell Josh, I’m going to retire from here!”

It’s clear that for LaShawn, her job at Geppetto is exactly where she wants to be. She is able to be home with her now 9 year-old son on the weekends, and she can’t imagine working any place else.

When I asked her what advice she has for our 100th Culinary Job Training class who will graduate in July, LaShawn paused for a moment and with confidence said: “I would tell them to go for it. Don’t let anybody say you can’t do it because you can. I’m living proof of that.”



DCCK to celebrate milestone 100th graduation

, June 5th, 2015

80th Graduation - Hat Toss

DC Central Kitchen will celebrate the graduation of our 100th Culinary Job Training (CJT) class on Friday, July 10 with a ceremony held at the Ronald Reagan Building.

The renowned culinary program equips jobless, formerly incarcerated, or homeless adults for careers in the food service industry through a life-changing 14-week program. Over the course of the program, students receive in-kitchen training, job-readiness skills, and self-empowerment sessions that provide a holistic approach to furthering their personal and professional growth.

The CJT program began in 1990, as soon as DCCK landed its first kitchen space—at the time, in a row house on Florida Avenue NW. The three-month program was designed to be shorter than a formal cooking school, but more comprehensive than a general job readiness service. Trainees were recruited from homeless shelters and halfway houses, gaining culinary skills as they helped prepare the meals DCCK delivered to those same housing programs each day.

The program got a major boost from the hospitality industry, which soon saw CJT as more than a charitable service—rather, it was a source of human capital. Chefs donated their time as guest lecturers and became internship supervisors. Marriott International began as a DCCK food donor, but soon began investing in the training program. In 2008, the J. Willard and Alice S. Marriott Foundation ‘sponsored’ the full cost of an entire CJT cohort—putting people back to work in the face of a recession. Since then, Marriott has supported an entire class each year, including DC Central Kitchen’s 100th class.

In its 25 years of operation, the CJT program has produced 1,700 graduates. Since the recession of 2008 alone, CJT has prepared 600 graduates with a 90% job placement rate.

We hope you’ll join DC Central Kitchen as we celebrate the accomplishments of our 100th CJT class in the company of friends, family, and esteemed guests on Friday, July 10. Television and radio host Tavis Smiley, DCCK founder Robert Egger, Chef José Andrés, and local elected officials will join friends and family to celebrate the remarkable achievements of Class 100 and the 1,700 men and women whose lives have been changed by the self-empowerment and self-sufficiency  the Culinary Job Training program imparted on them.

We hope you’ll join us at this celebratory event!

When: Friday, July 10, 2015
Informal video presentation will begin at 1:30 p.m.
Ceremony will start promptly at 2:00 p.m.

Where: Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center
1300 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC

Ceremony is taking place in the Amphitheater. Please follow signs for “The Capitol Steps”



DC Central Kitchen serves up 108 dishes in 3 hours for the Healthy Lunchtime Challenge

, May 17th, 2015

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For the fourth year in a row, DC Central Kitchen’s school foods team was chosen to prep, cook, and plate more than 100 dishes based on recipes submitted by young people in all 50 states. The catch? It had to be done in a mere three hours!

First Lady Michelle Obama, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and the U.S. Department of Education teamed up again this year to create the Healthy Lunchtime Challenge & Kids’ State Dinner – a competition that engages kids ages 8-12 in creating an original, healthy recipe. Finalists’ recipes were cooked and plated by DCCK on May 15th for the official judging, and one winner from each of the 50 states will be selected and have the opportunity to attend a Kids’ State Dinner at the White House in July.

It took more than a week’s worth of planning to prepare for last week’s event, which included recipes like sriracha shrimp over quinoa with vegetables, a sweet turkey chili with kidney beans, and fish tacos. Judges included Debra Eschmeyer of first lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move program, representatives from the Department of Education and the Department of Agriculture, as well as two kid graduates of Share Our Strength’s Cooking Matters class.

DC Central Kitchen’s culinary team while busy in the week’s leading up to the judging, were well-suited to cook and plate the Healthy Lunchtime Challenge kid-created recipes. As the primary school food provider for 10 DC schools, DC Central Kitchen knows a thing or two about developing meals kids will actually eat. From our Fresh Feature Friday taste-testing activity that engages young people in their very own lunchtime ‘food democracy,’ to the 6,300 locally-sourced, scratch-cooked, healthy meals served every day to kids in DC’s low-income communities – DCCK has what it takes to meet the incredible task of assembling more than 100 healthy recipes in a short period of time.

You can learn more about our school foods program in our latest annual report.



DCCK staff work to raise $10,000 in the second annual ’10 for 10′ campaign

, April 16th, 2015

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On Sunday, April 26, a group of DCCK employees will run a ten-mile race with the goal of raising $10,000 – the cost of putting one student through our life-changing Culinary Job Training program.

In addition to reaching the $10,000 fundraising mark, the primary goal for the 10 for 10 campaign is for every staff member to make a donation to support their DC Central Kitchen family. Staff who support DC Central Kitchen with a financial donation are making a tremendous statement that says, “I believe in my work.”

Of the 150 employees at DCCK, 60 are graduates who work full-time and earn living wages with quality benefits. Each and every day, we witness the power of food as a tool to change lives and build community. Our work at DC Central Kitchen is more than a job, our employees believe in it.

DCCK Procurement and Sustainability Manager, Amy Bachman says: “I am participating in the 10 for 10 campaign again this year because I believe in the work of DC Central Kitchen. I have seen the successes of our Culinary Job Training program through my colleagues I work with every day. I believe it’s important to support the work of my organization through my personal investment as well as through my training for the race. It’s my way of putting my money where my mouth is when I talk about all the great work the Kitchen does and that I truly see value in the investment.”

Matt Schnarr, expansion and partnerships manager for DCCK’s national sister nonprofit, The Campus Kitchens Project, adds: “It might seem a bit strange to ask employees to give back to the organization where they work, but for me, campaigns like this show the commitment of our staff to the overall mission of the Kitchen. There is something very powerful about coming together as a family to support the heart of the Kitchen – the Culinary Job Training program. For me, it is about more than just raising money. I give because I believe in what we are doing and want to support our work in any way I can.”

So far, our colleagues have raised $6,300, but there’s still time to help! Visit the fundraising page to learn more about how you can contribute!



CJT Class 99 celebrates graduation with a full house

, April 13th, 2015

DC Central Kitchen’s most recent Culinary Job Training class marked the end of 14 weeks of training and the beginning of their future at last Friday’s graduation ceremony.

The Walmart-sponsored class was joined by friends, family, DCCK staff and alumni, and esteemed guests at the U.S. Navy Memorial and Heritage Center to commemorate the achievements of Class 99.

Nina Albert, Director, Public Affairs and Government Relations for Walmart gave the keynote address in which she remarked that it’s not just about hard work, but the courage to go after your dreams that makes someone successful in life.

Class 99 had a lot to celebrate. Current employers include Marriott Key Bridge, Nando’s PERi-PERi, Clyde’s Restaurant, Levy Restaurant, and CulinAerie. Students are earning an average hourly wage of $12.00/hour.

During the course of the program students welcomed esteemed guest chefs Vera Oye’ Yaa-Anna (The Palaver Hut) and Rock Harper (Chef and DCCK supporter) and participated in field trips to L’Academie de Cuisine and Jaleo DC.

Internship partner sites for Class 99 included:
Aramark – American University
Boqueria DC
Clyde’s Chinatown
CulinAerie
Levy Restaurants
Marriott Key Bridge
Nando’s PERi-PERi
Ritz Carlton
Sodexo at Marymount
Sodexo at Trinity
Sodexo at USCCB
Sodexo at Venable
Water and Wall Restaurant

Thank you to the Walmart Foundation, our many guest chefs, and our internship and restaurant partners for supporting Class 99. Without you, DC Central Kitchen would never be able to continue our work creating opportunity in DC. Thank you!

If you missed this graduation, be sure to mark your calendar and join us to celebrate the achievements of Class 100 on July 10!

For more images from this celebratory event, be sure to visit our Flickr page.



DCCK achieves 100% employment rate for adults without GEDs

, February 12th, 2015

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A critical new policy brief from the Community Foundation of the National Capital Region (CFNCR), entitled “Charting the Course,” brings new attention to the employment crisis facing individuals in our community without a high school diploma or its equivalent. “More than 60,000 DC residents are essentially locked out of the City’s economy” due to this lack of credentialing, the brief claims, before rightfully calling for strategic investments in a “strong workforce development plan to bring these residents into the District’s economy as full and successful participants.”

At DC Central Kitchen, we couldn’t agree more. In 2014, our Culinary Job Training program began recruiting and accepting more individuals without high school equivalency to better serve this marginalized population. Upon graduation, 83% of these students found a job with a starting wage of $9.84 an hour—not bad, but not as good as DCCK’s typical results. The same percentage of individuals with diplomas found a job upon graduation, but they earned nearly a dollar more an hour, with an average starting wage of $10.62.

But we didn’t stop working with our graduates at graduation. Our students without high school equivalency ultimately achieved a 100% job placement rate, but they and our workforce development staff had to work harder and longer to find employers that would accept them. Critically, over time, the wage gap between those with diplomas and those without them closed. Within a year of graduation, individuals without high school equivalency were earning an average of $10.82 per hour, while those with it were earning $11.08.

Our sample size isn’t huge, and no one program could possibly serve the 60,000 women and men excluded from DC’s economic opportunities. Our results show, however, that there is hope. We join the authors of this valuable policy brief in calling for a smart, strategic, and adequately resourced solution to this crisis. We’re happy to share what we’re learning, and eager to join our nonprofit, public, and private partners in the effort to put our neighbors back to work.