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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Updates for Culinary Job Training


DC Central Kitchen Appears on ‘The Chew’

, October 2nd, 2014

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Yesterday, DC Central Kitchen staff, graduates, and friends grew a little bit closer to each other as we shared in the delight of seeing our very own CJT graduate Howard Thomas on ABC’s hit cooking-themed daytime talk show, “The Chew.”

The show dedicated a significant amount of air time to portraying the work of the Kitchen and our graduates. Howard, who is currently the lead production cook at Washington Jesuit Academy for our Healthy School Food program, did such an incredible job representing the Kitchen and sharing his story in front of a live studio audience!

Thank you Carla Hall, Mario Batali, Michael Symon, Clinton Kelly, Daphne Oz and the entire crew of “The Chew” for highlighting our work and our mission to use food as a tool to strengthen bodies, empower minds, and build communities.

Check out a short clip of yesterday’s episode here!



Celebration in Order for Central Union Mission’s First Class of CJT Graduates

, August 20th, 2014

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Last Friday marked a DC Central Kitchen milestone: our first Culinary Job Training class from Central Union Mission graduated! Twelve weeks of hard work paid off for the 10 graduates who joined friends, family and DCCK supporters at Central Union Mission to celebrate their achievements and plans for the future.

Class 1 representative Lee Hylton addressed the audience, his fellow graduates, and the men and women of DCCK’s Class 97, who just completed their sixth week of training, and said: “Every day DC Central Kitchen exemplifies that there are still people who want to help others.” He added, “This program worked for me and my classmates, and it will work for you too.”

Lee, who spent 24 months in prison prior to starting the Culinary Job Training Program, secured a job prior to Friday’s graduation and started working this week at Acacia Bistro in the Van Ness neighborhood of Northwest DC. Other employers of the graduating class include Sodexo at Marymount University and Nando’s Peri Peri; and graduates are earning an average hourly wage of $11.62.

A steady job can mean a world of change for men and women overcoming obstacles like incarceration, homelessness and addiction. Our Culinary Job Training program works with students and alumni to help them secure a good job to support themselves and their families.

DC Central Kitchen’s Culinary Job Training program would not be possible without the investments of our community partners, including the Capital One Foundation, CityCenterDC, The City Fund, and the Community Foundation of the National Capital Region, among others. The Culinary Job Training program always has more applicants than it can accommodate, and partnerships like these create opportunities for us to provide more students with the critical tools they need to break the cycle of dependency and find jobs.

Thank you to everyone who joined us at this milestone event. We look forward to seeing you at 2pm on October 10th at the U.S. Navy Memorial and Heritage Center where we’ll celebrate DCCK’s 97th class of CJT graduates!

Check out some other great photos from Friday’s event!

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DCCK Opens New Baking Corner to Provide Healthy, Whole Grain Snacks and Baked Goods to 35 Afterschool Programs

, August 14th, 2014

Baking CornerOn August 7th we celebrated the official opening of DC Central Kitchen’s new Baking Corner! Thanks to key investments from our friends and partners, and a generous matching grant from the Morris and Gwendolyn Cafritz Foundation, DCCK is able to bring our healthy baking program to fruition.

Back in April we announced DC Central Kitchen Production Manager William Ferrell’s concept for an innovative baking program at DCCK, for which he hoped to create healthy, whole grain snacks and breads for the afterschool programs we serve. William, who came to DC Central Kitchen in 2010 after being released from prison, was a student in our Culinary Job Training program and now serves on staff as a supervisor in the Kitchen. With a long held passion for baking, and a personal interest area for culinary growth, William realized he could make our snacks for afterschool programs more nutritious and less costly by doing more baking on-site and relying less on packaged, processed foods.

William creatively uses ingredients such as natural sweeteners and avocados to make traditional favorites, like banana bread and cheesecake, much healthier. For the Baking Corner opening, William shared samples of some of his original baked goods recipes, including pumpkin bread with lower sugar content, and whole wheat biscuits. Our guests indulged in his healthy treats while exploring some of the new  equipment purchased for the Baking Corner. Among several items that now make up this new space, William and his team have access to multiple stand mixers and special attachments, a proofing box to help bread rise, a wood work table for rolling dough, and lots of new baking pans.

We can only achieve our mission to use food as a tool to strengthen bodies, empower minds, and build communities with the help of our many partners. Because of this support, William, his team, and the more than 15,000 volunteers that work in the Kitchen each year are now able to put his ideas into action by working in this space to create new, innovative snacks and healthy meal concepts for our partners. We’re excited to leverage the talent and passion of our culinary staff and dedicated volunteers to ensure that the afterschool programs for low-income children that rely on our meals receive healthy and nutritious snacks that fuel their minds and future success!

Join us at the Kitchen to check out this awesome new baking space and help put William’s brainchild into action.



DCCK Teams Up with Pioneering Aquaculture Researchers

, August 5th, 2014

Students learn how to break down fish

At DC Central Kitchen, we pride ourselves on running a complex, fast-paced operation that eliminates waste and brings healthy food to our community. So when our operations team walks into a facility that’s designed to do the same thing and walks out amazed, that’s saying something.

The Institute of Marine and Environmental Technology—IMET for short—is breaking new ground in marine and environmental research, pointing the way to a new, sustainable future for aquaculture. IMET’s operation raises high value marine fish in ideal, controlled conditions, nourishes them with eco-friendly food, and converts all the waste produced by the fish waste into methane, which in turn powers an in-house generator fueling the facility. Professor Yoni Zohar, head of IMET’s Aquaculture Research Center, explains “We grow the most delicious and healthy branzino in the most environmentally sustainable way possible, providing healthy seafood in a way that can now be scaled up and commercialized.” A tour of the operation this spring captured our team’s imagination.

“Once the fish are grown, they’ve served their purposes for research, and IMET has been selling their fish to high-end Baltimore restaurants,” said DCCK Procurement Manager Amy Bachman. “But IMET reached out to us because they wanted these fish to serve the community as well.”

“With food costs continuing to climb, donations of high-quality protein are tougher than ever to find,” reports DCCK Chief Operating Officer Andy Finke. “IMET’s support couldn’t have come at a better time for the people we serve.”

While IMET’s research is aimed at long-term change, their innovations have had an immediate impact at DC Central Kitchen.  On July 29, IMET generously donated 200 branzino, a European sea bass, to our Culinary Job Training Program, where they provided a week of incredible hands-on lessons. On Tuesday, our students sautéed the branzino with onions and olives. Wednesday afternoon saw renowned area chef Tim Ma of restaurants Maple Ave and Water & Wall—and a battling chef at this year’s Capital Food Fight—stop by to lead a tutorial on preparing a crispy branzino with fried rice. On Thursday and Friday, our students worked on sushi rolls and practiced recipes for ceviche, respectively.

This is the beginning of a beautiful fish friendship. Our culinary students will be touring the IMET facility later this fall, and we’ll be looking to recover more donations of lean, healthy protein in the coming months.

Do you want to contribute to DCCK’s food supply? Check out our food donation options!



Chef Mastermind Tim Ma Mentors DCCK Students

, August 4th, 2014

Tim  Ma teaches DCCK students

The restaurant industry is a tough business. Our Culinary Job Training program is designed to give at-risk women and men the skills and self-confidence they need to succeed in challenging workplaces, and we rely on industry leaders to bring their real-world insight and incredible stories to our basement kitchen.

In the fourth week of each CJT class, we welcome top chefs from the DC restaurant scene for a special ‘Heritage Day’ that exposes our students to new regional cuisines, preparation techniques, and the personal stories of people who have built culinary careers. Chef Tim Ma, of the acclaimed Maple Ave Restaurant and brand-new Water & Wall restaurant, stopped by DCCK last week with his team of kitchen all-stars to instruct and inspire our 97th Culinary Job Training class.

Coming to Heritage Day is a great way for my team to come in and share their wide breadth of knowledge in a broader way than they’re able to at our restaurants.–Chef Tim Ma

Chef Ma’s team—Chefs de Cusine Nyi Nyi Myint and Michael Johnson and Sous Chef Juste Zidelyte—brought recipes inspired by their own personal backgrounds in Burmese, Southern American, and Lithuanian cuisine, respectively. They took our students on a culinary world tour, with an Asian-inspired crispy branzino with fried rice, a pan-roasted pork tenderloin with peach sauce over creamy grits, and a Lithuanian chilled beet soup.

But just as importantly, our guest instructors brought their own tales of triumphing in tough jobs. Chef Ma sold everything he owned — even his car — to make his way through culinary school, gave up everything he had to open his first restaurant, and almost lost it before finding his niche.

After hearing Ma’s story, one of our students remarked, “It was so great to hear about Chef Ma’s struggles and adversity. I really wasn’t able to picture myself succeeding in cooking until today.”

You can see Class 97 graduate on October 10th, at 2pm at the US Naval Memorial and Heritage Center at 701 Pennsylvania Avenue NW. And don’t miss Chef Tim Ma as he battles in this year’s Capital Food Fight on November 11th at the Ronald Reagan Building! You can follow all the Capital Food Fight action on Twitter @dcckfoodfight.



Overhauling First Helping

, July 15th, 2014

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DC Central Kitchen’s mission is to use food as a tool to strengthen bodies, empower minds, and build communities, and that mission is our guide as we build, develop, and make strategic decisions about our programs.

You may be familiar with our long-running First Helping program. This street outreach effort was originally intended to use food as a tool to engage men and women living on the streets with a hot meal, some coffee, and the chance to work with DCCK case managers who could connect them to social services that would get them back on their feet, everything from dental care to drug treatment. However, the program as it exists today is falling short of its mission-driven goal.

Our dedicated two-person outreach team provides First Helping clients with thousands of referrals each year to agencies that can address their next-level needs. But few of these referrals lead to real progress. We can open doors, but can’t force reluctant clients to walk through them. The type of comprehensive case management operation needed to push clients through DC’s social service system is not aligned with our primary skills in meal production and culinary training. Moreover, it would be duplicative of existing services that other nonprofits offer, and avoiding nonprofit redundancy is one of our core values.

Even more frustratingly, the on-the-ground reality is that the vast majority of our First Helping clients are content to receive a free daily meal from DC Central Kitchen without engaging with our outreach workers in any meaningful way. We exist to shorten this city’s line of hungry people by the way that we feed it. First Helping’s line isn’t getting any shorter, partially because too many of those standing in it won’t embrace change and partially because we haven’t succeeded in inspiring them to.

To ensure that our resources—be it staff time, food, or dollars—are deployed in ways that offer maximum impact, we are in the process of overhauling First Helping. At the end of June, DCCK stopped providing meals at our three First Helping sites. We are working to find another group to step in and provide replacement services, and DCCK is prepared to provide meals and fundraising support to a suitable nonprofit partner (if your nonprofit might be interested in being that partner, email us here). We are also preparing to increase the meals we provide to partner agencies in the areas around our former service sites, should they experience an increase in demand for their meals.

And know that no one is losing a job. Our First Helping outreach workers have been moved over to our Culinary Job Training program, charged with recruiting at-risk applicants and providing enrolled students with case management services that will improve our program retention and graduation rates. We will continue to visit our former First Helping service sites to recruit job training applicants and encourage people at these sites to engage with our pre-enrollment partners—but we won’t be bringing breakfast sandwiches.

We know our job training program changes lives and breaks the cycle of poverty. First Helping, as it stands now, does not. In July, we will also pilot a new initiative called ‘Second Helping’ that provides free grocery bundles packed with fresh, local produce to graduates of our Culinary Job Training program. Instead of giving food to people who may not be interested in changing their lives, we will invest our food resources in people who have proven their commitment to achieving self-sufficiency by completing our program. These free bundles will also allow us to keep in regular contact with DCCK graduates, enhancing our evaluation activities and allowing us to provide ongoing social services and job retention (or, if needed, replacement) assistance to our former students.

This was not an easy decision. In our hearts, we love First Helping and honor the tremendous work of our staff—and generosity of our donors—over the past 15 years of its activities. But we had to apply the hard data gleaned from this program and view it through the lens of our mission. We can do better, and for the sake of our clients, we must do better. At DCCK, we know we can’t afford to just do things that are ‘good.’ They need to be smart as well.

We’re devoted to doing right by our clients and donors every day, and that includes being transparent about our decision making. We invite questions and comments about this important evolution. To continue the conversation, please reach out to DCCK’s Director of Communications, Alexander Moore, at amoore@dccentralkitchen.org.