I was so excited. I would come to work and see new progress every day. I’d take pictures when a new patch of dirt was excavated, when a huge new tractor would show up, when the concrete floor was poured and, eventually, when the walls started going up. And even then I had no idea how meaningful the future those walls would enclose would be for me and so many others.
Shortly after the rest of the staff joined me in carving our names in a slab of wet concrete in what would become a utility room, I found out my involvement in the new building- The future home for our brand-new Culinary School- would go much deeper. I was offered the position of becoming the Culinary Program Manager. My job would be to recruit students, help them get funding, resources, and employment, and generally get the first class up and running successfully. It was no small task.
With barely two months until the date classes were scheduled to start, we began to change the message we shared with the media from “Culinary School Under Construction” to “Enroll for Classes. Now!” Renowned Chef Instructor Tim Hunter and I traveled all over Southern Delaware speaking to agencies, community leaders and prospective students. We scrambled to make sure our students could get the funding they needed to make their dreams come true. And little by little, and with lots of hard work, the date approached.
We were expecting thirteen students, with at least one more to join us soon after. Our first class had been filled with great contenders! Among them were Nighfer Matos and his mother, Nery, who would be the first family team to enroll in one of our schools. Nighfer at 18, is full of an enthusiasm to learn about culinary arts exceeded only by his mother’s enthusiasm, despite the challenge of enrolling in a program that would be taught entirely in English, her second language. There is also James Merrell, who will talk to anyone who will listen about “the business” and opening his own restaurant someday soon. Not to mention Gregory Jones and Charles Ballard, who faithfully called me at least once a week to make sure that everything was in order for them to be able to start classes on time. Maria Montoya, whose eyes shined with tears at the sight of the kitchen, and Leighanne Franks, fresh out of high school and brimming with excitement at the prospect of being able to help her parents even more with running their restaurant.
I could write paragraph upon paragraph about each of our new students and their passion and elation; and they had yet to walk through the door. I saw the building go up, brick and mortar, but it was now made of the stuff of dreams as well- the dreams of each of our students. Finally, on September 9th, 2013, they would be here.
Our Food Bank team resembled a cheerleading squad that day, welcoming the students and raving to the reporters who came to capture the moment. Our very first culinary class in Milford, and brand new addition to the Food Bank family didn’t take long to integrate themselves into the company culture. By the second day of class, they were in already in the kitchen, working seamlessly as a team under the expert guidance of Chef Tim. After all, they only had two more days to prepare for the first big event at which they would be serving their culinary creations for the first time. We had not yet received our order of aprons, let alone uniforms, nonetheless the students looked the part as they proved themselves stellar performers in the kitchen. By Thursday after lunch, all dishes were prepared and ready to be loaded and delivered to T.S. Smith and Son’s beautiful outdoor pavilion for our Dinner in the Orchard event. Sporting their new uniforms they filed into our culinary van to make our way to Bridgeville. By 5:00 the guests began to arrive to the orchard, and facing the prospect of a lightning storm blowing in from the west, our students served their dishes and mingled with the guests. At first, our guests were too busy sampling the corn and crab soup, and enjoying their brown sugar glazed lamb chops cooked to perfect tenderness to notice the sky getting dark. And the ominous lightning went ignored while they enjoyed their barbeque pork chops with T.S. Smith Peaches salsa, among other things on the farm-fresh menu. Their food serving duties fulfilled, Chef and the students prepared for the worst and made sure everything was packed and safely stored in the truck as the rain came rolling upon us. Our guests barely escaped the rain as well, but at the very least, their bellies were full. As for us, we were full too, not just with the delicious cuisine of the night, but also with pride for what we were able to accomplish with only four days’ time and with excitement for what the next thirteen weeks would hold for us.
The Food Bank of Delaware is the first food bank in the country to have two culinary schools in a single state. Our first culinary school is located in our Newark facility. We offer culinary training to individuals who are at risk, unemployed, under-employed or ex-offenders. Our curriculum includes basic and high-end culinary skills training, a Serv-safe certification, a life skills program and a two-week paid internship at the conclusion of twelve weeks of on-site instruction in the classroom and kitchen. For more information about The Culinary School in Milford please contact Brenda Palomo at (302) 424-3301 ext 107 or firstname.lastname@example.org. For information about The Culinary School in Newark, please contact Sonia Murrey at (302) 444-8076 or email@example.com.