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‘Starting from scratch’ Program provides jobs

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Chef Timothy Tucker (right) teaches students Dandre Rackley and Monica Fergus.

Although the unemployment rate is slowly dropping in the United States and particularly in Massachusetts, the rate in Boston is hovering around 6.3 percent, which is higher than the national and state averages. But despite this statistic, the Boston Ray & Joan Kroc Corps Community Center Culinary Arts Program is beating the odds by landing jobs for many of its students—even before their graduation.

“The end goal here is to be a liaison to employment,” said Chef Timothy Tucker, program director. “We want to give students who are trained in the fundamentals of cooking and nutrition an opportunity to work in a hotel or restaurant or wherever they need to go.” To help with employing the graduates, TD Garden, a multi–purpose arena in Boston, has emerged as a major partner. “We’ve had 10 students get employed with them recently,” said Tucker.

The program is a 10–week basic skills class that welcomes students who are new to cooking. Classes include learning knife skills; how to make pasta from scratch; as well as how to prepare soups, sauces, and stocks. “Everyone has their own emotional and physical starting places and cooking abilities. We peel back and break the layers of bad habits that have kept people unemployable,” said Tucker.

Tucker says at the epicenter of the program is a focus on whole food and nutritious cooking. “Because we find that people who learn how to cook from scratch rather than from frozen or manufactured products become more financially marketable. And you start to eat that kind of food yourself. The spirit, the mind, and the body—connect.”

Tucker holds a culinary degree from Sullivan University in Louisville, Kentucky. He’s had several years of fine dining experience, having worked at five–star hotels and spent 2 years in research and development. In 2005, he started with The Salvation Army at the Center of Hope, a homeless shelter in downtown Louisville. He took a job as food service manager. At that the time, he was serving 400 meals a day.

Nine months later, Tucker and the director of the shelter had created a culinary arts program there. “When your boss says to the local newspaper, ‘We’re starting a culinary arts program in nine months,’ you’re compelled to make it happen.” Today, the program still thrives.

Tucker shared one of the secrets to the program’s success in Boston. “We have a life skills coach, Eric Hall, who helps students address the physical and psychological restraints that might hold them back.” Generally, the program has about 12 students per class. The retention rate has improved since Tucker’s days in Louisville, Ky.

For many of the students, the program represents much more than just culinary arts training—it represents hope. Said Major Valerie J. Lopes, associate administrator at the Boston Ray & Joan Kroc Corps Community Center of a woman in the program, “She was ready to give up on life…. But now, this program has given her a reason to live. And she is able to reach her highest potential.”

Said Chef Tucker, teaching culinary arts becomes more than a job, but “something of real joy.”

 

by Warren L. Maye

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