I Remember When: Reflections of a Community Kitchen Grad

By Dedrich Flint
Community Kitchen Production Chef, Tarrant Area Food Bank

During the graduation of Community Kitchen Class 30, I observed students who were filled with passion, humor and a zeal to change the world around them one plate at a time. Each graduate appeared eager to venture out into the job market after honing their skills in Tarrant Area Food Bank’s 16-week culinary training program.

It reminded me of when I “graced” the Community Kitchen program with my presence as a student in Class 15. Yes, before being on staff at TAFB, I was one of those eager students having passion and desire, yet needing training, mentorship and experience. By going through this intense, thrilling and informative training myself, I gained a true sense of empathy for the students, yet conviction that there is nothing they can’t accomplish if they engage in the program and its processes.

TAFB staff with Community Kitchen Class 30

The Community Kitchen is focused on three components: culinary training, life skills and mass meal production. With mass meal production being my concentration, I will pull back the curtain so that you can see “the great Oz” at work. Each Community Kitchen student gets a chance to be the production chef for the week. They are responsible for implementing core recipes with donated food, ensuring food safety by monitoring food temperatures, and overseeing the packaging and labeling of the meals for distribution to TAFB’s Partner Agencies serving families and individuals in need. In the culinary field, preparing healthy, delicious, and eye-pleasing dishes is most important. But from the Community Kitchen’s perspective, making sure that a family won’t go hungry tonight is a prime directive.

We live in an uncertain time where many people struggle with finding good-paying jobs, healthy and affordable food, and secure shelter for themselves and their families. This is the reality we talk about openly in our Community Kitchen classes as we work to prepare the students for successful careers in the food industry. A Chinese proverb states, “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” Through Community Kitchen, we are teaching men and woman how to “fish” by focusing on practical and transferable skills that empower sustainable change in their lives. As the graduates step out into an ever-changing economy, I have confidence that they can catapult themselves into viable careers to support themselves and their families.

As a student of the Community Kitchen, I dealt with some of the same uncertainty but I was willing to step out of my comfort zone and etch my name into the “glass trophy” called success with the confidence I had in the skills I obtained through the program. Now, as an instructor, I find solace in nurturing that same desire and a willingness to draw out the tenaciousness and confidence needed to succeed in this industry.

Chef Dedrich Flint working as a student in Community Kitchen Class 15

I love coming to work alongside the students and our volunteers, who help us package meals for distribution to our Partner Agencies. I challenge you to volunteer with us during one of our upcoming meal production shifts. During this process you may find out that some of the students and volunteers were once recipients of these meals. Some of the stories would bring chills down your spine!

If you’re interested in joining the Community Kitchen program as a student, attend one of our upcoming information sessions. The next sessions take place on July 25 and 26. You can learn more on our Community Kitchen page.

I will leave you with some quotes from our Class 30 graduates.

JeJuan Hampton

“I’ve learned so much in these months of culinary arts tips, life skills, demo parties, laughter and fun. Now I’m able to see the end of the road—graduation. Thank you.”

Jimmy Lowrey

“I feel more positive about preparing or cooking special dishes now than I did before.”

Juliet Ibihwiori

“I can’t begin to explain how grateful I am to be among the selected ones. I learned a lot from Chef Manny, Chef D and other chefs that came for the demos. It’s a life experience I can’t forget. I am very grateful to Community Kitchen. God bless you all.”

Kecia Walker

“This has been an amazing journey for me. I have learned so much from this class and I will be going out in the culinary world to keep growing with the experience and life skills that were taught to me. Today I am a confident woman and believe in myself to succeed in this world.”

Kim Robbins

“All the experience has been amazing—getting to work with all the incredible chefs and getting to learn a bunch of different things. I feel very fortunate to get to work with the people I did.”

Linda Blacker

“I have learned a lot since taking this class and I am very optimistic about the future.”

Marcus Johnson

“It’s reinforced my need to stay productive.”

Phu Pham

“I did not gain one gram [of weight] because we eat very well in here, but I did gain a ton of knowledge about cooking thanks to Chef Manny. He was my mentor, he was my hero and he was the one who made us kitchen warriors. Community Kitchen really rocks.”

Chef Dedrich Flint and Chef Manny help graduate with chef's uniform