Share the Journey — The power of a good recipe

Makeda Freeman-Woods

Do you know, like I do, the power of a good recipe? If you’ve never thought of a recipe as being powerful, consider this. A recipe has been tried, altered and tried again. 

Tested, if you will. A recipe blends a group of sometimes disparate ingredients into what turns out to be a tasty and even life-giving harmony. If you’ve ever put vinegar in a cake mix, you know what I mean. And a recipe gives you clear direction on what to do to get the results you want.

I’m the former executive chef and new director of Common Table, the culinary arts job training program offered by Catholic Charities of Louisville, where we have a recipe for changing lives.

Designed to serve people who face barriers to employment, such as a lack of opportunity or skills, Common Table equips participants to secure good-paying positions at local restaurants. Ours 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 apply 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. We also teach soft skills, like building a resume and preparing for a job interview.

Students who graduate from Common Table are eligible to earn eight credit hours in Jefferson Community and Technical College’s culinary arts program, setting them on a course to earn their associate’s degree. They also have the opportunity to continue their learning through apprenticeships with local establishments and, of course, to work in restaurants all over town.

You might guess that this kind of training is costly, and it is. But all the costs are covered for our students who “work off” their tuition by helping Dare to Care prepare and pack huge quantities of meals to go to students and seniors in our community and by preparing foods for our own social enterprises. (Common Table is located in the Dare to Care Community Kitchen on 28th Street.)

Throughout the year, we offer a series of six-week subscriptions for hearty homemade soups and small-batch breads. Students prepare the soups and sometimes even create the recipes. They also learn about the business side of things when they package, label, box and deliver soups to our hundreds of subscribers. 

Customers receive a quart of soup and a loaf of bread (by Wildflour Bakery) every week, enough for two meals. All the proceeds go to covering the costs of training. 

That’s why we like to call it a meal with a mission. You can learn more and subscribe at

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

That’s when I began piecing together a recipe for changing my life and now, at Common Table, the lives of others. Because I know that the opportunity and kindness offered me allowed me to accomplish what I have, I’m thrilled to give that back through my work.

When you ask our graduates about their time with us, the first thing most of them say is, “Common Table changed my life.” That is one delicious recipe.

You can read stories about many of our graduates at


Makeda Freeman-Woods is the director of Common Table at Catholic Charities of Louisville.

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