Kitchen School

Four guys will graduate from The Kitchen School tonight — four guys “who have overcome roadblocks ranging from fear to felony,” according to Maureen Romanowski of CHANNELS Food Rescue

CHANNELS operates the 12-week culinary arts job-training program for low-income, disadvantaged adults in the Harrisburg area. It is an amazing, turn-your-life-around idea, run by Chef Michael DeMarco. Sure, it’s about jobs, income, professionalism, self-respect, discipline, all of that.

But in the nicest way, it’s about food and cooking.

Students learn their craft cooking for the Kids Cafe, a free meal service for children who come to Camp Curtin YMCA after school.

Turning a bag of groceries into a meal — whether it’s from Giant or Sysco — is seriously undervalued in our time. Darnell Foster, Anthony Jacobs, Gary Taylor and Vaughn Torrence are bringing it back, a little, giving proper value to a skill most people ignore.

And they’re talking value from it for their own lives.

For more information or applications to The Kitchen School, call CHANNELS at 612-1300. And if you missed it, here’s how Mary Klaus of the P-N saw The Kitchen School when she visited several weeks ago:

PREPARATION — Ex-offenders find job prospects, new attitudes toward life through cooking schoolBy MARY KLAUS

With the confidence of an experienced chef, Vaughn Torrence grabbed a long-handled skillet from the stove and flipped over a chicken breast as easily as he turns …the page of a newspaper.He then turned to a skillet of mirepoix, the culinary term for onions, carrots and celery, sauteing it until it softened.

“I’ll add some arborio rice and make a risotto,” he said as he and three other Kitchen School students turned the Camp Curtin YMCA kitchen into a gourmand’s delight. “When I came here, I only knew fried food. Now, I’m learning how to saute, stir-fry and roast. I like it here.”

The students, scheduled to graduate March 6, have been chopping, dicing, mixing and sauteing their way to employability in the 12-week class in uptown Harrisburg.

Sponsored by Channels Food Rescue in Lemoyne, the program offers ex-offenders and others an opportunity to join the work force. The budding chefs eat some of their creations and serve others to the Kids Cafe, a free meal service for children who come to Camp Curtin YMCA after school.

“About 200 people have graduated from The Kitchen School since it started 10 years ago,” said Maureen Romanoski, Channels program coordinator. “We hold classes 8: 30 a.m. to 3: 30 p.m. Monday through Friday for 12 weeks.”

Program graduates are certified in Serv-Safe, a nationally recognized and accredited food safety training program. “When our students graduate, they have a marketable skill,” Romanoski said. “We hope they have sustainable careers.”

The students echoed that, calling the class a far cry from their former lives.

Gary Taylor of Harrisburg was “brought up on the streets, sold drugs then spent 3 1/2 years in prison. When I was incarcerated, I accepted the Lord. After I got out, I lived at Bethesda Mission for nine months and was in the Christian program. I cooked for a large amount of men. I enjoyed it.”

When he joined The Kitchen School’s current class, he felt at home.

“Mike’s a good teacher,” he said of Michael DeMarco, Kitchen School executive chef and culinary instructor. “I’m learning how to talk professionally, dress professionally and cook professionally. I learned about food contamination and bacteria. I’m praying for a job after we graduate. I hope to become a sous chef and later own a restaurant.”

Torrence, also of Harrisburg, said he formerly was “in trouble with weapons and drugs” Now, he said, he’s “into cooking. I’ve learned a lot about cutting and slicing food and about using herbs. My goal is to open a soul food restaurant.”

Darnell Foster of Mechanicsburg, another ex-offender, said his cooking skills once centered on making toasted cheese sandwiches and macaroni and cheese from a box. These days, he makes shark bisque, New England clam chowder and creative vegetable and pasta dishes.

“With my background, it’s difficult to get a job,” Foster said. “I beat myself up for many years. Now, I’m willing to do anything to better myself. It’s my goal to finally complete something.”

Foster said the class seemed difficult until DeMarco “broke things down into one step at a time. I learned that it’s harder to flip an egg than it looks. I practiced it at home and got a couple eggs on the wall before I could do it!”

Anthony Jacobs of Harrisburg looked up after garnishing Chicken Marsala with garlic, onions, radish, cilantro, basil and sage. “I did a lot of wrong things in my life,” he said. “This is a turning point for me. I’m learning new techniques and making friends. We get respect from each other and from Chef. When I graduate, I want to go back to school and learn to be an executive chef. Cooking is where my heart is.”

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