Common Table students cook up success in Dare to Care kitchen

Clark Jefferson, a student in the Common Table culinary arts program, sliced onions Oct. 5 in Dare to Care’s new kitchen, 1200 S. 28th Street, in June. Makeda Freeman-Woods, the program’s executive chef, looked on. Common Table moved into Dare to Care’s new space in June. (Record Photo By Ruby Thomas)

A modern kitchen offering new learning opportunities aims to help students in Catholic Charities of Louisville’s Common Table program cook up success and conquer the cycle of need in Louisville.

Common Table offers culinary arts training to individuals who face barriers to employment. In June the program moved from a basement kitchen at Catholic Charities’ St. Anthony’s campus at 22nd and West Market streets to the state-of-the-art Dare to Care Community Kitchen located in the Parkland neighborhood in Louisville’s West End.

“We’re incredibly grateful to be in this position and create this relationship with Dare to Care,” said Laura Stevens, director of Common Table. “It has enabled our students to graduate much better prepared and equipped to be successful in this industry.”

The program admits new students on the first of each month for an eight-week course that culminates with a food service manager’s certificate. The building on South 28th Street houses Common Table’s new kitchen as well as Dare to Care’s kitchen. Because of this new arrangement, half of the students’ training now happens in the Dare to Care kitchen. This has afforded Common Table students’ new mentors and the opportunity to learn new skills and work with new food technology, said Stevens.

For example, she noted, Dare to Care is working on an “innovation” project, which is offering fresh pre-prepared meals to its pantries. Common Table students are learning to use new technology to help prepare these meals while also learning how Dare to Care is “taking creative routes to address food insecurity,” she said.

Training in the Dare to Care community kitchen is preparing students well for the future.

“They are gaining new confidence,” she noted. For instance, “When they walk into Aramark (a corporation that hires Common Table graduates) they can say ‘Yeah, I can do this.’ ”

The COVID-19 pandemic and the subsequent lockdown hit the restaurant industry particularly hard. As a result, Common Table has had to direct its culinary graduates into more industrial-type food preparation jobs. Several graduates have found employment with Aramark Corporation, which provides food service to institutions.

Bringing a job training program into Dare to Care’s new space is exciting and fits its mission, said Stan Siegwald, the agency’s director of strategic initiatives.

Taleya Horton, a student in the Common Table culinary arts program, sauteed onions Oct. 5. Common Table moved into the new state-of-the-art Dare to Care Community Kitchen, 1200 S. 28th St., in June. (Record Photo By Ruby Thomas)

“Part of our mission is to conquer the cycle of need. Job training is exactly the type of thing we want to help support to conquer that cycle,” said Siegwald in a recent interview.

The new larger space has helped Common Table expand its curriculum and “we get the benefit of their students’ services in our kitchen. It really is the type of collaboration that our community needs. It has a great energy about it that will lead to success we can’t imagine today,” he said.

Teresa White, Dare to Care’s executive chef, agreed. Dare to Care prepares about 7,000 meals per week for its kids cafes around town and about 2,000 convenience meals for pantries, she noted. Having the Common Table students is very helpful, she said in a recent interview.

“We rely on the helping hands of the Common Table students to get things done,” she said.

Other than food preparation, Common Table students also learn about recipe development, management, forecasting, budgeting, nutrition and plating techniques.

Common Table’s executive chef Makeda Freeman-Woods also leads a course that guides students through the steps of creating a restaurant.

In addition to its work with Dare to Care, Common Table students offer catered box lunches and a soup and bread subscription service to the public. And they prepare meals for others in need in the community. Stevens said this year, Common Table has prepared close to 6,000 meals for charity, including for Table of Plenty, a monthly meal offered to anyone in the community sponsored by St. Agnes and Good Shepherd churches. Common Table has also donated meals to La Casita Center, which serves the Hispanic and Latino communities, and Catholic Charities’ Sister Visitor Center.

Common Table is also offering a new advanced course for graduates. Some have lost jobs because of the pandemic and the new course offers an opportunity to learn new skills in addition to something to look forward to while they are unemployed, said Stevens.

Almost 100 students have graduated since the Common Table program started five years ago.

Culinary students Taleya Horton and Clark Jefferson are half way through their training and expect to graduate at the end of October.

Horton said, “I’ve learned a lot of things I thought I knew in the kitchen, but it’s different when you’re in a professional environment.”

She hopes to one day own a restaurant, she added.

Clark Jefferson, a home-schooled high schooler, said, “It’s been great. I’m 16 and I’ve never cooked before. I know I want to apply the skills I learn here in some way that will make money. I’m just not sure how. It’s also life skills that everyone should have.”

To learn more about Common Table, its catering and soup subscriptions or how to enroll, visit https://cclou.org/commontable/.

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