Food Bank Graduates New Class

Antonio Kokkinos (center) accepts the class’ Most Positive award from Chef Instructor Tim Hunter (left) and Culinary Training Program Manager Brenda Palomo (right). Antonio has accepted employment at Matt Haley’s Catch 54 restaurant.
Antonio Kokkinos (center) accepts the class’ Most Positive award from Chef Instructor Tim Hunter (left) and Culinary Training Program Manager Brenda Palomo (right). Antonio has accepted employment at Matt Haley’s Catch 54 restaurant.

Eight members of The Culinary School at the Food Bank of Delaware celebrated their achievements Tuesday, August 5 during a graduation ceremony for the third class at the organization’s Milford Branch. Director of the Food Bank of Delaware Milford Branch, Chad Robinson, opened the ceremony recognizing that the event was a celebration of both the hard work of each student this year as well as the culinary school for years to come.

“We have now graduated three classes and twenty-five students from the Culinary School Program in Milford, we are excited about the achievements from all of our former and current students,” commented Robinson. “As our current students recently came back from their internships they looked as if they were ready for the world and we are excited to see their future accomplishments.”

The Food Bank of Delaware Culinary School began its inaugural class in 2013 after a 8,000 square foot expansion was added to the Milford site that year to serve a growing need for families in Kent and Sussex Counties. In addition to the traditional services of providing food to less fortunate families, the Food Bank decided that The Food Bank Culinary School would help to offer local unemployed and under-employed individuals an opportunity to learn culinary skills. These skills learned in the classroom and the kitchen would allow students to find internships with local restaurants and eventually full employment and careers.

Guest speaker of the event Matt Haley, spoke about his connection with the culinary students as he acknowledged that they both share a level of persistence that is needed to succeed in the kitchen and in life. Haley is the founder and president of SoDel Concepts and a restaurateur whose successes include Fish On!, Papa Grande, Lupo di Mare, Bluecoast, Matt’s Fish Camp, Northeast Seafood Kitchen and Catch 54. Haley is also the recipient of the prestigious 2014 James Beard Humanitarian Award.Talking about his challenges with drug use, incarceration and depression early in life, he reminded the students that surrounding themselves with positive influences will be critical to providing their families with a successful future.

“It’s all about perseverance, you can do anything you want and the only thing that can get in your way is you,” commented Haley. “With a little faith and surrounding yourself with others that want you to succeed, you can do anything.”

Under the instruction of Food Bank of Delaware Chef Instructor Tim Hunter and the guidance of Brenda Palomo, Culinary School Program Manager, the students spent the past 14 weeks developing their skills and passion for the culinary arts. From proper knife handling techniques to Serve Safe certification and completing a two-week internship, the students are now prepared for entry-level jobs in the food industry. Five of the eight graduates have already obtained employment. Some employers include Catch 54, Jimmy’s Grille, Verde Italian School and the Duncan Center.

“I would encourage this class to stay focused on their goals,” said Milford Branch Director Chad Robinson. “Having Chef Tim and the food bank as a resource is of great advantage in finding their place in the industry and as long as they can remain focused and always look for ways to improve themselves we are always here to support that.”

Following Tuesday’s ceremony, guests were served a lunch prepared by the new graduates. The students featured a menu of cold melon salad with fresh mint, mixed green salad, portobello sliders on hawaiian rolls, grilled flank steak, crab balls with aioli sauce, corn on the cob sticks, broccoli rabe and sweet potatoes with ginger.

The mission of The Culinary School is two-fold. First students are taught skills that are highly desirable to employers in the food industry and second, these newly-developed skills have the potential to lead to jobs in the industry that provide job security and economic sustainability. This year’s graduates include Curtis Bailey, Carla Franco, Joseph Fulmer, Sierra Hughes, Antonio Kokkinos, Caytlin Montgomery, Sean Shaver and Katoria Showell.