A Recipe for Success: Prison Culinary Training Programs Change Lives and Provide a Second Chance

 by Kenya McCullum

Vito Scarola admits that his life was going nowhere — except to prison.

“When I got there, I had no job experience, no life skills, nothing,” he explained. “I was just an untrained convict — that’s the only way I can really put it. I had nothing going for me at all.”

But while he was serving his sentence for burglary charges that stemmed from his drug abuse, Scarola found his direction and purpose when he got the opportunity to receive culinary training provided by Bridges of America, a re-entry program for offenders that builds a bridge between incarceration and a successful release through job training and therapeutic services.

“I was just super excited to be given a chance to learn something useful — most people don’t get that opportunity. That was a big deal for me,” Scarola says. “I actually worked seven days a week, pretty much all day in the kitchen and just tried to learn anything and everything I could.”

And learn he did. Since his release in 2011, Scarola has gone on to work his way up in his culinary career from a dishwasher to a managerial position. He is also married with two children, and is currently earning his second college degree. To this day, he credits all of his professional, personal, and educational successes to the training he received from Culinary Instructor and Chef Mike Schnitzer at the Orlando Bridge.

“When you get released from prison in Florida, you basically get a $50 bus ticket and a kick in the butt. What are you going to do if you get released from prison and you have no skills? You basically go back to your old bad habits and bad ways,” says Schnitzer. “Our program is designed for clients that have no job skills at all. We give them job skills so that when they’re eligible for work release, they can get meaningful employment.”

Bridges accomplishes this by providing 1,000 hours of culinary training over the course of six months. During that time, students learn a variety of skills — such as ordering and receiving food, kitchen sanitation, hot and cold meal preparation, knife skills and food storage — which culminate in an ACF certification at the end of the program. In addition, the program also requires treatment for drug and alcohol addiction, and life skills classes. After successful completion of the requirements, clients are eligible for work release so they can apply the skills they learned to a real-world kitchen during the day and go back to the facility at night. In addition to building work experience, the clients also earn money that provides a financial cushion for them to use when they go back home.

“When clients get released, they have thousands of dollars in their account,” Schnitzer says. “They don’t get just a kick in the butt and get shoved out the door. They leave with a skill and this money in their account — and they already have a job.”

Ryan Stanley CC, CEPC during his CEPC exam.

Similarly, people who have completed the culinary program at Reality House have also been able to get a job and turn their lives around, as well as receive the addiction treatment they need to live a clean and sober lifestyle.

“One of our clients stated that when he first went to prison, he had never accomplished anything. He went to prison for drug charges and he said he had never accomplished anything, he was never anybody,” said Kirk Kief, Executive Chef and Culinary Instructor at Reality House. “When he left, he said that his self-confidence was 180 degrees from what it was when he went into prison because he not only went into the culinary program, but he also earned his Certified Culinarian and went for a Certified Pastry Culinarian. He’s now the general manager of a very successful local franchise here in town.”

Similar to Bridges of America, Reality House provides an intensive, eight month culinary program that allows clients to receive a certification after completing classes designed to prepare them to work in a kitchen. To help reinforce this training, when clients are eligible for work release, they have the opportunity to get a job with the organization’s numerous local partners.

Reality House’s the final three clients to earn ACF certification — all of whom passed two certification exams. (left to right) Vance Hennion CC, CPC, Jason Brugos CC, CPC, and William Sands CC, CPC

“We have partnered with over 250 different organizations in the community. We have a strong footprint in our community in regards to our reputation and we use it to our advantage to get the guys hired at different organizations,” says Andrew Williams, Reality House’s Senior Director of Residential Services. “The reason we have such a good rapport with the restaurants here in town is because guys from our facility that are going out and applying for jobs have gone through at least eight to nine months of not only culinary training, but also substance abuse training and classes on how to act in public and make good decisions. It isn’t like the restaurants are hiring people straight out of prison with no background. They’ve gotten this education and they’re a different type of person than what they would be coming straight out of prison.”

Re-Entry Programs Face an Uncertain Future

Despite the successes of Bridges of America and Reality House, the Florida Department of Corrections has made a decision that could negatively impact not only the lives of inmates struggling with addiction issues, but the community as a whole. In June, budgetary cuts were made that discontinued contracts with private inmate transition and addiction treatment programs and led to hundreds of layoffs around the state. As a result, the substance abuse treatment and culinary training that inmates were able to receive before their release are no longer available.

“The Department of Corrections chose to eliminate the programs that had the most impact for the clientele, which in my opinion, was not a wise decision,” Williams says. “We are the reason why the Department of Corrections’ numbers were going down in terms of their recidivism rate.”

Even though the current state of these programs is discouraging, there is still hope. When Florida elects a new governor in November, it is expected to result in the appointment of a new Secretary for the Department of Corrections — and possibly a reinstatement of the contracts that allowed Reality House and Bridges of America to provide culinary training and drug treatment services. In the meantime, these organizations are working with lobbyists to demonstrate the importance of the services they provide and the impact they have on the entire state.

“You don’t want people leaving prison the same way they came in. You want to give these inmates the opportunity to be productive citizens,” says Williams. “That’s what our culinary program was doing. We were putting our guys in a position to be successful in terms of getting jobs—and not just a flipping hamburger job; these guys were getting career jobs and were giving back in regards to hiring our clientele.”

The 2019 ACF award season is already upon us

Dream of becoming Chef of the Year or winning the Student Team competition? It’s time to submit your application to compete.

The honor of an American Culinary Federation (ACF) award proves skill, knowledge and professionalism in the culinary industry and can further your recognition as a qualified chef. Below are descriptions and links to apply for each of the ACF’s national awards. Deadline for all awards applications is September 30, with the exception of Student Team, which is September 14. Good luck!

Chef of the Year

Todd Leonard, CEC, 2018 Chef of the Year

The Chef of the Year award recognizes an outstanding culinarian who works and cooks in a full-service dining facility. This person has demonstrated the highest standard of culinary skills, advanced the cuisine of America and given back to the profession through the development of students and apprentices.

Application: http://www.cvent.com/d/6gqz3m

Deadline to apply: September 30


Pastry Chef of the Year
co-sponsored by Plugrá European Style Butter and CÉMOI Chocolate

William Racin, CEPC, 2018 Pastry Chef of the Year

The ACF Pastry Chef of the Year aware recognizes a pastry chef who has displayed passion for the craft, has an accomplished reputation in the pastry field and has given back to the profession through the education of others by sharing skills and knowledge.

Application: http://www.cvent.com/d/bgqwyl

Deadline to apply: September 30


Student Chef of the Year
Sponsored by Libbey

Julio Chavez, 2018 Student Chef of the Year

The ACF Student Chef of the Year award recognizes an up-and-coming student who possesses a high degree of professionalism, culinary skill and passion for the culinary arts.

Application: http://www.cvent.com/d/3gqxs7

Deadline to apply: September 30


Student Team of the Year

Fox Valley Technical College, 2018 Student Team of the Year

Participating in the student team competition is a fun way to put the skills you’ve learned in the classroom to the test. As a team competitor you demonstrate dedication and experience in the culinary industry. Participation is an instant resume builder.

Intent to compete form: http://www.cvent.com/d/pgqr3q

Deadline to apply: September 14

Chef Educator of the Year 

Leonard Bailey, CEC, Chef Educator of the Year

The ACF Chef Educator of the Year award pays tribute to an active culinary educator whose knowledge, skills, expertise, guidance and direction have enhanced the image of the professional chef and who, by example, has given leadership, guidance and direction to students seeking a career in the culinary profession. This person demonstrates the ability to help students define and develop their careers by using their skills and abilities to provide a strong foundation for their future success.

Application: http://www.cvent.com/d/zgqd75

Deadline to apply: September 30


Dr. L.J. Minor Chef Professionalism Award
sponsored by Minor’s®

• To recognize an ACF chef who best exemplifies the highest standard of professionalism in today’s kitchen, through certification, continuing education and training, culinary competitions, development of young culinarians and community involvement.

• To honor active, working chefs who run the day-to-day operations of a full-service dining facility and supervise its kitchen brigade.

Application: http://www.cvent.com/d/dgqdmg

Deadline to apply: September 30


Hermann G. Rusch Chef’s Achievement Award

Wolfgang Geckeler, CEC, AAC, HOF, 2018 Hermann G. Rusch Award winner

The Hermann G. Rusch Chef’s Achievement Award honors chefs who have demonstrated the highest level of commitment to both ACF and the culinary profession. Such chefs, through their involvement with and contributions to ACF and our craft, have advanced the culinary profession and ensured the enrichment of students, our members and those in our profession.

Application: http://www.cvent.com/d/3gqdk3

Deadline to apply: September 30


Chapter Achievement

The Chapter Achievement Award honors chapters that strive for the highest level of excellence in all areas of chapter life, serving their members and their communities as well as supporting ACF’s programs.

Application: http://www.cvent.com/d/0gqdj7

Deadline to apply: September 30

ACF National Award Winners 2018

The honor of an American Culinary Federation (ACF) award proves skill, knowledge and professionalism in the culinary industry and can further your recognition as a qualified chef. These awards represent the highest honors ACF can bestow.

Here is a full list of all the 2018 award winners, presented at the ACF National Convention and Show in New Orleans July 15-19.

Achievement of Excellence (6)
•Canadian Food & Wine Institute Craig Youdale, Dean
•Phillip M’s Fine Dining Louis Chatham, CEC, AAC, Chef
•USC Hospitality Division Kris Slinger, Asst VP
•Mercury Chophouse Zack Moutaouakil, Owner
•Atlantis Casino Resort Spa Chira Pagidi, Director Food & Bev

President’s Medallion (23)
•Kent Andersen, CEC, CCA (#2)
•Guy Lott, HAAC (#18)
•Michael Rigberg, CEC, CCA, AAC (#3)
•Frank Leake, CCC, CCE, AAC (#24)
•Jerold Marcellus, CCC, CCE, HAAC (#4)
•Michael Thrash, CEC, CCA (#6)
•George O’Palenick, CEC, CCE, AAC (#7)
•Chris Dwyer, CEC, CCA, AAC (#8)
•Peter Spear, CEC (#9)
•Thomas Hunt, CEC, AAC (#10)
•Carlton Brooks, CEPC, CCE, AAC (#11)
•Brian Peffley, CEPC, CCE, AAC (#12)
•Jill Bosich, CEC, CCE, AAC (#13)
•Mark Wright, CEC, AAC (#15)
•Louis Perrotte, CEC, AAC, HOF (#16)
•Bobby Moghaddam, CEC, CCE, AAC (#17)
•Jill Mora (#19)
•Sarah Mallard, CC (#20)
•Melody Money, CEC, AAC (#21)
•Dr. Eloise Fernandez, CEC, CCE, AAC (#22)
•Cynthia Monroe, CC (#23)
•Kathleen Mancini, HAAC (#14)
•Basil Kimbrew (#5)
•Guy Lott, HAAC (#18)
•Michael Rigberg, CEC, CCA, AAC (#3)
•Frank Leake, CCC, CCE, AAC (#24)

Chapter of the Year
•ACF Southwestern Virginia Chapter

Region of the Year
•Southeast

A World of Thanks
•ACF New Orleans Chapter (host chapter)

Industry Partnership Award
•Libbey

Hermann G Rusch Chef’s Achievement Award
•Wolfgang Geckeler, CEC, AAC, HOF

National Chef Educator of the Year
•Leonard Bailey, CEC

National Student Team of the Year
•Fox Valley Technical College – Gold Medals

National Student Chef of the Year
•Julio Chavez – Gold Medal

National Pastry Chef of the Year
•William Racin, CEPC – Silver Medal

National Chef of the Year
•Todd Leonard, CEC – Silver Medal

Dr. L.J. Minor Chef Professionalism Award
•Kevin Brennan, CEC, AAC

Baron H. Galand Culinary Knowledge Bowl National Champions
•Utah Valley University Culinary Arts Institute

Spirit of Aloha Award
•Meg Trout
•Brian Lorge, HAAC
•Eric Ernest, CEC, CCA
•Jason Ziobrowski, CEC
•Eric “The Trainer” Fleishman
•Team Hawaii
•Robert Phillips, CEC, CCA, AAC

What to do if you’re not going to Cook. Craft. Create. this year

French Quarter architecture by Zack Smith

French Quarter architecture by Zack Smith

We get it. There are tons of totally understandable reasons that might keep you from attending Cook. Craft. Create. ACF National Convention & Show this year. Whatever it was that kept you away from New Orleans, we’re here to help you manage your FOMO. Here are some ways to make sure you don’t miss all the action:

  • Follow us on Facebook. This is the number-one thing you can do to catch all the Convention action from afar, as the ACF Facebook page is the designated hub for everything our social media team will be sharing throughout the week. They’ll be streaming the keynote addresses and competitions on Facebook Live, posting pics and videos and updating our Facebook Story all day, every day. Make sure you check our page each morning for the live-streaming schedule and tune in throughout the day.
  • Every morning starting Monday, we’ll send out an email to members recapping the previous day’s events. The email will include a short video with photos and clips so you can see what everybody was wearing and eating, hear choice quotes from important speakers and pick out your friends’ faces. You’ll also be able to watch the video on our YouTube Channel.
  • Follow ACF on other social media networks, too. Our favorite pictures will go up on Instagram and the most newsworthy bites will go to Twitter and LinkedIn. Every evening we’ll post a few choice photos from the day on all networks, too.
  • Keep your eye on the hashtag #ACFinNOLA across all social media channels. We hope to see some great photos and commentary from attendees! (If you’re reading this and you’re attending Convention, add that tag to all your posts!)
  • Sign up to receive The Culinary Insider, our bi-weekly email newsletter. It hits inboxes on the Monday after Convention is over and will include the names and photos of all the award and competition winners.
  • Subscribe to The National Culinary Review. The next issue will have in-depth recaps of everything that went on during ACF’s week in the Big Easy. If you’re a member, you already have a digital subscription, and print subscriptions are also available.

Summer camp inspires high schoolers to enter the culinary field

by Jocelyn Tolbert

Chicago’s Kendall College Trust (KCT), an independent 501 (c) (3) not-for-profit providing need-based financial support to students pursuing degrees in hospitality and culinary arts, is in the middle of its third summer of Culinary Camp.

KCT’s summer camp introduces culinary skills to high school students in impoverished areas of Chicago, sparking interest in future careers. Helmed by Executive Director Catherine De Orio, the camp builds meaningful relationships, forging connections at a pivotal time in students’ lives.

“We thought, ‘How can we make more of an impact? When does that spark happen?’ You see it in high schoolers. They have a lot of passion, but the thing at that age is if someone isn’t supporting your dreams, it’s easy for them to fizzle out. Because kids are kids. They need that support and someone fanning that passion,” De Orio says. “So we thought, ‘Why don’t we find students who have an interest in this and get them to a culinary camp?’ They can come to the college and see what a career in this would mean, and hopefully we can get them on a vocational track.”

They found their students by working with Careers through Culinary Arts Program and the Chicago Public School System. Students like Malik Waddy, who’s currently a student at University of Chicago Charter School in Woodlawn where he will be a junior.  “My passion for the culinary industry was sparked when I was seven years old and started cooking with my grandfather,” he says. “When I was presented with the opportunity to enroll in KCT’s summer culinary camp, I knew it would be a great way to enhance my culinary skills and bring me closer to pursuing my dream of becoming a chef.”

Following last year’s flourishing summer program, this year 72 students have the opportunity to stay in Kendall College dorms and get their feet wet in the culinary world, from learning behind-the-scenes restaurant operations to advanced cooking and baking skills, mimicking the real-life experiences they would get if they chose to attend college.

“Most camps tend to be day camps. The evening, overnight camp element, and adding in the cultural element, is what sets us apart. … Many kids come from broken or single-parent homes. The parent is working, so one kid will take on a caregiver role because they’re the oldest one in the house. It’s nice for them to be able to not be an adult for a week,” De Orio says. “They can come to the college and see what a career in this would mean, and hopefully we can get them on a vocational track. Once they’re there, they’re part of our family and we can help with scholarship funding.”

There are two sessions, one beginner for freshmen and sophomores, and one advanced, for juniors and seniors. The beginner session courses cover basic cooking, baking and pastry, nutrition, butchery, knife skills, sanitation, use of equipment, and kitchen terminology, as well as some aspects of hospitality and front of house. The advanced session brings together soon-to-be seniors to learn expert culinary skills including professional knife cuts, cooking methods and butchery. A nutritional element is also incorporated into the program, teaching students the ins and outs of micro and macro-nutrients, serving sizes and disease prevention.

Waddy is attending culinary camp for his second year in a row. He was enrolled in the “Taste of the Kitchen” introductory session last summer, and this year attended the advanced session. He will also participate in KCT’s second advanced session during the week of July 16. “It has been an incredible experience, and has given me the confidence and skill set to attend culinary school once I graduate and eventually open a Caribbean restaurant of my own,” he says.

In addition to the classes, students have the opportunity to embark on cultural excursions in the evenings.

“To get to know the other kids better, they do an activity. They might do iFLY, which is indoor skydiving. We also take them to a Broadway in Chicago play. they went to the fireworks at navy pier,” says De Orio. “Most of our kids are from around Chicago but have never been to the lakefront or downtown. … We want it to be fun.”

While KCT’s program is small, it’s not just helping the Chicago at-risk youth community. Camps and programs like this are helping to build the culinary community as well.

“You’re hearing it across the board. There’s a shortage of workers in the industry. [Because of programs like ours,] you can get a student who can come in after high school — they’re not being schooled on basic knife techniques and cuts of meat. They’re not learning cooking techniques for the first time. they can pick things up quicker. That is definitely going to help the industry,” De Orio says. “We raise scholarships for higher education. But the reality is, some students don’t have the desire to go to college. They just want to get into the workforce. This allows them to do that.”

The first two sessions of Culinary Camp took place from June 25 to 29 including a Basic and Advanced group. The third session for Advanced students takes place July 16 to 20, rounding out the program.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.