Share the journey – Culinary program provides skills, opportunity

I’ve been cooking all my life. And in many ways, cooking has changed my life. That’s why I love being the executive chef with Catholic Charities of Louisville’s Common Table, a program that offers culinary training to people who face barriers to employment.

I was blessed to participate in a similar program through the Salvation Army and because of that, earned a full scholarship to culinary school. That allowed me to quit my job, go to school in the day and work in kitchens at restaurants and hotels in the evening.

Because I know that the opportunity and kindness offered to me allowed me to accomplish what I have, I’m thrilled to give that back through Common Table.

Catholic Charities’ program is an eight-week class that trains students in kitchen skills, the most important of which is mastering the knife. We focus on traditional cooking and then applying those fundamentals in more creative ways.

Just as importantly, we teach how to sanitize and keep a safe kitchen and how to manage a professional staff and inventory. In fact, students at Common Table earn their food manager certification while with us.

Our students put their experience to the test when they prepare the unusually robust box lunches Common Table caters for businesses and community groups. And they also assist in creating soups for our subscription series, where we deliver a quart of fresh soup and a loaf of freshly-baked bread every week for six weeks. The soups are crafted using locally-sourced ingredients, which makes them uniquely seasonal.

Since this Spring, all of this experience was elevated when we moved into a bright, new, state-of-the-art space in partnership with Dare to Care in the Parkland neighborhood. The Dare to Care kitchen, where we train, has the most up-to-date equipment that allows us to teach the latest techniques and work in much larger batches than we previously could.

Common Table offers catering, soup subscriptions and classes in the beautiful new Dare to Care kitchen. But more than all of these, we offer kindness and opportunity.

One of my favorite stories is of a young man who came into our program from the Family Scholar House after aging out of the foster care system. When he filled out his paperwork, he had no one to list as an emergency contact.

Through his eight weeks with us, though, he began to make friends. One of our more mature students naturally began to act like a mom to him. Soon he was doing things with his new circle of friends and “family” during the week. When he graduated from our program, he interviewed for a Cook 1 position at the Omni Hotel and so impressed the chef with his skills and attitude that he was offered a Cook 2 position on the spot!

That success is our success. I’m so glad to share kindness and opportunity with our students at Common Table, knowing they will pass it along to the next person.

Makeda Freeman-Woods is the executive chef of Catholic Charities of Louisville’s Common Table culinary program.

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