When Life Gives You [an industrial-sized box of] Cranberries…Make Cranberry Bread Pudding?
An innovative culinary training program that transforms lives while turning rescued food into meals for those in need
When a Vermont Foodbank distribution truck pulls up to Capstone Community Action’s loading dock delivering food to Capstone’s food shelf in Barre there’s a Christmas-like feeling amongst Chef Dave and his students in Community Kitchen Academy (CKA). As the students help unload boxes off the truck there’s excitement and wonder about what’s inside. That’s because these boxes, along with other donated food, represent the secret ingredients these students will turn into meals to serve their neighbors who are at-risk of hunger.
CKA, a Vermont Foodbank program in partnership with Capstone, is an intensive 13 week program that prepares unemployed and underemployed individuals for a career in the food service industry. Students entering the program face a host of barriers that are preventing them from attaining sustainable employment, pursuing a career and transitioning out of poverty. CKA is designed to provide these individuals with the tools, resources and mindset they need to pursue meaningful work and realize their potential.
“It’s an amazing program; it’s given me so much confidence. It’s changed my life.” - Christine Cushing, 2016 graduate
Each session runs 6 hours a day, 5 days a week. Led by head chef instructor, Dave Eyler, coursework integrates hands-on learning, book and lecture instruction, guest speakers and onsite visits to restaurants, farms, etc. The program can fulfill 9 hours of college credits for those interested in further education.
Under Chef Dave’s guidance, students use the donated food to create wholesome meals that are packaged and blast chilled. These ready-to-heat meals are provided to individuals through Capstone’s food shelf, the second largest in Vermont. Presentation is important, says Chef Dave. “You want to make it look like you're buying this meal at a high end deli.”
“What makes it so exciting is you don’t know what you’re cooking until you get there that day,” states Christine. Food donated from the Vermont Foodbank, restaurants, grocery stores and gleaned from area farms present these aspiring chefs with important work and life lessons. You use what you have, think on your feet, be creative and improvise.
One day, for example, there was no fruit on hand except a large container of dried cranberries. Chef Dave thought cranberry muffins would be a good food to start with for those students at the baking station for the first time. However, sugar was left out of the batter before they were cooked. “They tasted terrible,” remarked Chef Dave, thinking they would just have to be thrown out. “The students were really discouraged.”
But another student had the idea of turning the muffins into bread pudding. Chef Dave was skeptical, but agreed to try it. Using the muffins, and stale bread ready to be discarded, they added an egg custard filling and re-baked it. The students then wanted to make a caramel sauce to glaze on top. So Chef Dave did an impromptu demonstration on how to make homemade caramel. The students found cans of coconut milk and created a coconut caramel sauce. “The bread pudding was excellent,” he exclaimed.
Students have generated nearly 110,000 meals served through Capstone's Food Shelf; the second largest in Vermont.
The bread pudding embodies CKA’s transformational mission. Through this program students experience important stability, build self-confidence, learn teamwork, how to work within a budget, manage time and be resourceful. Students work with food that would otherwise be wasted, turning it into fresh packaged meals (including dessert) for individuals and families in need. Not only are students learning a craft to elevate themselves out of poverty, they are giving back to their community.
Over the past 2-and-a-half years, this program has produced 54 graduates. 46 have found jobs, 5 have pursued further education and training, and collectively these students have generated nearly 110,000 meals to feed those in need in our community.
Graduates can now be found at businesses like Kismet, Red Hen Baking Company, Jasper Hill Farm and Sugarbush. In addition to her job at Down Home Kitchen in Montpelier, Christine is returning to CKA for the next 13-week session to assist Chef Dave. “After everything I got from this experience, I wanted to give back and help others,” she stated.
You can help change the life of someone like Christine with your support of CKA - Barre. The next session starts on July 11th. Tuition is $6,000 for each student, but they access this program for free, thanks to community support. Over the next 5 weeks our goal is to raise $6,000 to fund a student and provide them with a launching pad to change their life. Your gift today can make that happen. Donate Now.
Learn More about this initiative at http://www.capstonevt.org/vt-gives-support-cka
Community Kitchen Academy is a statewide program of the Vermont Foodbank in local partnership with Capstone Community Action to operate CKA Barre.