Brainfood is an afterschool program that teaches older youth how to cook. If it weren’t for Brainfood, I don’t know where I’d be today. Certainly, I would not be a cook working in the US Capitol in Washington, DC.
The Brainfood program kept me busy and helped me stay off the streets. It gave me a brighter future. I learned valuable cooking skills like how to cut vegetables properly, how to create different stocks and other basic skills. I also had the opportunity to learn from experienced chefs who shared their real-world experiences with me. Because of Brainfood, I also learned important teamwork skills—which is crucial to running a successful kitchen. I worked with other students, and learned how to delegate and how to stay focused under pressure to get the food out fast. I learned how to take responsibility for my station and also how to watch out for my other teammates. I found out that you can’t be lazy in the kitchen. If you see another student’s sauce burning, you need to help them.
Before joining the Brainfood afterschool program, my cooking experience was limited to watching my favorite chefs, Julia Childs and Cat Kora, cook on television or by reading cook books. My dad was also a great cook and I used to watch him cook as a little kid. Once I entered 9th grade, I interviewed with Brainfood and I was selected to participate in the program’s second class of students.
Brainfood helped me pursue my career in the culinary arts and made my transition to culinary school that much easier. The program staff supported me every step of the way. During high school I’d been working at McDonald’s and wanted to apply to culinary school. Suzanne Isaacs, who was then president of Brainfood, mentored me and encouraged me to apply to the prestigious Culinary Institute of America. Her letter of recommendation, plus the valuable hands-on experience that I’d gained at Brainfood, made a big difference on my application.
The friendships, contacts and networks that I was able to build are still really important to me. Suzanne is a mentor, and we speak frequently. I also stay in touch with students from my class. Brainfood’s strong networks helped me even after I graduated from culinary school. My teachers at Brainfood kept in contact and told me about an open position to cook at the US Capitol. They talked to the chef and told him that I would do a good job. I still had to interview and cook a few dishes to demonstrate my skills but Brainfood helped to open the door for me.