Hillsides, a Southern California foster care and mental health charity, has launched a Culinary Apprenticeship Program to help youth gain the knowledge and skills needed to obtain employment in the culinary field. The program is a partnership between Hillsides Youth Moving On (YMO) program, which offers workforce development and other services to youth formerly in foster care, and Hillsides Innovation Department, which identifies and evaluates innovative strategies and solutions for the charity.
The 10-week course will provide 12 young adults across Hillsides’ programs the opportunity to work with six local chefs. Each week will begin with a customer-service workshop from a local Starbucks store manager and end with the young adults working in the kitchen with one to two chefs to learn important kitchen skills and cook a different dish. The culinary experience will end with a final event where the chefs and young adults will prepare a five-course meal for 50 guests.
“We are so excited to provide a supportive environment in which youth can receive culinary, job, and life skills training,” said Correnda Perkins, the division chief of Hillsides transitional-aged youth. “The experience will also provide the youth with the mentorship and support they need not only to gain hands-on food prep and cooking experience but to achieve their full potential in life.”
The local chefs in the apprenticeship program are Charlie Negrete, former chef director of the culinary job training program at LA Kitchen, who has worked under Michelin starred chefs and 5 Star establishments such as the Peninsula Hotel, the Jonathan Club, and the Terranea Resort; Claud Beltran, co-owner and chef at Bacchus’ Kitchen in Pasadena and co-owner of Claud Beltran & Co Catering; Gale Kohl, a 20-year veteran of the food service industry and owner of Gale’s Restaurant in Pasadena; Doug Fore, who has opened 12 restaurants in his career and consulted for numerous organizations and restaurants such as Disney, Bon Appétit, and Stonefire Grill; Alexandra Poer, chef-owner of alexandra’s table with a 26-year culinary career; and Geoff Jennings, owner of Nomad Ice Pops.
The chefs are donating their time and expertise to Hillsides because they feel it is important to mentor the next generation of chefs, especially considering some in the program have faced childhoods spent in foster care or other adversities. “Sharing my story, knowledge, and culinary journey with youth is important to me,” said chef Claud Beltran.
Some of the participating youth have found food and cooking to be therapeutic in their lives. Ricky Porter, 23, used cooking as a way to bond with the 25 different foster families he lived with from the time he was two days old until he turned 21. “Growing up in foster care, I lived with families from many different cultures, and what brought every family together and made them smile was food,” he said.
Ricky, who along the way mastered several recipes, from peanut butter cookies to breaded chicken to mocha-flavored cake frosting, one day hopes to open an organic vegan café. “In this apprenticeship program, I look forward to gaining knowledge, learning how a culinary business can be run, and to making lasting connections,” he said.
Local Starbucks managers Christina Aguilar and James Valeriano have volunteered to provide the customer service workshop and will also lead a session on barista skills. Starbucks has a history of supporting Hillsides. In 2017 and 2018, The Starbucks Foundation awarded Hillsides a $30,000 grant for the YMO workforce development program. Local Starbucks partners also support the YMO workforce development program by leading a series of career workshops for youth, participating in YMO’s annual resource fair, and hiring youth at local Starbucks stores. In addition, for the last 10 years, Starbucks stores throughout the San Gabriel Valley have supported an annual holiday toy drive for Hillsides, raising thousands of dollars in gifts and toys for children in need.
The youth chef training will run through Aug. 19. The dining event will be held on Aug. 25 at the First United Methodist Church Pasadena, 500 E. Colorado Blvd., Pasadena, CA 91001.
Hillsides’ YMO program is one of Hillsides’ five core programs and offers a continuum of support services for transition-aged youth 16 – 25 that includes a Peer Resource drop-in center, housing services, and workforce development. Hillsides Innovation Department leads the effort to identify and evaluate innovative strategies, solutions, experimental designs, and practices to support Hillsides’ mission and impact with the communities it serves.