It was just like an Iron Chef episode! As Elena Piperno, Domenica Foundation director, arrived to help judge the Cathedral Kitchen (CK) pasta competition, students in the culinary arts training program were putting finishing touches on their dishes. Their teacher was counting down the minutes. Finally, when the chefs-in-training put down their spoons and presented their dishes, Elena and the other judges got to taste.
“It was hard to pick a winner!” said Elena. The nine teams had to create dishes based on the five classic “mother” sauces. Dishes were judged on creativity, taste, and presentation. The judges were hard pressed, but they finally chose the team who created a meat and vegetable lasagna, served with a heart-shaped garlic biscuit.
The team of judges included two former students who are now employed by CK. Their participation was a reminder that the culinary arts program serves up not only delicious food but also prospects for employment in a field with high demand and a clear career ladder.
Many CK students have struggled with barriers to meaningful employment including domestic abuse, early parenthood, mental or physical health issues, and criminal justice involvement. The culinary arts training gives them a fresh start.
This week we’re joining the 20 students in this fall’s class at their graduation ceremony. In their 14-week training program, they learned not only food preparation and safety, but also job-hunting and interviewing skills. In addition, CK helps with job placement, working with every graduate to help them find an entry-level food preparation position.
“There is something special about this class,” said Elena. “You could feel how close knit they are as a cohort.” CK graduates three cohorts per year, for a total of up to 60 students. So far, the program has produced 433 graduates.
Elena was particularly touched by two students with whom she talked during the competition. “These two young men have been friends since they were little,” Elena said. “They told me how CK is like a family, and Chef Naimah [Rutling, their teacher] is like a mother to them. It touched me to see how this program is so much more than just culinary training.”
And Cathedral Kitchen is much more than its culinary arts training! The core program that began it all is hot meals served restaurant-style to all comers. To-go bags tide guests over between meals. Staff and volunteers also connect guests with organizations that provide other services, such as help with housing, health, or employment.
Topping it off are CK Café and CK Catering, commercial enterprises that give culinary trainees valuable experience and help support CK’s other programs.
Check out CK’s 2022 overview video to see these programs in action and hear from program staff, volunteers, and participants.
“We are proud to support CK in providing food and hope to Camden residents who struggle with difficult life circumstances,” said Elena. “Our work with all our grantees is satisfying, but with CK, it’s also delicious!”