Laid off; culinary training program opens door to new career opportunities

February 16, 2022

Like millions of Americans, Jackie Toner was laid off from her job when the COVID-19 pandemic hit in March 2020. She was employed at a local casino as a craps and black jack dealer.

To help make ends meet, she started using the Food Bank of Delaware’s monthly drive-thru mobile pantries. “I became familiar with the Food Bank’s website,” she said. “I noticed that they had the warehouse and culinary training.”

Jackie has always worked two jobs or worked a job while going to school. “I was overextended, so I never learned to cook,” she explained.

She described herself as a stranger to the kitchen TV dinners and takeout were the norm.

During the pandemic, Jackie looked for employment, but had difficulties.

“I applied for a job as a part-time cart retriever,” she said. “They sent me an email saying that they selected a more qualified candidate.”

The Food Bank’s 14-week culinary training program was appealing for Jackie because of the job placement services and her desire to finally learn to cook.

“This is a job skill that I can have forever,” she said.

Under the instruction of Chef Ron Roll, Jackie and her classmates have been learning both basic and high-end kitchen skills. Words like sautéing, mire poix, mise en place, braising and more are becoming part of the students vernacular.

While Jackie doesn’t have a favorite recipe yet, she completed her mystery box midterm kitchen exam recently. Her box included steak, broccoli and lentil pasta. She made a dry rub for the steak, cheddar cheese sauce for the broccoli and garlic oil sauce for the pasta.

Despite being a stranger to the kitchen, Jackie does like making desserts.

“They look good and they taste good,” she said. “Food – you eat that to survive, but dessert is more for enjoyment.”

With graduation about a month away, Jackie is looking forward to the next phase of her life.

“I would like to do this [cooking] either as a full-time job and then have a second job in my previous field,” she explained.

Ideally, Jackie would like to work in a school, university or hospital kitchen setting.

“I think this is a really good program,” she said.

To learn more about The Culinary School, click here. The next 14-week training program begins on March 28 at the Food Bank in Newark and Milford.


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