Community Kitchen Students Rise to the Occasion

They bake, they knead, they filet and sauté. Class 32 of Tarrant Area Food Bank’s Community Kitchen program is well underway. The free 16-week culinary job training program is open to students from all backgrounds. For some, Community Kitchen is a place to sharpen skills and move to the next level in the culinary world. For others, it represents the beginning of an entirely new career.

Each morning in the Community Kitchen starts with one of the students making breakfast for the class. And each morning, Edith Bolivar knows she can count on one thing: requests for her almost-famous salsa.

“They love my salsas,” said Edith, smiling.

Edith, a full-time mom of two boys, heard about Community Kitchen while participating in Cooking Matters®, a program of Share Our Strength that TAFB offers to community members free of charge. When she found out about the culinary job training provided at TAFB, she spent months preparing herself for the opportunity to join the program.

“I waited for this chance,” said Edith. “I’m ready to do something for me.”

Community Kitchen student Ava Bradford shared Edith’s sentiments. “This is something that I really wanted to do since high school,” said Ava. “I’m really fortunate to be here.”

Ava worked as a certified nursing assistant for 25 years. Drawn by her passion for cooking, Ava began pursuing a career in the food industry. She started by getting a job at a neighborhood Walmart. Even though she did not work directly with food in her job as a cashier and self-checkout attendant, working for a company that sold food was a step closer to her goal.

“I just wanted to be near food,” said Ava, thinking back to the experience.

Ava said that her dream is to be a private chef and work on perfecting recipes. Because of Community Kitchen, she said she sees cooking differently. “I see how it can be so much better when you have the right skills and training.”

More than Cooking

Each week, guest chefs and instructors provide hands-on training to the students to help them grow in a variety of areas. From poaching an egg to how to prepare for a job interview, Community Kitchen is a full-course meal.

“If you like to cook, this program is what you want,” said Community Kitchen student D’Vin Stewart. “Community Kitchen gives you tools you can use everywhere.”

D’Vin, who was working as a full-time phlebotomist at a local plasma center, joined Community Kitchen to gain the technical skills involved in cooking. A mother of four, D’Vin has continued working part-time as a phlebotomist while going through the Community Kitchen program.

“It has been inspiring to see the passion of the class instructors and guest chefs,” said D’Vin. She said she can tell that TAFB staff members Chef Manny Vazquez, Chef Dedrich “D” Flint and Community Kitchen Manager Barbara Higbee “Ms. B” truly care about the students. “It’s not just a job for them. They like what they do.”

Ms. B shared that coming to work every day is easy because she knows that her team is making a difference in people’s lives. As manager of the TAFB Community Kitchen, Ms. B has seen many graduates achieve success in the food industry.

“It really is life-changing and it feels good to be a part of that,” said Ms. B. She said that several guest chefs and speakers have shared how impressed they are with Community Kitchen Class 32. “The students know what they want and they’re willing to learn.”

“A Meaningful Purpose”

Growing up, Kevin Bowling got firsthand lessons in living off the land from his grandparents. From growing their own herbs to butchering their own meat, his family didn’t take the blessing of having food lightly.

Kevin said he joined Community Kitchen to get back into the workforce give back to the community.

In addition to learning culinary skills, each week Community Kitchen students prepare nutritious meals that are distributed to TAFB Partner Agencies serving people in need. About 6,000 of these prepared meals are distributed monthly as a result of the program.

“You need to have a meaningful purpose in life and Community Kitchen helps me fulfill that,” said Kevin.

Achieving Goals

Ms. B shared that her hope for all of the TAFB Community Kitchen students is that they will be successful and make her and the other instructors proud.

Johnny Barker joined Community Kitchen with experience working in restaurants, catering and room service. Before joining the program, Johnny was pursuing an associate’s degree in applied science in culinary arts at Tarrant County College. He plans to finish his degree after graduating from Community Kitchen.

“Community Kitchen will help me gain a better job in the food industry,” said Johnny. “It’s a stepping stone.”

Community Kitchen student Jevan Yates said she hopes to one day open her own business or work in high-end restaurants. Phillip Silvester shared his dream to one day own his own food truck or catering business after graduating from the program. Meanwhile, Kevin “KJ” Jones, noted his desire to acquire the coveted position of executive chef.

“The TAFB Community Kitchen is teaching me skills that will hopefully get me closer to achieving my career goals,” said KJ. He and his classmates are well on their way.

Class 32 graduates on Saturday, Jan. 21. Learn more about the program by visiting our Community Kitchen page.