Re: Homeless train to be chefs: Chicago Anti-Hunger Federation FWD

Judy Olsen (
Mon, 08 Mar 1999 19:04:44 -0800

Seattle has something like this, too.  Unfortunately, most of the graduates wind up
cooking at a fast-food place.  Perhaps because the training program is only for a
month or two, when you actually need one year.
Judy O

Tom Boland wrote:

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> FWD  Monday, March 8, 1999
> By DEBRA HALE SHELTON - Associated Press Writer
>        CHICAGO (AP) --The top chef from one of the Magnificent Mile's
> ritziest restaurants leans over a gas stove in a kitchen in a poor West
> Side neighborhood.
>        ``We'll squeeze this in the cheesecloth,'' chef Robert Nava says as
> a pound of soft, white cheese forms inside a huge, steaming pot -- one of
> the first steps in his recipe for apple and cheese strudel.
>        ``Get a spatula,'' Nava later instructs 16 aspiring chefs surrounded
> by containers of sliced apples and pears. ``We're going to start cooking
> them up.''
>        Normally, Nava is executive chef at The Signature Room at the 95th,
> the restaurant at the top of the John Hancock skyscraper. But on this day,
> he is guest chef at Oliver's Kitchen, where the Chicago Anti-Hunger
> Federation is training needy people to become cooks.
>        Nava is one of the program's visiting chefs. The list sounds like a
> who's who in the city's restaurant industry:  Hans Aeschbacher of Smith &
> Wollensky, En Ming Hsu of the Ritz-Carlton, Mark Baker of Four Seasons,
> Dominique Tougne of Bistro 110, John Carlo of Bice, to name a few.
>        The students, ranging from 18 to 58 years old, are either unskilled,
> unemployed or homeless. All have at least fifth-grade reading and math
> skills -- necessary to deal with recipes.
>        Wearing white chefs' jackets and hats, they arrive at federation
> headquarters eager for seven-hour classes Monday through Friday.
>        ``At 7:15, they're knocking on the door wanting in. Class doesn't
> even start until 8:30,'' says Mary Ganchoff, the main instructor, who
> studied at the Culinary Institute of America.
>        Students train as entry-level cooks, but some of their creations are
> anything but elementary: shrimp de jonghe, Waldorf salads, orange souffle
> and sauces like roux bechamel and hollandaise.
>        Today, they're taking on phyllo, a paper-thin dough used in
> pastries. Nava lavishes melted butter and a sprinkling of cinnamon on the
> layers of dough. Later there would be slivered almonds and, of course, the
> homemade, slightly sweet cheese.
>        ``Oooh-la-la! I'd eat that,'' marvels student Geraldine Sanders.
>        ``This is the best thing that could have happened to me,'' she says.
> ``I've always wanted my own catering service.''
>        Each morning the students get hands-on experience by studying knife
> skills, presentation, sanitation and more.
>        Each afternoon, Ms. Ganchoff lectures on subjects like nutrition,
> weights and measures, buying provisions for restaurants. Each Thursday
> morning for 12 weeks, students cook with a guest chef. For the last four
> weeks, they are interns at restaurants and hotels.
>        Mary Booth, who once cooked at a day-care center, learned about the
> program through an employment agency. ``I was a plain, everyday cook,'' she
> says as she sliced an apple. ``All of this is new to me. It is interesting.
> It is educational. It is fun... .
>        ``If I could have found a class like this 20 years ago, no telling
> where I'd be today.''
>        Michael Grasso, the federation's director of training and a former
> regional food director for Nieman Marcus, developed the program. ``I wanted
> to be able to parlay all the benefits I received in food service, knowing
> it is a lucrative career,'' he says.
>        Ms. Ganchoff sees benefits beyond the basics, even beyond ``someone
> to give them a chance... .''
>        ``We have some people who definitely have personalities and big
> dreams,'' she says. ``And I think we're going to give them their recipe for
> success.''
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