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Cooking up a future

Culinary program teaches adults skills in the kitchenin hopes of gaining employment later

May 05, 2010|By TIFFANY ARNOLD
  • Shannon Eierman, left, chef and part owner of The Landing Restaurant & Pub in Hagerstown, and Eric Pinchak, program director of Community Culinary School at The Landing, teach a culinary class to Celeste Deuel, right front, Monica Seals and others to help them gain skills and become more employable.
By Colleen McGrath/Staff Photographer,

When the time came to present the entrees, the smile on Terence Beatty Sr.'s face showed he had come a long way from the days he manned the fast-food deep fryer.

Beatty stood behind his dish - a spinach-stuffed pork tenderloin with black pepper, cayenne and olive oil marinade - describing his handiwork to an array of hungry social workers in the kitchen of The Landing Restaurant & Pub on the Dual Highway in Hagerstown.

"I amaze myself sometimes," said Beatty, 43, of Hagerstown.

Beatty is part of the inaugural class of the Community Culinary School, which is a free vocational program for adults who are underemployed or unemployed, homeless, in addiction recovery or being treated for a mental illness.

The program's six fledgling chefs have been meeting daily since March 22 at The Landing, working along side the restaurant's executive chef and co-owner Shannon Eierman and Washington County Community Action Council employee Eric Pinchak, who was a chef and manager at Duffy's on Potomac.

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Graduation is set for June.

The 13-week program is coordinated by the Community Action Council and Potomac Case Management Services.

The hope is that the business community will be willing to taste the fruits of their labor, offering them jobs and a chance to get back on their feet after graduation, said CAC's Executive Director David Jordan.

"We need some kind of program that can provide some real job-readiness for the homeless," Jordan said.

Beatty said he signed up for the program with hopes of finding a job. He said his only experience working with food was when he worked at a McDonald's.

The program also offers a fresh start. Beatty moved to Hagerstown from Baltimore.

"Me and Baltimore weren't going to work," he said.

Beatty, a recovering drug addict, said he's celebrating a year of sobriety.

He said he's looking forward to graduation. "You get your knives when you graduate," Beatty said.

Dawn Johns, executive director of Potomac Case Management Services, said her agency helped pick applicants for the culinary program.

"What we see is that they want to get started, they might be able to work. They just don't know how to get started," Johns said.

Hagerstown resident Monica Seals said she had always had an interest in being a chef, but life got in the way of allowing her to pursue her passion.

Seals, 28, is a single mother with three kids. She said she applied for the community culinary school because she thought it could help her pursue that dream.

"I'd like to climb the ladder," Seals said. "Eventually, I'd like to be a chef over a staff. This was a good start."

Eierman, the chef at The Landing, said that the community culinary school could be thought of as a 13-week long interview.

"I've got first dibs," said Eierman, adding that currently her restaurant didn't have any openings.

Pinchak, who's the program's director, said the students spend the first half of the day in the kitchen.

"We give them a key ingredient of the day," Pinchak said. "Today's was pork tenderloin. They come up with the rest."

The students spend the day preparing lunch. The food isn't served to patrons at The Landing, but is instead offered to invited guests, Jordan said.

Pinchak said by the end of the program, the participants will have received several skill-specific certifications that will help them land jobs in restaurants.

Jordan said he modeled the local program after a culinary job training program offered at DC Central Kitchen in Washington D.C.

"We're not going to feed our way out of hunger," said Mike Curtin, DC Central Kitchen's chief executive officer, during a telephone interview. "The way to get past this is to empower people to break that cycle."

Job training is one way to break the cycle, Curtin said.

DC Central Kitchen's culinary training program targets a similar demographic - adults who are unemployed, underemployed, previously incarcerated or homeless.

Curtin said its program graduated 81 people in 2009, with an 80 percent job placement rate that year. He said those graduates earned an average hourly wage of $11.05.

Curtin said DC Central Kitchen had always offered some form of job training since its inception in 1989, though the culinary program has been in place since 1995.

Eierman said that when approached about offering the program at The Landing, she said she wanted to help out. She said that her mother is a social worker and used to run a transition house.

This bridged two interests. "It's hard to go to culinary school," Eierman said.

Jordan said he would like to grow the community culinary school and hopes to offer it for years to come. He said the program costs $450,000, but much of that was due to one-time capital costs for kitchen equipment.

He estimated the program would cost between $150,000 and $200,000 a year to continue.

"We have to get more money for grants and spark interest in the community to keep it going," Jordan said.

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