Community Kitchen Academy Jak RenfrewThis is a guest blog post from Jak Renfrew, a recent graduate of Community Kitchen Academy in Barre. He gave the student graduation speech, which you can read here.

After having been unemployed for a while last winter, I began to work for a nonprofit organization which allowed me to receive food benefits as part of a program called 3SquaresVT. While I was still working there, a fellow volunteer told me about a culinary class being offered by the Vermont Foodbank and Capstone Community Action in Barre.

Apparently, he knew someone who had gone through the program and said that they had really enjoyed it, and that they had learned a lot from the experience. It sounded like a really great opportunity to receive some extra job training, and since the Community Action offices were literally right across the street from where I was working at the time, I decided to walk over there and get whatever information I could about the class.

Before applying for entry into the program, I thought long and hard about whether or not I was ready to make such a serious commitment to a 13 week course. I urge anyone who’s considering signing up to do the same. You’ll get so much more out of the class if you’re 100% invested in being successful. To be honest, I wasn’t sure if my application would even get accepted. I’m really glad that it was.

In the weeks leading up to the start of the class itself, I was interviewed by Chef Jamie, fitted for my uniforms, and then given a tour of the kitchen by Chef Dave. It was pretty exciting because I’ve always had an interest in food preparation, and my instincts were telling me that this would be a great way to improve the quality of my life while learning about something that I already enjoyed doing.

Once I found out that Chef Jamie had been an instructor at the New England Culinary Institute, and that our training was going to be at the professional level, I realized just how fortunate I was to have been given such an incredible opportunity for free. It seemed hard to believe that we were actually going to get paid an attendance bonus to be there. We were given high quality knives and other tools of the trade, and provided with a comprehensive, college level textbook on cooking.

Chef Jamie was simply amazing to work with and learn from. She’s probably the best teacher I’ve ever had. Chef Dave was really great to work with as well. Both were patient, helpful, tolerant, and always willing to address any questions or concerns that I ever had.

There were plenty of lectures, homework, and computer labs, but nothing intimidating or stressful. The program was definitely challenging, and required hard work, but never to such an extent that I ever felt overwhelmed or ready to quit. I’m sure that every student has their own thoughts and feelings with regards to what sort of experience they had throughout the session, but from my point of view it was truly remarkable. I’d do it again in a heartbeat if I could. Finally, a great deal of time and effort was put into giving us a wonderful graduation ceremony that we’ll always be able to look back on with fondness and pride.

Since completing the 13 week program, I’ve found employment and things are going really well for me so far. I acquired a lot of new skills during my time in the class; including the ability to write a good resume and perform effective job searches. I’m planning to continue learning as much as I can about cooking and the food service industry in general. This program benefited me immensely, and I know that it will continue to do the same for many others as well.

It was an incredibly rewarding experience that I’ll never forget. I loved every minute of it.

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Community Kitchen Academy (CKA) prepares underemployed and unemployed Vermonters for a career in the food service industry. Graduates can receive nine college-level academic transfer credits from the Vermont State College External Programs.

In addition to the training, CKA performs another important function: rescuing produce, meat and other foods that would otherwise be wasted from grocery stores, restaurants, local farms and food service companies. Students work with instructors to transform this “rescued” food and create meals that are then vacuum sealed, frozen and distributed through food shelves and meal sites.

Learn more about Community Kitchen Academy.

Programs like this would not be possible without your support. Please make a gift to the Vermont Foodbank today!