Food Bank Creates Culinary Careers

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Chef Kevin Reading of Abbott's Grill in Milford working with Food Bank Culinary School students.
Chef Kevin Reading of Abbott’s Grill in Milford working with Food Bank Culinary School students.

In several weeks, students of the Food Bank of Delaware’s Culinary School with graduate from the fourteen-week program that assists students in developing the skills necessary in the culinary industry. Designed to help Delawareans provide job security and economic sustainability for their families, this year’s program hosted nine students from Sussex Correctional Institution (SCI) in Georgetown, DE. Working alongside Chef Tim Hunter, students received valuable job training and the opportunity to transition into the growing culinary industry in Delaware.

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 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.

Chef Tim Hunter states that this group of students has been a unique class that has allowed him the opportunity to literally change lives. “They are all engaged, they want to learn more and jump right in,” said Hunter. “It has been amazing to see them change, not just learning about cooking but changing their lives. I have seen them change their mentality, their outlook for themselves and their families. You cannot put a price on that.”

The fourteen-week program includes learning basic and high-end kitchen skills as well as Life-Empowerment Skills such as resume building, time management, financial literacy and interviewing. Students have the opportunity to internship will local restaurants as they earn their ServSafe certification, a course essential for those working in commercial kitchens. Over the next two weeks, the Food Bank of Delaware will place students in entry-level jobs in the food industry including local restaurants like Abbott’s Grill in Milford, The Brick Hotel in Georgetown and DiFebo’s in Rehoboth Beach.

Eugene Pennewell has started his internship with Abbott’s Grill in Milford and says that the Culinary School has given him an opportunity to work hard towards a successful career. “I have an uncle that I always looked up to that is a chef and I have worked in a kitchen before,” said Pennewell. “…but I decided to come to the school because you are more valuable to a restaurant when you know what you are doing.” Admitting that he still has a lot to learn in the kitchen, Pennewell says that working under Chef Tim Hunter and now Chef Kevin Reading at Abbott’s Grill has encouraged him to look for a career and not simply a job.

“This school has motivated me and will allow me to have a career,” said Pennewell. “This is something that I really enjoy, it allows you to be creative and I look forward to coming to work every day.”

Chef Kevin Reading believes that the program is a great asset to the community and he is impressed by its ability to engage students in a hands-on environment. Reading visited the Culinary school weeks ago to give a cooking demonstration as he showed students how to cook and prepare Wild Mushroom and Grilled Cheese Strudel, Chicken and Dumplings and a White Chocolate Crème Brûlée. In a matter of one hour and twenty minutes students broke down an entire chicken and prepared the three courses while learning time management and multi-tasking. “I think I got more out of it then I gave them,” said Reading. “They could not have been more helpful and they were fully engaged.”

As for his new employee Eugene Pennewell, Reading could not be happier with his enthusiasm and dedication. “[In addition to cooking] I tried to help the students understand that who they are now does not define who they have to be. Where you put your energy moving forward is what matters,” said Reading. “I told them that in five years their entire life could be completely different just by changing their mindset.”

The current Food Bank of Delaware’s Culinary School class will graduate on Friday, May 8 at 11am at the Food Bank’s Milford location at 1040 Mattlind Way in the Milford Business Park off Airport Road. Students interested in applying to The Culinary School must have a high school diploma or GED with a ninth grade reading and math level. The cost to attend is $5,700, however, the Food Bank of Delaware works with each candidate to identify funding sources. Students are referred to the program through the Criminal Justice Council, Delaware Department of Labor, Delaware Division of Vocational Rehabilitation, Department of Veterans Affairs and other community-based organizations. For more information or to apply, individuals are encouraged to contact Brenda Palomo, Culinary Arts Program Manager, at 302-424-3301 ext 107 or bpalomo@fbd.org.