DC Central Kitchen’s Culinary Job Training program includes a lot more than its name implies. According to Nakeisha, who completed the course nearly two years ago, “it’s not just about learning the culinary arts. It’s also about helping you learn ways to manage life –without alcohol or drugs. Being able to keep a job, being independent, learning from your mistakes and not letting your past hold you down.”
From rehab to the Kitchen
Before Nakeisha graduated from DC Central Kitchen in July 2015, she had spent time in and out of jail and rehabilitation programs. The last time she was in jail, she realized that she had to do something differently to change her destructive pattern.
After Nakeisha was released, she moved to Alexandria, Virginia to undergo rehabilitation for her long-term drug addiction. While there, she heard a little bit about what DC Central Kitchen had to offer. It wasn’t all accurate. “I’ve always been in the culinary industry,” she said, “but I wanted to go to DCCK’s program because I thought it would keep me out of rehab, and I wouldn’t have to do classes, and it’d be easy. That’s not what it was,” she laughs, reminiscing.
Building herself up again
Students in the Culinary Job Training program start every day with self-empowerment classes, which aims to help students master the personal skills necessary to build a lasting career. Or, in Nakeisha’s words: “It was a stress reliever. Stress that had been building up for years that we kept putting aside, ignoring.” Nakeisha continues, “it really dug into the reason why we were at DC Central Kitchen. You know, we are bunch of adults, not working, taking time out to work on ourselves. It’s hard.”
Nakeisha reflects to say that DCCK helped build her self-esteem up in many ways. “I was so excited when I got my acceptance letter. I still have it. That’s the day my journey with DCCK started,” she says. “On my first test I scored a 100; I was the only one in class to get full marks. As a child, I’d been told I couldn’t make it. I never graduated, never got my GED, still to this day. But, my DCCK instructors told me I was smart and capable.”
Although the Culinary Job Training program is not easy, especially with the life-challenges many students carry for years, Nakeisha underlines another aspect that made the program special for her: “Some of the staff members that I worked with knew my struggle because they had been there themselves years ago. It’s easier to open up to someone who has been through what you’ve been through, or worse. So it made me feel comfortable.” Several members of DC Central Kitchen’s training team are graduates of the program themselves, and others bring relatable personable experiences to their daily work. This authenticity contributes to strong and lasting student relationships even though the program itself is just 14 weeks long.
Nakeisha has a long list of things she learned from the chef instructors at DCCK: “They encouraged students to believe in themselves.” She attests to the changes in her behavior since graduating from DC Central Kitchen: “I learned that it’s better to listen first before I respond. I wasn’t like that before.” And as a result of all the things she learned and applied to her life, Nakeisha adds, “DCCK made me employable. Before I came to DCCK I would be losing a job after a couple of months because of my attitude and behavior.”
The students of the Culinary Job Training program are assigned 3-week internship in a local hotel, restaurant, or hospitality partner before their graduation. Nakeisha recalls her internship at the Holiday Inn Capitol Hill and how a great learning opportunity that was for her. “I saw that I had skills that I didn’t know I had.”
Working at a high-end restaurant
Nakeisha has been working at Chart House restaurant in Alexandria for almost a year. Chart House is a high-end seafood restaurant offering a fine dining experience in its restaurants across the country.
Nakeisha’s co-worker, Daniel, says about Nakeisha: “She’s real open about her story and what her goals are. In here there’s high stress. It gets hard. When you come to the end of 14 to 16-hour shift, that’s when you find what you’re made of. Nakeisha, she hangs in there, every day. She has a great attitude and surrounds herself with positive people.”
Future plans include college and culinary
Nakeisha is putting the life skills she gained at DCCK into action. She has plans and goals for her future. “My short-term goal is to get my GED,” she says. “I want to go to college and study business.” She loves the dynamic, never-ending pace of the kitchen and wants to advance in her career. Her second goal is to work hard and become a sous chef.
Nakeisha is one of 1,400 graduates of DC Central Kitchen’s Culinary Job Training program. Just like many other graduates, she indicates that DCCK is “more than just a culinary program.” “I can’t speak highly enough about DC Central Kitchen,” she says with gratitude. “DCCK gave me the skills to live well and be successful.”