Educating chefs to be engaged food system participants
“I don’t think I would be cooking if it weren’t for Future Chefs,” says Robert Giunta, an alumnus of the Future Chefs program who now works as a grill cook at Harvest restaurant in Cambridge. “Future Chefs was a big part of helping me get into a kitchen. You can come from humble beginnings and still be able to work in a kitchen with or without going to college.”
Boston-based Future Chefs recruits high school sophomores who are interested in food but haven’t chosen a clear career path. During their junior and senior years, participants learn an appreciation for food, culinary skills, and soft work skills through experiential learning, field trips, networking, and community service. They learn how and where to purchase food and gain culinary techniques, including how to break down whole animals. The program also covers reducing food waste and composting. Later in the program, students are paid to work at restaurants or food businesses. Students benefit from connections within the food industry and ongoing mentoring.
Throughout, students develop a deeper understanding of food and the food system. “We get young people excited about cooking, and then everything else becomes interesting—how do you distribute food, what’s fair, what’s healthy?” says Toni Elka, founder and executive director. She hopes to empower students to grow, prepare, and store food in their own communities, and to influence public opinion about issues of youth, social justice, and food justice. Partners including the Urban Farming Institute and The Farm School work with Future Chefs students to give them a deeper understanding of the food system.
“The food sector is a great place for these students to start, as there is a low barrier to entry and lots of potential to be an entrepreneur,” says Toni. The restaurant industry has provided significant support to the organization, including donations of equipment and supplies, and teaching and hiring the students.