Updates for Culinary Job Training
Ever since I came to DC Central Kitchen I’ve considered myself blessed by the opportunities I’ve been given and the life I’ve been able to make for myself as a graduate of the Culinary Job Training program. I enrolled in the program in January of 2011, graduated in April, and launched my first real career by joining DCCK’s Healthy School Food program. I’ve recently worked my way up to become a culinary instructor in the very same program that changed my life four years ago. I didn’t think things could get better, but on Friday, January 16, they did.
One of our board members, Lisa McGovern, is married to Rep. Jim McGovern, who represents the 2nd congressional district of Massachusetts. As an elected official, the congressman attends each State of the Union and is given one additional ticket to use as he chooses. This year, the congressman and his wife offered the ticket to DC Central Kitchen! I was honored to represent my colleagues at what was, quite simply, one of the best nights of my life.
I spent Tuesday as I would any other work day – in the kitchen teaching the 25 students currently enrolled in the Culinary Job Training program how to fabricate chicken. I wasn’t planning to leave early until one of my colleagues suggested I take a little extra time to go home and change.
By 5 p.m., my heart was pounding. The congressman invited me to meet him at his office in the Cannon House Office Building so we could walk to the Capitol together. When I arrived, I was greeted by the congressman himself, who immediately embraced me and thanked me for joining him. At this point, I was nearly dizzy from excitement.
The congressman then informed me that we were about to have dinner in Rep. Nancy Pelosi’s office where I would go on to meet Congresswoman Pelosi, Rep. Joe Kennedy, and an added bonus – Chef Tom Colicchio! As soon as I explained that I worked at DC Central Kitchen, several people in the room stopped to tell me what great work we’re doing in our community. I was bursting with pride for my colleagues and proud to represent all of us on this special night.
Approximately two hours before the president was due to give his State of the Union address, Congressman McGovern and I made our way to the House Chamber where he helped me find my seat for the big event. I spent the next two hours on the edge of my seat, my ears and my mind buzzing. I saw the speaker’s desk and imagined the speaker and vice president arriving. I watched the arrivals of the Supreme Court Justices, The First Lady, the Joint Chiefs of Staff – you name it!
Time flew by, and the next thing I knew, the president was introduced. My skin became numb and I could feel my cheeks begin to ache from smiling so much. All of our leaders were there together in one room, and I had a front row seat to see democracy in action.
My experience on January 20 was nothing short of spectacular. It was an honor to be in the company of our elected representatives and to represent DC Central Kitchen that evening.
To Congressman and Mrs. McGovern – thank you! I’ll never forget the night I watched the State of the Union from the House Chamber of the United States Capitol. More importantly, I’ll never forget my civic responsibility to be an active participant in our democracy. As I told my culinary students the next day, change is possible, but only if we’re willing to put in the work.
This past Saturday and Sunday, kitchen legends José Andrés, Joan Nathan, and Alice Waters hosted the annual Sips & Suppers weekend culinary event to raise funds for DC Central Kitchen and Martha’s Table. Top toques from around the country gathered in the nation’s capital for two extraordinary evenings of fine dining and raised more than $500,000 to support our vital work to help break the cycles of hunger and poverty.
On Saturday, Sips brought more than 1,000 guests to the Newseum to sample artisan and restaurant dishes while imbibing master creations from local mixologists like Gina Chersevani of Buffalo & Bergen, Trevor Frye of Jack Rose, and Chad Robinson of Catoctin Creek. VIP guests enjoyed the opportunity to meet, mingle and have cookbooks signed by celebrity chefs including Carla Hall, Charles Phan and Aglaia Kremezi from Greece, while all guests had the opportunity to enjoy the JetBlue Lounge and the Celebrity Cruises “partyvators” in the Newseum’s glass elevators.
On Sunday, Suppers were hosted at 31 homes across D.C. and Northern Virginia. Guests gathered in the intimate setting to enjoy exquisite five-course meals and wine pairings prepared by the nation’s most talented chefs including David Chang of Momofuku, Adam Sobel of RN74, and Michael Solomonov of Zahav as well as more than 40 of DC’s stellar chefs including Ris Lacoste of Ris, Erik Bruner Yang of Toki Underground, Jamie Leeds of Hank’s Oyster Bar and Mike Isabella of Graffiato.
“We’re thrilled that this year’s Sips & Suppers exceeded all expectations,” said Joan Nathan, renowned cookbook author and co-founder of Sips & Suppers. “It is truly amazing to have the culinary community’s support in our efforts to fight hunger in the district and in supporting the practical solutions that DC Central Kitchen and Martha’s Table provide.”
Sips & Suppers 2015 marked the 7th anniversary of the event, which was founded in 2009 as celebrities both in and out of the kitchen descended on DC to celebrate the first inauguration of President Obama. For additional information on Sips & Suppers, please visit www.sipsandsuppers.org.
On Friday, January 10, DC Central Kitchen celebrated with the graduates of culinary job training Class 98 at the US Navy Memorial and Heritage Center. We were honored to welcome Carla Hall as the special guest keynote speaker, who spoke about her perspective on what it means to experience life’s highs and lows, and how one must always look for the upside of feeling down and out.
Seventeen men and women commemorated the end of their rigorous 14 weeks of culinary training at a packed house that included esteemed chef and restaurateur José Andrés, as well as friends, family, and DCCK staff.
Class 98 also marked the sixth consecutive year of the J. Williard and Alice S. Marriott Foundation’s generous support of the culinary training program. Kathleen Wellington, director of culinary sustainability at Marriott International, shared her experience in the culinary field and stressed the importance of being flexible as your career path changes. The requirements of a job in the hospitality sector can change suddenly, and embracing those changes is a vital key to professional success.
Graduate Kevin Smith was elected Class Representative and used his speech to reflect on the growth Class 98 experienced during their time together. Smith reminded the audience that regardless of where you come from, what your background is, or the color of your skin, everyone experiences challenges in life. It’s a certainty that unites us all, he said, but it doesn’t have to define us.
Employers of the graduating class include Ingleside Rock Creek, Giant Foods, Harris Teeter, and Vision of Victor with an average wage of $11.10/hour.
Thank you to all of our generous sponsors who help make the culinary job training program and the success of our graduates possible! If you didn’t make it to this graduation, be sure to mark your calendars for Class 99’s graduation ceremony on Friday, April 10th!
Earlier this month, a DC Central Kitchen staff member was speaking to a class of graduate students at one of the universities here in Washington, DC. That’s something we’re asked to do fairly often as a national leader in food recovery, social enterprise, job training, and more recently, combating urban food deserts.
But this time a student asked a question that truly resonated with us: “What would our community look like if DC Central Kitchen had never opened?”
It’s a question we’ve thought about a lot over the past few days as DC Central Kitchen’s 25th year comes to a close. As we ask you to support our work once again, it’s a question we want to try to answer for you:
- 1,300 men and women would be on the streets, in prison, or on welfare—instead of in the workforce, paying taxes, and supporting themselves. Our culinary training program has maintained a 90% job placement rate over the years, replacing dependency with real careers.
- DC homeless shelters, halfway houses, and nonprofits—and their donors—would have spent more than $67 million on meals for their clients while 22 million pounds of food rotted away. Instead, we put that unwanted food to use and strengthened DC’s social safety net by delivering balanced meals at little or no cost to those agencies.
- There would be no national law protecting good Samaritans who donate food to good causes. We were instrumental in passing the 1996 Bill Emerson Act, shielding well-meaning Americans from liability when giving away surplus food.
- $23 million in taxpayer dollars would have been spent on prison costs since the 2008 recession alone, had our ex-offender graduates gone back to prison at rates in line with the national average. With a recidivism rate of just 2%, our graduates instead pumped more than $2 million worth of payroll taxes back into our community.
- Healthy school meals would still be a political talking point, not a daily reality in DC’s inner-city schools. We’ve served more than 3 million scratch-cooked, locally sourced meals to low-income schoolchildren, proving we can do better than frozen and deep-fried dishes for our kids.
- And worst of all, our country would still be trying to fight hunger with handouts. For a quarter-century, we’ve fought against the idea that trillion-dollar problems can be solved with a mix of leftover pennies and ample pity. We know that hunger is a symptom of poverty, and that poverty can only be cured with a decent job.
Your gift does so much more than just provide a meal.Your support shatters stereotypes, saves our community money, creates jobs, and most importantly, changes the way our community fights hunger and breaks the cycle of poverty.
Your investment in us has made our community measurably stronger in the past 25 years. Please make your gift to DC Central Kitchen today.
Thank you for being a partner in our work.
If you didn’t make it to the Capital Food Fight™ last Tuesday, or happen to read the article in The Washington Post last Wednesday, then you probably haven’t heard that DCCK has made our first foray into the supermarket food manufacturing space! That’s right, our Chow-Chow, a sweet, pickled relish made from a combination of vegetables and served cold, is now available on Whole Foods Market olive bars and packaged in ‘to go’ containers at the Tenleytown, Georgetown, Foggy Bottom, and P Street locations.
Like all of our social enterprise activities, DCCK will produce and distribute the Chow-Chow out of our Nutrition Lab kitchen facility located in Northeast DC, and each batch will be prepared by graduates of our Culinary Job Training program.
Chow-Chow can be eaten by itself or as a savory condiment on fish, poultry, crackers, and a variety of other foods. Head over to your local Whole Foods and try it for yourself – 100% percent of proceeds support DCCK!
A recent Washington Post opinion piece calling for a national food policy put foodies, health advocates, policy wonks, and political partisans on notice. In “How a national food policy could save millions of American lives” authors Mark Bittman, Michael Pollan, Ricardo Salvador, and Olivier De Schutter took the United States to task for failing to set an overarching vision for the most fundamental determinant of our daily health:—“how we produce and consume food.” They urged the US to embrace a more strategic, coherent approach, and stop undermining our own progress through contradictory stances that advance “diametrically opposed goals.” The miniature manifesto is likely to inspire many philanthropists, policymakers, and advocates and serve as a reference point in America’s food policy debates for years to come.
But smarter national policy is just part of the puzzle. A top-down approach can only work if it’s advancing and amplifying what’s working from the bottom-up. At DC Central Kitchen, we embody many of the principles laid out by Bittman and company. Founded as the nation’s first community kitchen, we’ve been a leading advocate for recycling surplus food, paying fair wages, and building more robust local food systems. For years, we’ve translated their grand goals into the gritty grassroots work of liberating and strengthening our community through the power of food. And what we’re doing is working.
Of the nine ‘guarantees’ the authors would like US food policy to ensure, DC Central Kitchen has pioneered real, path-breaking progress toward six:
- All Americans have access to healthful food. DCCK prepares nearly 12,000 healthy meals each day—5,000 for DC’s homeless shelters, halfway houses, and direct service nonprofits, and more than 6,000 for low-income DC schoolchildren. Our school meals are scratch-cooked, locally sourced, and meet all the health standards that have sparked so much debate in the past few years. And most importantly, kids love them. DCCK’s unique approach to fighting food deserts even won a national Social Innovation Challenge award from Tavis Smiley and the University of Maryland this year.
- Farm policies are designed to support our public health and environmental objectives. We’re proof that national policy pushes can work at the local level. As a USDA Farm to School grantee, we increased purchases of six local crops by more than 200% and saw student consumption of items like sweet potatoes and broccoli nearly double. But it look lots of on-the-ground inventiveness and grassroots community engagement to achieve these gains.
- Production and marketing of our food are done transparently. Want to see our kitchens in action? Come visit—or better yet, volunteer. Check out our Volunteer Bill of Rights, which ensures that our volunteers have the ability to understand what they’re contributing to and why. Interested in what we’re serving in schools? You can see our menus for breakfast, lunch, and supper here.
- The food industry pays a fair wage to those it employs. DCCK is proud to be a job creator. We train at-risk women and men in the culinary arts and work to hire as many as we can in living wage positions. Today, 60 of our own graduates—people with histories of incarceration, addiction, homelessness, and chronic unemployment—now work for DCCK full-time, powering our pioneering programs. We provide a starting wage of $13.60 per hour with full health benefits and a 50% retirement match, because we believe work should pay in America.
- Food marketing sets children up for healthful lives by instilling in them a habit of eating real food. Our Healthy Corners program delivers nutritious snacks to 64 corner stores in low-income neighborhoods, marketing our fruits, vegetables, and prepared foods in stores, on buses, and at community events. We conduct taste tests in the school cafeterias where we serve lunch to refine recipes and get kids excited about healthy eating. And we even operate a mobile garden out of the bed of a pickup truck so we can bring seed-to-table lessons to inner city schools and youth programs.
- The food system’s carbon footprint is reduced. DCCK reduces shipping costs (and emissions) by buying locally; as the only USDA-recognized Food Hub in the District of Columbia, we’re aggregating and redistributing more than 200,000 pounds of local produce each year, investing in dozens of small and mid-size family farms. We also help local farmers sell more of what they grow, by purchasing aesthetically imperfect fruits and vegetables that otherwise wouldn’t have a buyer and would be plowed back under as seed. America wastes forty percent of its food supply each year, and this wasteful practice is a primary driver of that disturbing statistic.
We aren’t experts in climate change, animal husbandry, or antibiotics, so our programs don’t match up with all nine of the goals laid out in the Post—and we’re perfectly fine with that. But if that editorial got you thinking about the future of food in America, we hope our programs will get you excited about what’s already really happening in our country.
Our successes are real, and they’re changing lives in our community for the better. As the important conversation about smarter food policy moves forward, let’s make sure the dialogue is equally focused on smarter food practices, and use those practices to shape better policy.