Local culinary class provides a new start for graduates

Published: Feb. 15, 2019 at 5:40 AM EST
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After weeks of learning culinary skills, students woke up Friday as graduates of the Chittenden Emergency Food Shelf cooking program.

The Community Kitchen Academy helps students get a job in the service industry and make a change. Eight students spent 13 weeks at the academy and each one has a different story and reason for joining the program.

"I've worked at McDonald's and I've worked at Burger King and I want a change, and I'm interested in owning my own business," said Victoria Music, a 2019 graduate.

Music has been working in the fast food industry for 14 years and at 35 years old, she wanted to switch to something new. It's a life change that she hopes she can make thanks to the academy.

"It's giving me the basic tools I need and the program is accelerated, so it's not boring," she said.

It's that excitement about cooking that Chef James Logan hopes his students have when they leave the program and enter the world of restaurants. But he says it takes a certain type of person.

"We look primarily at motivation. If someone is really motivated to move into this director or change their lives, that's what we look at," Logan said.

Students who graduate from the course will be certified professionals ready to work in the food service industry.

"There are a variety of goals, one of them is to get them job ready," Logan said.

Students learn knife and kitchen skills, resume building and interview training. The program is free and, in fact, many students get a small stipend to take the 13-week course. And when they finish, 91 percent of students find a job.

Logan says community employers have taken notice of the quality of students who leave this program.

"For the most part they like it, they are seeking us out to some degree," he said.

As a recent graduate, Music is feeling all the emotions that come with new beginnings and the success of completing the program.

"I am very excited, I actually have two jobs lined up already," she said.

The students come from all walks of life. Maya Gurung-Subba and her husband are first-generation Americans who came to the U.S. after living in a refugee camp for 18 years.

She graduated from the academy last year and says because of the experience, she is living her American dream. She says before she started at the academy she didn't know anything about being in a restaurant or how to cook. After she graduated, she was offered a job and took it to get the experience she needed experience before opening her own restaurant.

"I need to work in a commercial kitchen before, so I worked for the Nepali Kitchen. They are looking for the cook and then I said maybe I should work for them. And then I started working for them and I learned a lot," Gurung-Subba said.

She eventually bought that restaurant. Gurung-Subba says it's been hard work with some growing pains but she's thankful for the academy for giving her the tools she needed.