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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DC Central Kitchen

News for Staff Profiles

, October 1st, 2013

Ashley Minton: DCCK’s Workforce Development Powerhouse

ashleymintonDC Central Kitchen believes that every student in our Culinary Job Training Program has the potential to change their lives and find full-time employment in the culinary industry. Ashley Minton, DCCK’s Workforce Development and Graduate Support Coordinator, greatly prizes the fact that the Kitchen provides a non-judgmental environment for students to turn their lives around.

Ashley just graduated college last year and this is her first job out of college. Previously, she helped lead the Campus Kitchen at the University of Maryland – Eastern Shore, so the mission of DC Central Kitchen was very familiar and her position was a natural fit. She put herself through college by working full-time, so she is accustomed to having to work hard to realize her success. Because of this, she can relate to the students she supports through her work.

Ashley’s  job is to continue supporting CJT graduates long after they leave the kitchen. “We’re always here for our alums. Sometimes, I get calls from graduates from ten years ago, and I provide them the same support I would provide a student who just graduated, “ she explains.

Ashley’s job description includes helping graduates learn how to write resumes and cover letters, increasing their professionalism, providing networking experiences, and providing trainings in workplace ethics.

Above all, Ashley imparts confidence to CJT participants: “I really stress that we have the connections and resources to help students get internships and jobs, and I do everything I can, but at the end of the day, they have to go out and interview for the jobs.”

Ashley  has full faith in every student’s ability to get those jobs. In fact, every student from the past two classes were employed by the time of graduation. She expanded the internship component of the program to a month, which was a major contributor to their success. “Each day I learn something new at my job. I help the students grow, but I grow every day myself,” she says with a smile.

, July 29th, 2013

Katie Nash: Inspiring Kids to Eat Well


Katie (Left) with Ananad Shantam at Fresh Feature Friday

As most parents can attest, getting kids to eat their meals is a challenge, especially with unfamiliar foods. DC Central Kitchen faces this challenge every day in the lunches we prepare for students at ten DC area schools. These healthy and nutritious lunches have been a resounding success, with more and more student participation in the lunch program every year.

Much of the success of our Healthy School Food program can be attributed to the talented staff that bring innovative ideas to the Kitchen.

Katie Nash is a program manager and registered dietician at DC Central Kitchen’s Nutrition Lab. Nash strikes a balance between what kids will eat and what federal mandates require for nutritional content, which includes everything from calorie count to vitamin and mineral percentages. She also has to take into consideration different age groups and students who may have specific dietary needs or food allergies to dairy or gluten. This is not an easy task.

Nash has found through studies with American University that kids respond well to sampling. They’ll try most anything, so long as it comes in a cute, white paper cup.

“Sometimes that’s the only way kids will eat new foods, but it gets them accustomed to new tastes, and more open to trying new foods when they show up on the school lunch menu,” Nash explained.

Every Friday, Nash prepares three different recipes of that day’s star ingredient in a series called Fresh Features Friday. For example, she prepared brussels sprouts for FFF in an Asian slaw, roasted and with a cider glaze. Other recent tastings include asparagus, broccoli , and chickpeas.

Nash also involves students in food demonstrations and lessons, which gets kids excited about their meals. Recently, she showed students the different parts of root vegetables and how to make vegetable pizzas.

For inspiration on how to prepare in season produce in innovative ways, follow DC Central Kitchen on Pinterest.

, July 24th, 2013

Staff Profile: Marianne Ali, Director of Culinary Job Training & First Helping


Marianne at Class 92′s Graduation

Marianne Ali can relate to many of the struggles of our students. Before coming to DC Central Kitchen, she overcame a drug addiction that plagued her for twenty years and has been clean for almost two decades.

She understands the challenges of the people she’s worked with in her sixteen years at DC Central Kitchen, and she strives to address their holistic needs in achieving both their professional success and personal recovery.

After getting clean, she enrolled at the L’Academie de Cuisine. While at school, she heard about DCCK and came to work for Fresh Start Catering, our first social enterprise. Marianne eventually moved onto leading the Culinary Job Training program. Over the years, she took on revamping the program. She created more structured classes and incorporated Heritage Days and increased the number of guest chefs and internship sites.

Ali also helped improve our student retention rate in the program by increasing the amount of time that a student needed to the clean and requiring stable housing. Those in recovery also had to go to meetings and get consistent case management. These changes weren’t intended to turn anyone away. Rather, they ensure the success of those in need who do enroll in the program. Ali’s efforts were successful, as the retention rate quickly rose from 50%  to 80%.

Over the past year, Marianne has also played a crucial role in improving First Helping, our street outreach program. She has worked to expand the program beyond providing basic needs. Now First Helping provides job placement assistance and empowerment workshops to chronically homeless clients. Last year, five First Helping clients joined the Culinary Job Training program. She’d like to see students have most of their needs met at DC Central Kitchen, including their recovery needs, as going elsewhere for other components of their recovery is taxing for students.

It sounds like Marianne is as busy as ever! While she’s the first to admit that her never ending amount of work can take an occasional toll,  she also says emphatically, “I could do this for a thousand more years.”

, July 16th, 2013

Staff Profile: Afiya Howell, Culinary Instructor

afiyaSometimes, the right job opportunity falls into your lap. In Afiya Howell’s case, it was her sister, not fate, that brought her to DC Central Kitchen at a time that she needed a career change.

“I was exhausted and felt like I wasn’t contributing anything at my job. I needed something more,” Howell explains. Her sister applied for the DCCK position for her, and so a call for a job interview came entirely out of the blue for Howell. She didn’t even know what DCCK was, but as she researched and learned more about the Kitchen, she quickly fell in love.

Howell started at DCCK in April 2012, having had no experience in teaching or working with people who have a history of incarceration and drug addiction. “I came to DC Central Kitchen wanting to help people, but in the process, I found out a lot more about myself. They help me as much as I help them.”

Howell didn’t realize the extent of her stigmas and prejudices about her students. She quickly saw that her students were no different than her, she just had resources and opportunities available to her that they often did not, and she could have easily been in their shoes, too.

Realizing this helped Howell become a better teacher. She brought her students into the lesson plans and focused on a kinesthetic approach to teaching. “It occurred to me that my students were always used to people talking at them instead of giving them the opportunity to be an active part of their learning process.” Students’ grades greatly improved.

“The hardest part is letting go, which you have to do. I want to be there for my students, but we get four classes a year, and at a certain point, I have to trust that I’ve taught my students well.” Howell’s goal is to provide loving support for her students while still being tough. Recent classes have had more women than men for the first time, and Howell looks forward to bringing her female students together and empowering them.

, August 31st, 2012

Meet Stephen Kendall, Food Procurement Czar

For the past two years, Stephen Kendall has handled all raw food, beverages, and paper goods purchased and donated for meal production at DC Central Kitchen. We interviewed Stephen about his important role as procurement manager and the fruitful partnerships he’s built to acquire more donated product for the Kitchen.

Q: What is the good news in your world?Stephen Kendall
Stephen: The good news for donations is that we continue to grow our fresh produce partnerships. Pretty much everything that we use for our Core Programs meals (shelters, social services, etc.) now comes donated. Our partners in the produce industry have really helped us increase these donations.

We’ve also built great partnerships with farmers and growers leading to some good gleaning trips this summer. We’ve acquired over 5,000 pounds of corn, cabbage, and greens from those trips.

For purchasing, now that we are back in the regular school year we are able to move lots more local produce.

Q: What are some of the challenges you face as DCCK’s procurement manager?
Stephen: The main challenges are the day to day changes in what is coming in and what is available. Every day is different and we’re often responding to donations, as well as purchasing opportunities, on short notice. Then you throw in factors like the weather (for gleaning and local agriculture), routing trucks etc. and things get more complicated.

There really isn’t a rule book for what we do. But, at the same time, that is what makes us such a dynamic, powerful organization. It is also what makes this job so fun. I owe a lot to our Kitchen Staff and Transportation Staff who work day in and day out to balance all of these factors and create efficiencies.

Q: What are the your goals for improving procurement at DC Central Kitchen?
Stephen: My two biggest goals are to continue to grow our local procurement and increase our donated product. I’m really interested in working strategically to replace non-local products with items grown, raised and/or produced regionally. The next phase for us is increasing our purchases of local proteins.

We’ve done some work with beef but I’d love to get into turkey (one of our biggest categories). There are some new challenges there but nothing we can’t look to overcome. For donated product, I’m also focusing on proteins. We’ve worked hard on product but there is more work to do capturing proteins.

Q: What inspires you about your position?
Stephen: I’m inspired by my coworkers – I mentioned transportation and kitchen staff, but really all our staff at all levels – and the work they do to empower students, clients, and volunteers.

My role is to capture the tool – food – and I’m inspired to find the best tools I can to serve that process. I’m inspired by the people in the community who help make that possible – donors, growers, vendors. I’m also really passionate about combating food waste.

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DC Central Kitchen

425 2nd St NW, Washington, DC 20001 (Near Union Station)
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