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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Updates for Graduate Success Stories


Culinary Job Training students compete in DC foodie events

, July 28th, 2016

 

Last month, our Culinary Job Training students were busy not only in the classroom, but also competing at foodie events across the city.

On June 16, the students enrolled our seventh satellite class at the Central Union Mission shelter for homeless men competed in the annual Biscuit Bash at Art & Soul Restaurant. The members of this class prepared a biscuit with fried chicken and a variety of sauces, including a habanero honey. Although they did not win, our students’ dishes stacked up favorably while they met some of DC’s best chefs and served their food to eager guests.

A few days later on June 19th, Culinary Job Training Class 104 competed against students at L’Academie de Cuisine Culinary School and Stratford University in DC Food & Beverage Collective’s student Crab Cake Competition. Class 104 student Michelle took home the top prize for her crab cake recipe!

Taking part in events like these allows students to build their confidence and show how their training is preparing them for the demands of the industry.

What’s more, we know that the experience provided to our students is crucial to their success upon graduation. So far, eight graduates of Class 104 are employed full-time. Current employers include Whole Foods and The Hard Rock Café.

 

 



DCCK grad featured in nationwide micro-documentary project!

, March 8th, 2016

 

DCCK grad and current staff member Billy Johnson is featured in the recently launched ‘Re: Dream‘ digital video series. The nationwide project will include 40 micro-documentaries from PBS member stations in five cities, including Washington, DC. Billy was interviewed this past fall by WETA, the local PBS affiliate, for the piece in which he speaks openly about the struggles he has overcome and his hopes for the future.



Class 102 grad employed full-time at high-end bistro, Ris

, January 27th, 2016

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We love it when DCCK grads find jobs. We love it even more when grads find mentors at their place of employment. That is exactly what’s happened for recent class 102 graduate, Takia Jenkins. Takia graduated on January 5th, and just last week was hired to work full-time at Ris, the upscale neighborhood restaurant owned by former DCCK board member, Chef Ris Lacoste.

Takia’s life hasn’t been easy, but she came to DCCK ready to work and ready to make a change.  She worked hard – every day impressing her peers, chef instructors, and DCCK staff alike. DC Central Kitchen Production Manager William Ferrell remembers saying about Takia: “This girl can work. Any time Class 102 is in the kitchen, send her to me.”

When Chef Ris met Takia at this year’s Capital Food Fight, she knew she had met someone special. She asked Culinary Job Training Director Marianne Ali to introduce her after seeing Takia’s take-charge personality and positive attitude working the Tyson Foods booth at the event. Afterwards, Ali recalls: “Chef Ris told Takia that she wanted to set up a time to meet with her and gave Takia her contact information. I hugged Ris and thanked her, and Ris said, ‘no, thank you – I want this girl to work for me!’”

Takia finished her internship with The Ritz-Carlton Pentagon City, graduated from DCCK, and began working full-time at Ris on January 18th.

In a week when we’re doing so much to promote and prepare for our foodie fundraiser Sips & Suppers, outstanding gourmet chefs in every kitchen of our DC restaurant and hospitality partners are providing jobs and internships for our students and supporting DCCK year-round. Thank you for all you do to support DCCK!



Graduate profile: LaShawn

, November 13th, 2015

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As I walked into the bustling kitchen of Geppetto Catering at 9am on a Friday morning, it was clear the staff had been hard at work for several hours before I arrived. Tartlets were being stuffed with seasoned ground chicken and placed in the oven, completed platters of fruit salad were wrapped and refrigerated for delivery, and the sound of an industrial-style dishwasher buzzed in the background as cooks jostled between the lines of the kitchen galley.

I was there to visit LaShawn Turner, a graduate of DCCK’s Culinary Job Training program who has been happily employed by Geppetto Catering for “eight wonderful years,” as LaShawn herself described it.

LaShawn came to DC Central Kitchen in 2007 after spending several years in various training programs and looking for full-time employment as a single mom. Out of work and trying to care for her then 2 year-old son, LaShawn enrolled in the Culinary Job Training program because she always loved cooking and she heard that the culinary certifications offered through the program, such as the ServSafe food handler certification, would make her a more desirable candidate for future employers.

LaShawn described her experience in the program as “supportive,” but recognized that perhaps the most important part of her training was the self-empowerment classes.

“I was shy,” she said with a smile. “Self-empowerment brought me out of my shell a lot and helped all of us learn how important it was to support each other.”

Thanks to our workforce development team and LaShawn’s own drive to succeed, she secured an interview with Geppetto Catering the day before she was set to graduate from DCCK. She was offered the job on the spot and started work a day later.

Now eight years later, LaShawn swings around the kitchen like she’s a member of the family. And according to Geppetto Catering owner and DCCK supporter Josh Carin, that’s exactly what she is.

“She makes me smile. She makes the people here smile. She has become a true member of the Geppetto family.”-Josh Carin, Owner, Geppetto Catering

LaShawn explains: “This is what I’ve always wanted to do, and as long as I can stand up straight and come to work every morning, I will. I love my job. Like I tell Josh, I’m going to retire from here!”

It’s clear that for LaShawn, her job at Geppetto is exactly where she wants to be. She is able to be home with her now 9 year-old son on the weekends, and she can’t imagine working any place else.

When I asked her what advice she has for our 100th Culinary Job Training class who will graduate in July, LaShawn paused for a moment and with confidence said: “I would tell them to go for it. Don’t let anybody say you can’t do it because you can. I’m living proof of that.”


 

 

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as a tool to strengthen bodies, empower minds, and build communities.

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The best DCCK grad story of the year

, November 13th, 2015

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In the days that followed our 100th graduation this summer, one notably inspiring story made its way around the organization.

Earl was a student of Class 100 who came to DCCK from a halfway house after spending 13 years in prison. You can’t miss him in a room — over 6 feet tall with a big build and a long beard, Earl’s smile is genuine and disarming. After incarceration, he was committed to making a career as a cook, and he approached our Culinary Job Training Program with diligence and enthusiasm. You could find Earl at any event that called for Class 100 student volunteers. In June, he even took to the outdoor grills at the Lamb Jam, a tasting event and competition that brings together talented chefs to compete for the Best Lamb Dish, to help one of the chefs keep up with demand at his tasting booth.

To commemorate our 100th graduation, DCCK was fortunate enough to receive a matching pledge of $10,000 from past and current board members, with a goal of raising another $10,000 in donations both at the ceremony and online in the days that followed.

That afternoon, Earl’s family was seated comfortably in the front row. His mother, easily recognizable given her similarly identifiable smile, was emotional before the ceremony got underway. After the announcement of our board match at the ceremony, several guests handed reply envelopes with their gifts to members of DCCK’s Development team.

A few hours later, our donor relations manager came across one particular envelope that contained a $100 bill and a short, handwritten note. “I’ve been carrying around this lucky $100 for 13 years,” the note said. “I don’t need it anymore.”

The note and generous gift was from Earl’s mother. She held on to that bill the entire time Earl was incarcerated, and on the day of his graduation from DC Central Kitchen, Earl’s mother passed on that luck to the men and women who will come to DCCK after him.

Of all of the gifts we received that day, this is the one that matters most. Earl is now employed full-time, making a living wage of $14.05/hour with full benefits as a cook at DC Central Kitchen. While we’ll never know how much luck that $100 provided, Earl’s hard work and dedication made for plenty of luck on its own.  Earl has a job, a family he can spend time with, and a mother whose love for her son is truly unwavering. She retired last week, at a party attended by Earl’s culinary instructors; ending her career the same week Earl launched his.

Thank you to everyone who made a gift in honor of our 100th class. It is a milestone that represents years of hard work and changed lives for over 1,000 men and women who have come through DCCK since 1990.

To Earl’s mother – thank you for believing in your son and for supporting DC Central Kitchen through this heartfelt and generous gift.


 

Your donation to DC Central Kitchen is an investment in our mission to use food
as a tool to strengthen bodies, empower minds, and build communities.

Donate Now



Breaking the cycle, one family member at a time

, October 12th, 2015

Piccom Profile

DC Central Kitchen specializes in second chances—and that’s why many of our culinary students come to us late in their adulthoods, after decades of personal struggle. Relatively few young adults are ready for the professional and emotional rigors of our program, but 24-year-old Piccom Dews defied that trend. In less than a year, Piccom has, in his words, chosen “a path of construction, rather than destruction,” by completing our Culinary Job Training program (CJT) and joining our staff as a full-time employee, where he helps prepare 5,000 meals a day for our city’s most vulnerable residents.

Piccom heard about DC Central Kitchen’s training program while living at Hope Village Halfway House last year. He had already spent the majority of his adult life in and out of prison. His time at the halfway house was a wake-up call, and DC Central Kitchen offered a new way forward.

Piccom’s first days as a student were rocky. DC Central Kitchen’s culinary instructors pushed him hard –knowing he was capable of more than the effort he was putting forward. The sort of change Piccom had hoped to make needed to start internally before it could be seen externally. He stopped pushing back once he realized the CJT staff were only hard on him because they saw his potential, and could not bear to see him throw it away. Piccom finally began to believe in his own promise. “I never felt that much love in my life,” Piccom said of his experience.

“Everyone thinks life is so bad. Life’s not bad, it’s just the circumstances that you are in that are bad. That doesn’t have to mean you have to stay in those circumstances, you can always get yourself out. You just have to be willing to work…I push every single day.”– Piccom Dews

Piccom graduated and landed a job at DCCK—but he didn’t stop with his own success. Shortly after starting his new job, he recruited his 23 year-old brother, Wallace, to join the next incoming culinary class. Wallace followed his older brother’s example and graduated in August, immediately securing a job at University of Maryland Dining Services. Today, the two brothers live together, pushing each other to stay on track in their new culinary careers and charting a new path for their family.