New Culinary Apprenticeship Program at Hillsides Pasadena Teaches Skills in the Kitchen, and in Life

Published : Tuesday, August 20, 2019 | 5:07 AM

Raw ingredients blended the right way, with some care and attention, can make a beautiful, new creation.

In the Culinary Apprenticeship program at Hillsides, students have discovered that also applies to life.

The culinary students are learning from some of the best chefs in Pasadena and the new pilot program may give these former foster youths a new and exciting career.

Ranging in ages from 18 to 24, 12 students in the new Culinary Apprenticeship Program will present the fruits of their labor at the program’s official dinner event on Sunday at the First United Methodist Church in Pasadena. The final dinner is the culmination of 10 weeks of work, where the young adults have worked side by side with chefs Claud Beltran, Alexandra Poer, and Charlie Negrete.

“It’s the first year for this program and we’re hoping we can offer this again in an expanded form,” said  Correnda Perkins, division chief of Transition-Aged Services for Hillsides. “We partnered with six chefs in the Pasadena area. We had been toying with the idea of doing a culinary apprenticeship. We identified 12 young adults interested in a culinary pathway. It’s a 10-week program, and the first week starts with etiquette and we end the program with a 5-course sit-down meal that our young adults, with the chefs, put together.

Since the program is in its infancy there is a lot of back and forth and brainstorming on how the program should be built.

“The event is to bring about awareness of the program,” Perkins said. “And it’s to give young adults the experience of presenting a full meal. We’re interested in doing a 2.0 version of the program, an expanded version. To do that we need to get the support of the community.

“We’ve learned from what we did this first time around, and we know how to make it better.”

The goal of the program is to help youth formerly in foster care gain the needed workplace skills to find jobs in the restaurant industry but also in other industries, so they can lead independent and successful adult lives. Former foster youth traditionally face great challenges such as unemployment, homelessness, and incarceration. Many of the youth in this program are but a step away from homelessness. Learning skills and finding a job are key to beating the odds.

Will the students follow a career path in the culinary arts?

“A couple of the chefs will meet one on one with the students,” Perkins said. “Sometimes the culinary field can seem glamorous but they’re going to discuss opportunities and whether they want to continue down the path.

The students have come a long way in 10 weeks, said chef Poer. They have learned to use their intuition to take raw ingredients and blend them into a remarkable creation.

“They taste the food in the beginning, the middle and the end,” she said. “They see how the food changes from a raw state, so they’ve learned to them trust their instincts and palate intuition and to trust themselves. For instance, today, they’re making arugula and shalott chimichurri and they’re trying to wrap their minds around that.”

The preparation is coming down to the wire for the upcoming event. On Sunday, the students will be plating the food, serving the food, serving beverages and working with the chefs to make the event successful.

Poer said she derives just as much out of the program as the students.

“I have gotten so much out of this,” she said. “First of all, it’s a virgin voyage we’ve never done this program before. For me personally I have been involved in the community and a native of Pasadena and I’ve been involved with Hillsides since I was in high school as a tutor. Then as a professional, I’ve always donated to the auction. Hillsides has been near and dear to my heart.”

“When I was asked to be a part of this apprenticeship program I said yes, but we didn’t know how to structure the program,” Poer said. “But we got together and I’ve seen the commitment of the youth involved. At first, some of the students were quiet and shy, but they have really blossomed. I know they’re learning and that’s a huge reward.

“I also like being a part of something that’s out of my day to day routine and I love the teaching aspect and seeing the little light bulbs going off.”

Joshua Mathieu, workforce development specialist at Hillsides, said the program will give the youths valuable skills.

“We’re open to any youth in the age range of 18-24,” Mathieu said. “One of the benefits of the program is that the chefs have owned or work in restaurants and the youths are connected to them. The chefs have structured the work like they would in their own kitchen. There’s a supportive environment and they get that support throughout the training. This program gives young adults the connections to actual chefs. If they learn and bond they may find an opportunity with one of our chefs. “

Mathieu said the idea for the program had been brewing for a while.

“We had the idea of wanting to try this as a stand-alone program to see if there is interest and if it’s something the young adults want to do,” he said. “We reached out to chefs and we had a good response from them. For the students, we had 10 spots, expanded it to 12 and we accepted 12. They had to do the work to get here.”

Are there challenges for this type of program?

“A lot of our young adults, their housing is not stable,” Perkins said. “They’re couch surfing, they’re homeless, they’re in a housing program. It’s day-to-day for some of them. Additionally, a lot of the young adults have not grown up watching successful employment. When we were growing up, we got to see people getting ready for work, rushing to get to work on time. But a lot of our young adults did not grow up seeing that.

“Another barrier is when you’re responsible at 18, 19, 20 to take care of yourself, sometimes you don’t have the luxury of taking an internship,” Perkins said. “You have to get your business done.  Our young adults they have to work. They now have this experience and have connections with pretty amazing chefs in the Pasadena area. So if this is something they’re interested in, they can work with current chef for an opportunity.”

Poer said now that the program is winding down, all of those involved have been inspired to keep it going and there are questions the students may consider.

“We are going to have a follow-up and sit down and talk about the program,” Poer said. “How does the journey of cooking parallel your own life? Are you confident and willing to go out and gain some new experiences based on the information you’ve learned over the last 10 weeks? The answer remains to be seen.”

For more information, contact Hillsides at (323) 254-2274.

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