They came from all walks of life, but left with a new common bond – a passion for cooking and feeding people. Eighteen students successfully completed the Food Bank of Delaware’s 14-week training program, The Culinary School. Their accomplishments were celebrated this morning at a commencement ceremony.
The graduates were: Phyllis Boone, Troy Brown, Marilyn Burgos, John Carter, Kim Cavan, Nolita Brown Collins, Ida Cooper, Darren Durant, Ka-Dadra Dye, Dejahnay Graves, Keisha Knight, Jeff Lewandowski, Alma Lewis, Ajuba Matthew, Kiana Oaddams, Jennifer Perdue, Harold Pritchett and Dahmere White.
State Representative Ed Osienski delivered keynote remarks and gave students practical advice for progressing in their new careers. “If you show up on time, you earn the respect of your colleagues and employer,” he said. “Develop good relationships with your coworkers. Having a good reputation will pay off for you in the end, and never forget who and what got you here.”
The program was not without tears as the new graduates expressed gratitude for the opportunities they received during the 14-week program. Students learned knife skills, food safety and sanitation, a variety of cooking techniques and more. More importantly, they learned life lessons that will carry with them post-graduation.
“This class is about more than cooking,” said Executive Chef Tim Hunter. “It’s about life. If you are not in a better place today than when you started, you didn’t get what this class is all about.”
Keisha Knight received the class’ most improved award. “They pushed me to do something I never thought I could do,” she said.
One student described graduation as the culminating championship. “This is an opportunity right here, and I am just so proud of myself,” he said. “We are champions. We are great achievers. I have been waiting for this moment.”
Graduate Troy Brown received a perfect attendance award and will start his new career at Wilmington’s 8th & Union on Saturday. “I’d like to thank the Food Bank for giving me the opportunity to further my career. It’s been a long road,” he said.
The class agreed that the program was difficult, but they persevered to finish.
“This journey…this amazing journey. It was hard, it was stressful. My family supported me, and I pushed so hard, so I thank you,” said Nolita Brown Collins.
Alma Lewis echoed that, “I came in the beginning of the year with goals that I wanted to get something done. The first thing was my high school diploma, and I received that in April. I couldn’t get through a program. This is a hard program to get into. For me, to be here is a blessing.”
Students honored with awards include:
• Highest GPA: Jennifer Perdue
• Best Dish: Kim Cavan
• Perfect Attendance: Troy Brown
• Perfect Attendance: Dahmere White
• Most Improved: Keisha Knight
After the ceremony, graduates prepared and served guests a lunch buffet that included potato leek soup, leg of lamb with rosemary demi glaze, mango barbeque chicken, pepper shrimp, roasted vegetables, macaroni and cheese, yellow rice and peas and more.
The Culinary School is part of Delaware Food Works, a workforce development initiative of the Food Bank of Delaware. Delaware Food Works consists of training in food service, warehousing and logistics, and agriculture. The mission of The Culinary School is two-fold. First students are taught skills that are highly desirable to employers in the food industry and second, these newly-developed skills have the potential to lead to jobs in the industry that provide job security and economic sustainability.
Work experiences and job opportunities included: Bull Bay Caribbean Cuisine, 8th & Union Kitchen, Erin Pub, Mrs. Robino’s Italian Kitchen, Jamba Juice, Desserts By Dana, Iron Hill Brewery & Restaurant, ACME Markets, Olive Garden, La Fia, Embassy Suites, Deerfield Golf & Tennis Club, Eats & Sweets, Westin Hotel by Hilton, Johnny’s Dog House, ShopRite and the Food Bank of Delaware
Students are referred to the program through Delaware Health and Social Services, Delaware Department of Labor, Delaware Division of Vocational Rehabilitation, Connections Community Support Programs, Career Team and other community-based organizations.