Liberty’s Kitchen expanded their culinary ventures to the third floor of the Freeport-McMoRan building, 1615 Poydras Street, in April 2017. The downtown expansion sought to fill the gaps in their Youth Development Program.
The grand opening last week (June 1) featured words from staff and students and hors d’oeuvres by Chef Alon Shaya and Chef Susan Spicer.
Liberty’s Kitchen is a non-profit organization which “provides New Orleans young people with pathways to create and achieve their vision of success through workforce training, leadership development, and support of healthy lifestyles”, according to their mission statement. The organization equips 100 young adults per year with workforce skills, provides ongoing support and leadership development for its alumni, and serves 3,500 nutritious school meals daily at its partner school sites.
At the grand opening, Dennis Bagneris, the Youth Success Director, explained the vision behind the new Poydras location.
“Liberty’s Kitchen is intentional about everything that we do. It wasn’t just about acquiring a cafeteria space for the business aspects of the work that we do,” Bagneris said.
The Poydras location is about supplementing what the students are already learning at the Broad Street location. The new location seeks to help students not fall short of their capabilities once they hit the job market.
“I think now we have really worked on a college-level or a graduate school-level type of program to begin to really support our young people where they really need it the most,” Bagneris said. “That’s when they get into those fields and they don’t fall short, or fall out of those jobs or keep moving in circles, to give them something they can build on. We’re hoping to develop that here.”
They reach that next level by working closely with the chefs and general managers.
“We want to be able to get them to come into these environments and work closely hand-in-hand with the people who are actually running, organizing and maintaining this business so they get a sense of understanding what it means to run, organize and maintain this kind of business and be a part of that process,” Bagneris said.
Their time at Liberty’s Kitchen has transformed students’ capabilities both inside and outside the kitchen.
Tevin Clark graduated from Liberty’s Kitchen in 2010 and went on to work at different restaurants for the next six years. His experience at Liberty’s Kitchen prepared him to go back to school and study what he’s really passionate about, visual art. None of this, he says, would have been possible without Liberty’s Kitchen.
“Most of all, it teaches you hard work and dedication. It teaches you how to finish an assignment that was assigned to you and how to be a leader. I thank them for that every chance I get,” Clark said.
BreAnn Pieko graduated from the program on June 2, 2017. Her time at Liberty’s Kitchen helped break out of her shell and find herself.
“Liberty’s Kitchen taught me being in work, being myself, having a voice, learning about cooking, and also being in a stressful environment,” Pieko said.
The lasting impacts of the program for her went beyond the kitchen. “Between our extern- and internship, they have us do resumé and cover letters and I learned more computer skills,” Pieko said.
Dean Falgoust, president of Freeport-McMoRan Services, helped reach out to Liberty’s Kitchen to revitalize the building’s cafeteria. After a few months, the project became reality.
“I think [when] it started out, we were just brainstorming about looking for a different way to do things with the cafeteria here,” Falgoust said. “You know, we were aware of Liberty’s Kitchen. It’s one of the charities out there that we support through United Way and other organizations.”
Falgoust and others at Freeport-McMoRan support the cause of Liberty’s Kitchen, as well as the food itself. “This is a way for us, as a corporation, to give something back to our community,” Falgoust said. “This is something that we believe is valuable to the community, to help our young people.”
David Emond, Liberty Kitchen’s executive director, summed up best the focus of the Poydras location: the focus on helping students thrive.
“We are not in the business of making sure that our favorite restaurants have line cooks and dishwashers, far from it,” Emond said. “We are in the business of making sure that those who have been left behind get a chance to so share in the prosperity of the city that we all know and love.”
Liberty’s Kitchen Poydras is run by Chef Adam Martinez and is open Monday through Friday from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. The menu also offers daily specials from Eat Fit NOLA, a program sponsored by Ochsner Hospital, which promotes a healthy diet. For more about the kitchen, its food and programs, visit www.libertyskitchen.org.