“You like fattoush?”
“Fattoush,” said Victor. As explanation, he offered a bowl of mixed vegetables and fried pita chips.
“Oh, sure, thanks!”
It is a treat to be invited down to the kitchens at the House of Providence on a day like last Thursday, when the CASS students were working on dishes from their home countries. CASS (Culinary Arts for Self-Sufficiency) is a program that provides training in industrial culinary skills for people who face significant obstacles to employment such as recent refugee status or generational poverty. The class last Thursday was made up of recent refugees. They were preparing a meal for their graduation ceremony the next day, when their family and friends would join them to celebrate their completion of the program.
The CASS program is a 5-week course. It includes kitchen safety, food prep skills and ServSafe Certification upon graduation. Most of the lessons cover the sort of food skills you need in an industrial kitchen or local deli. Students make tuna and egg salad, learn how to slice meat for a deli and are trained in proper sanitizing. They even practice taking and fulfilling orders and run the kitchen as a deli for House of Providence employees.
Graduation dinner was a chance for the students to create their own menu and they clearly enjoyed preparing foods from their home countries. Gary Coe, the instructor, was amused by the change of roles as the students taught him their own dishes, though he found the experience of shopping for all of the spices a little frustrating.
“Look at this!” Gary said, picking up a small spice container from the many on the counter. “You wouldn’t believe how much this was.”
“It is not so expensive at home,” Geni, a student, said as she stuffed an onion skin.
“No. But you buy in market. Grind at home.”
“Oh,” Gary said with a shrug. “Well, it was expensive but, then, I’m glad ‘grind all the spices’ wasn’t on the to-do list.”
Many of the students were clearly experienced cooks. A few mentioned that a dish was a particular favorite of a family member, or a regular staple at home. They enjoyed explaining the process and offered visitors samples of finished dishes.
The five students in the class were from five different countries. They chatted and negotiated the kitchen space in a mix of shared Arabic and English. Gary relied on the more proficient English speakers to translate when they got into a language jam, but the operation in general was smooth.
The program has been very successful with an 88% job placement rate for graduates. The opportunities made possible by the program help lift families out of the poverty many struggle with after first arriving in the U.S. Many go on to food service jobs, but others take jobs in hospitality or a related industry, buoyed up by the references our instructors can give them.
For more information about this program or to learn about hiring graduates, contact Cody Maggi at firstname.lastname@example.org or 315.362.7551.