Liberty’s Kitchen held their inaugural Guest Chef Night last Thursday (February 9) as a way to celebrate graduates from their Youth Development Program. Guest Chefs Susan Spicer (of Bayona, Rosedale) and Candis Koerner (of Mondo) prepared a three-course meal for guests with the help of students and graduates from the program.
“First of all, Liberty’s Kitchen starts with a hug, because that’s what all of us need the most, and that’s certainly what our young people need the most.” David Emond, Executive Director of Liberty’s Kitchen, spoke highly of the Youth Development Program and its mission.
Liberty’s Kitchen, located at 300 N. Broad Street, is a social enterprise that seeks to give young adults the tools they need to further their lives. “We believe that every single one of us deserves an opportunity to have a dream and to pursue that dream,” Emond said. “And because we have all of you, that becomes possible for more people every day.”
Six students who recently graduated from the 4-month career-intensive Youth Development Program were honored at the dinner: Quave Berry, Da’Jonae Curtis, Alexis Fultz, Dale Townsend, Devin Washington, and Kameron Williams. Three of the six, Da’Jonae, Alexis, and Dale, were in attendance.
Dennis Bagneris, Director of Youth Success for Liberty’s Kitchen, discussed the greater goals of the program during an interview.
“I think Liberty’s Kitchen is one of the most successful models for work force development programs for young people,” Bagneris said, “because we don’t focus on the employment factor as the success. We focus on creating a well-rounded young person to put them into an opportunity where they develop their own routes for success.”
Bagneris recognizes the importance of institutions like Liberty’s Kitchen because of how the world has changed. Opportunities for people aged 16 to 24 have narrowed, and there are not many social systems in place to support them.
One purpose of Guest Chef Night, according to Bagneris, is to celebrate young people being peer mentors in a time where there is a lack in structures that provide opportunities for young people to build on themselves.
“We’re going to see a much more dramatic impact at a much faster rate by giving them the platform to be able to inspire other young people to be what they need to be.” he said.
Some of the program’s most recent graduates had several positive things to say about the program. Da’Jonae Curtis, a recent graduate, is currently enrolled at Tulane University. Besides cooking and knife skills, one of the biggest things Curtis took from the program was the impact it had on her social skills.
“I think it has helped me grow with my people skills because I was always in a shell,” Curtis said, “but Ms. D. [Dixmarie DeLaneuville, MSW] told me how to be comfortable with being uncomfortable. I had to use that, and everyday I am growing more and more from it.”
Curtis was awarded $100 at Thursday’s event as a perfect attendance award.
Tevin Williams, also a graduate from the program, was part of the cooking staff for the evening. Williams, like Curtis, found that his improved social skills were one of his biggest takeaways from the program.
Williams said that he learned how to listen and focus. “When I got here, I didn’t really think I was going to stay, but I stayed,” he said. “The class I was in…there was a lot of us. As we got towards the end, there was two of us left.”
He made it all the way through the program, and he was proud of that fact, because he did not think he could.
James Beard Award-winner Chef Susan Spicer had a chance to work with some of the students in the program. With the large number of restaurants in the city, Spicer feels such a program is necessary to give people access to the jobs available in the restaurant industry.
“There certainly is a lot of need for job training. There’s also a big need for culinary professionals and workers in this city,” Spicer said.
Spicer expressed her being impressed with Liberty’s Kitchen and proud to be part of the kick-off dinner.
“I have always felt that the people who run Liberty’s Kitchen are very dedicated,” said Spicer. “They seem to really have their student’s best interest at heart. They’ve been really great about supporting them, especially since they’ve moved to this facility.”
Spicer shared her thoughts on the necessity of programs like Liberty’s Kitchen, Café Reconcile, the Youth Empowerment Program, and others. “These kinds of programs are what’s going to help make things better in our city,” she said. “All these efforts of people coming together trying to create opportunities for children & young people in the city, it’s essential.”
Chef Spicer has worked with Liberty’s Kitchen before. She has hired some of their earliest graduates and hinted at hiring another from Guest Chef Night while recognizing the dinner’s kitchen staff.
In a closing statement to the guests of the night, Executive Director David Emond had this to say:
“To our graduates: we’re proud of you. We know you have great great things in front of you, and we want to be there to celebrate that with you every step of the way. We’re excited to be able to have a chance to do that tonight, and we wish you all the best.”
Liberty’s Kitchen will host Guest Chef Night every month. Each will feature different chefs from local restaurants and celebrate different recent graduates of the program. For more about the kitchen and its programs, visit libertyskitchen.org.