Cooking Up the Basics at the Food Bank’s Community Kitchen

James Jones
The program teaches culinary job skills to unemployed and underemployed Rhode Islanders.

September 18, 2018 By Jamie Coelho

Jade Cote-Clarke stands before an audience of eleven students and an instructor in a classroom with a sock puppet on her hand. She’s wearing a crisp white chef’s coat, black apron and hat, and the button-eyed sock greets the class with a miniature white chef’s hat on its head, moving its mouth with the help of her hand. She’s pantomiming a lesson about foodborne illnesses caused by bacteria.

“I want to introduce you to a little friend. He’s a little germ named Terry,” says eighteen-year-old Cote-Clarke, an unemployed culinary student from Woonsocket. “He lives in raw meat and seafood. When you go into preparation, he’s right there.”

Cote-Clarke is participating in the Rhode Island Community Food Bank’s fourteen-week Community Kitchen program, a free, unpaid culinary job training program that prepares twelve or thirteen low-income adults during each session for careers in the food industry. The program is supported by grants, corporate gifts and donations from individuals.

Some students have never had any kitchen experience. Two chefs, Heather Langlois and Ron Lewis, guide them in commercial cooking basics, as well as what it means to be a good employee, Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. The program is an investment in their future employment, and many of the students work other jobs on nights and weekends to make ends meet while they participate.

A sign on the wall behind Cote-Clarke reads: “15 minutes early is on time; on time is late.” No cell phones are allowed in class, and when a guest enters the classroom, each and every student stands up, greets the guest by name and introduces themselves with a hello and a handshake.

“Community Kitchen started as a way for unemployed and underemployed adults to lift themselves up out of poverty,” says the Rhode Island Community Food Bank’s chief executive officer, Andrew Schiff.

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