Culinary School grad embraces new career opportunities at Surf Bagel
February 7, 2023
Just two months after graduating from the Food Bank of Delaware’s Culinary School , Maritza Figueroa is happily earning a paycheck working a great job close to home – the newly opened Surf Bagel in Milford. For her, it’s a perfect match: she’s using her culinary school training every single shift. Additionally, she’s taking advantage of all the free corporate professional and personal development education offered by her employer, SoDel Concepts, and she is working on her bachelor’s degree in nutrition through Wilmington University.
Maritza is a woman with a vision, with goals, with a passion: women’s nutrition counseling: “Food is mood” is her mantra. That’s just one reason she enrolled in The Culinary School at the Food Bank’s Milford site after experiencing a career change she framed as a new opportunity. The Culinary School offers the 14-week program in Newark and Milford: 12 weeks of classes combined with hands-on training in a professional restaurant-style kitchen and a two-week paid work experience. Students learn the basic skills – from soups and sauces to knife techniques and culinary terms – plus ServSafe® certification. Free tuition, uniforms, and transportation allowance are provided.
During Dec. 21 graduation ceremonies Maritza fought back tears as she expressed gratitude for a fresh start at age 60. Now nearly three months into this new career, Maritza praises her culinary school training. “It was spot on, real life. Chef Tish and Chef Tim gave us well-rounded experiences. The passion for what they do was contagious, and what they taught us – like knife skills — I’m using every day.”
That’s not to say training was without challenges. “You have to embody the work. Spending six hours on Friday cleaning the kitchen, you have to put your whole self into it, and you have to realize it’s not just for you; it’s for safety and for the people we are serving. Every week, Chef Tish would line us up across the back when we were finished, and say ‘Look at what you did.’ It was an accomplishment, and we worked as a team.”
For now, Maritza’s shift is spent doing prep work – a lot of chopping and slicing to meet the chefs’ and customers’ needs. She’s already made a deep dive into SoDel’s professional education opportunities and events. “The management is great. They are so involved and employees come first,” she noted.
The corporation has collaborated with the program and its graduates as well. “SoDel Concepts has supported and worked closely with the Food Bank of Delaware’s Culinary Program over the last 10 years. They provide a critical service that assists people interested in the food service industry who cannot afford to enroll in culinary school. We have hired many of their graduates, who have had long term success with us,” said SoDel Concepts Marketing Director Nelia Dolan.
Maritza said she’s already completed a personal budgeting class, attended events to meet corporate managers, and has enrolled in leadership training. “I’m trying to learn everything I can in a professional kitchen,” she said.
Maritza notes that although she is the oldest team member, the number is not an issue. “I have a nurturing calm, and I don’t feel apart. I’m part of the team.”
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