“I feel great about myself,” said Sylvester, one of six graduates from Abilities, Inc. at The Viscardi Center’s Culinary Skills training program. “I learned a lot, like how to cook from scratch and how to plan ahead when cooking.” Sylvester and his classmates had plenty to be proud of at a luncheon they prepared and hosted on Friday, for their family and invited guests, as their final project.
The Culinary Skills training program for youth and adults with disabilities, and aging individuals, introduces participants to a variety of hospitality career opportunities – from commercial and non-commercial food services to jobs in both the front and back of the house. “The introductory course combines the skills and experiences of a professional kitchen with an intimate, hands-on approach,” explains John D. Kemp, President and CEO of The Viscardi Center.
“The group started out “green,” but really showcased all they have learned as they planned and prepared for this final assignment,” said Rob Foley, the Culinary Skills program instructor. “They worked as a team to create the menu, shop for the ingredients, prep and cook the food, and determine what could be prepared in advance. Along the way, they problem solved, collaborated and used the cooking techniques they acquired.”
The silver serving dishes at the luncheon revealed an array of freshly prepared cuisine – deviled eggs, a garden salad with a choice of homemade dressings, pineapple fried rice, lemon grilled chicken, vegetable lasagna, and grilled asparagus. A dessert tower featured sweet treats, including upside down cupcakes. A signature chilled beverage, garnished with cherries and mint leaves, topped off the menu.
Daniel, who has a new found confidence, is considering working in a restaurant and hasn’t been shy in telling his mother that when it comes to cooking, she’s been doing it all wrong. He even challenged her to a meatball throwdown. Of course, Daniel’s meatballs took the prize. His Mom noted how much he has loved coming home every day with stories of the day’s events and latest creations, everything from homemade pasta to bearnaise sauce.
“The level of enthusiasm the course participants showed every day and the outcomes of the program have far exceeded our expectations,” said Alice Muterspaw, Associate Vice President of Vocational Services at Abilities, Inc. at The Viscardi Center. Muterspaw noted that as a result of the skills learned each week, several program participants secured jobs before their training was even completed. “Jamie landed a job at Eataly in New York City, but returned for the luncheon to celebrate all that they’ve accomplished.”
While Sylvester is already working part-time at a local supermarket, his parents hope the skills he has learned will expand his career opportunities at his current employer or open doors at a new one. With a resume and portfolio in hand, skills for a variety of positions, and practice interviews under their belts, the participants will now receive assistance from the Center’s employment placement specialists to secure jobs where they can utilize their love of cooking.
Founded by Dr. Henry Viscardi, Jr., who served as disability advisor to eight U.S. Presidents and became one of the world’s leading advocates, The Viscardi Center educates, employs and empowers people with disabilities. It provides Pre-K through High School education (age 3 to 21), school-to-work youth transition services, vocational training, career counseling and employment placement, assistive technology, and adapted driver education to children, adolescents and adults with a wide variety of disabilities. The Center also assists businesses in diversifying their workforces, as well as developing and advancing disability inclusive cultures in their workplaces.