The aroma of cheese fills the air. On a desk in an office tucked away in the TAFB Community Kitchen, Brie, Swiss and other cheeses are quite at home. The office belongs to Ms. B, the manager of Tarrant Area Food Bank’s free culinary job training program. Earlier that day, a cheese expert from Central Market visited the kitchen to show students how to pair cheese with different flavors.
“We’re very fortunate to have a lot of good folks that don’t mind coming and donating their time,” said Ms. B.
Each week, guest chefs and experts from other fields visit the TAFB Community Kitchen to share their know-how with students.
“The hands-on experience with some of Fort Worth’s top chefs is impeccable,” said Community Kitchen student Lavon Jones. “You get to partake in all their knowledge as well as learn tips from the other students.”
Landy Taplin echoed Lavon’s sentiments. He said he has enjoyed learning new cooking techniques and styles since he joined the program. “It’s exciting because it’s like ‘What can I learn today? What’s going to be on the agenda today?’”
Taking the First Step
During the 16-week program, Community Kitchen students receive training on everything from knife skills to food safety and sanitation. The program also walks students through life skills such as budgeting, preparing a resume and interviewing.
Community Kitchen is open to students from all backgrounds ages 18 and older. Some students come with some cooking experience and others with none at all.
Before joining Community Kitchen, Kaylyn Gustafson was working as a senior pet care specialist at PetSmart. For Kaylyn, the program has been an opportunity to learn more about culinary arts and determine if she should pursue a career in it.
Jacob Widder also said Community Kitchen has been a way for him to learn more about the industry before diving in. “I’m hoping that I realize that this is what I want to do before I spend thousands of dollars at a culinary college.”
For retired grandmother Nyla Johnson, Community Kitchen represents the first step to a new way of life. Before coming to the program, Nyla’s spent her days babysitting her three grandchildren and doing “anything else working parents weren’t able to do,” said Nyla. “[I want to] come from behind closed doors and make a difference in the world.”
Melyn Lott recently moved to Fort Worth from Kerens, Texas to start a new chapter in life and reclaim her lifelong passion: cooking.
“I’ve had a very challenging lifestyle,” said Melyn. “As I look back over time, I’ve always been happy when I was cooking.”
Before joining Community Kitchen, Melyn worked at a variety of restaurants and worked her way up to head cook at a steakhouse in Kerens. But even with all her experience, she felt Community Kitchen was vital to her success.
“I haven’t cooked in three years and I’m refreshing my skills. Where I lack, they make me stronger,” said Melyn.
After Community Kitchen, Melyn sees herself working for a restaurant for about five years and then starting her own. “If I had gone with my dream when I was 20, I’d probably have three [restaurants] by now.”
The program has also been an opportunity for Crystal Daniels to follow her dream. Crystal originally joined Community Kitchen in 2015. She had to leave the program when she ran into car problems that prevented her from traveling to class each day. When she heard about the new class, she jumped at the chance to rejoin the program.
“I want to be an example to my children that you can have love and passion for something that you’ve put time into to make that dream a success,” said Crystal.
Looking to the Future
Michael Richard hopes to be a chef one day. After graduating from high school in 2015, he decided to go back to school for another year to learn basic culinary skills. Now, he’s hoping Community Kitchen will take him to the next level.
“I would like to be better with my cooking skills and knife techniques,” said Michael. “One of these days, I would like to own my own restaurant.”
Jarrod Miller has already started dreaming about opening a soul food restaurant. In college, he spent most of his Sundays helping his grandma prepare dinner.
“I’ve been helping her (with cooking) for probably the last 10 years,” said Jarrod. Since coming to the program, he has been working to build the skills he learned in the kitchen with his grandma.
Jarrod said that the TAFB Community Kitchen staff have been a big help. “When I met with Chef Manny and Ms. B, they were really nice people and I felt like they could help me become a better cook and person.”
This year marks the 10th anniversary of TAFB’s Community Kitchen program. Since 2007, Community Kitchen Manager Ms. B has seen 273 students graduate from the program. Ms. B shared that she hopes all of the students in Class 33 will achieve success in life and in their career. It’s a goal Stephanie Edwards feels more confident in being able to reach since joining the program.
“Through the Community Kitchen, I know my skills can take me somewhere special to provide for my family and make my mother proud,” said Stephanie.