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Kitchen confidential

(article, Melanie Mesaros)

A kitchen is more than a shelter from the elements; it's a way up and out. That, at least, is the thinking behind the culinary job-training programs offered across the country.

The New York Times, for example, recently profiled a program run by HELP USA, a nonprofit that puts the homeless through culinary training. One of the 50-year-old students at the Wards Island shelter was a culinary-school drop-out decades before. Now he's learning to prep food (shelling shrimp was one of the lessons) and create dishes fit for a dinner party, including pad Thai.

Down in Florida, the St. Petersburg Times reported on a culinary class run from a local St. Vincent DePaul kitchen. Rodnick Moore, a 55-year-old Vietnam veteran who was one of the program's four graduates, told the paper that before he discovered his passion for food, he was addicted to crack cocaine and alcohol.  

“My biggest joy, besides my children, is my cooking,” Moore explained. “I like the expressions on the faces of people when they eat my food.” 

The city of San Francisco has a growing number of similar programs. For 34 years, the Delancey Street Foundation has been teaching restaurant skills to its drug-and-alcohol-treatment residents. The foundation also operates the upscale Crossroads Cafe, where current students make and sell pastries, focaccia pizza, and fancy salads.  

Nextcourse, another San Francisco-based nonprofit, trains mothers who are inmates on cost-effective meal-planning and nutrition. Some of the lessons are framed around shopping for fresh produce and the value of enjoying a meal as a family. Founder Larry Bain, who once managed local restaurants Jardinière and Acme Chophouse, told the San Francisco Chronicle that he believes you can change a person's life through food.            

And up in Seattle, troubled and runaway youth have been learning to become — what else? — baristas. YouthCare says its students gain confidence and pride from knowing they can make a quality cup of joe. Since the program started in 2003, YouthCare has graduated 80 percent of its students, and 68 percent have landed jobs. But times are tough; the Seattle Times_ recently reported that funding to keep the program going is in jeopardy.