Kitchen Skills: Innovative Programs Training the Next Culinary Talents

Published by TribLIVE  |  Read the full article


The Pittsburgh area has been booming with new restaurants over the past few years; it seems as though every week or so a new one is opening up in a different part of town. With all of the new places to choose from when deciding on where to eat, it makes you wonder where the culinary talent to fill the kitchens is coming from.

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Community Kitchen Pittsburgh

Aligned with Fuller's personal life mission, Community Kitchen Pittsburgh's mission is to use food as the foundation to change lives and strengthen communities.

Started in 2013, this nonprofit has been providing culinary training for people with barriers, specifically targeting those who have been incarcerated, in addiction recovery, and transitioning out of being homeless.

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Students enrolled in the 16-week program spend most of their time in Community Kitchen Pittsburgh's kitchen with instructors and local chefs learning basic kitchen skills. It is a working kitchen, with food service contracts feeding schools and other nonprofits 2,500 meals every day, as well as offering food for local coffee shops and brewpubs.

In addition to the on-site training, the organization has partnered with local restaurants, like Troy Hill's Scratch Food & Beverage, to offer these students two-week rotation training so they can really understand what it's like to work in a restaurant kitchen. An even more intensive eight-week paid externship program has just been developed.

“We're turning out ServSafe certified, dependable culinarians that can work in any kitchen,” says executive director and founder Jennifer Flanagan.

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The 16-week program starts every eight weeks and has about 15 students in each class, so Community Kitchen Pittsburgh is constantly producing hirable talent. In addition to giving students job-training skills, the program also teaches them how to network and build professional contacts as well as offers a lot of wrap-around support like transportation, counseling services and sometimes even rent.

“Our focus is to get people jobs in the food industry, and we do what we can to help them get from where they are to be employable,” Flanagan says.

Though the program has a high drop-out rate since it's difficult to complete, the nonprofit has an open door policy allowing students to come back anytime they are ready. Since the launch, Community Kitchen has a 95 percent placement rate for graduates.

“We have this booming restaurant scene and great things happening in Pittsburgh but there are people outside of that who aren't yet benefiting from the growth and transformation,” Flanagan says. “It's really great to be able to give people the opportunity to be a part of it.”

Over the next year, the training is expanding. A full-service restaurant will be opened in Hazelwood and students will learn how to work every restaurant position.

by Sarah Sudar of the Tribune-Review | Photography by Andrew Russell of the Tribune-Review

Chea Davis