The food service industry is one of the fastest growing economic sectors. Since 2006, the industry in the United States has grown by more than 2 million employees, according to the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics. Today, there are more than 11 million employees working in food service.
As a result, community kitchens from Los Angeles to Singapore are training—and empowering—countless people around the globe to join this growing industry. In Los Angeles, those who were formerly incarcerated are learning about the culinary arts and community activism, while in Singapore, the differently abled are gaining the skills necessary to work as chefs, line cooks, clerks, and entrepreneurs.Here are 20 international training kitchens that are helping youth and adults transform their lives and pursue careers in the culinary world.
1. Bait al Karama: (Nablus, Palestine) Nablus’ Slow Food chapter, Bait al Karama, is a women’s center that focuses on food as a vehicle to provide regular income for women. The organization operates the first female-run cookery school in Palestine, which holds classes for visitors. This allows them to offer training, employment, and the chance to develop income and self-sustainability for disadvantaged women.
2. Commonwealth Kitchen: (Dorchester, Massachusetts, United States) This food business incubator helps aspiring food entrepreneurs launch and grow their enterprises. The program offers members training, kitchen facilities, and assistance with recipe development.
3. Community Bakery, Kaze no Sumika: (Tokyo, Japan) Tokyo’s Community Bakery produces and sells bread while training young people in need of work. Trainees receive six months of free intensive training while working at the bakery and then move on find employment in food production or sales fields.
4. Community Kitchen Pittsburgh: (Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, United States) This food service company provides catering, workforce development, and food education. Profits from the food service contracts directly support training programs. Their culinary-based on-the-job training is designed for individuals with barriers to employment.
5. D.C. Central Kitchen: (Washington, D.C., United States) In addition to the 5,000 free meals they deliver daily, D.C. Central Kitchen offers a culinary job training program for unemployed, previously incarcerated, or homeless members of the community. The 14-week program prepares students to receive their food handler’s license and enter careers in the food service industry. Local chefs regularly volunteer to train students on basic culinary skills.
6. Development in Gardening: (Africa and the Dominican Republic) Based in Atlanta, Georgia, this non-profit works in eight African countries and the Dominican Republic to enable vulnerable and HIV-affected communities to improve their health through nutrition education and sustainable agriculture. Their Seed to Plate program offers cooking and nutrition classes to teach residents how to prepare the sustainable produce grown by their community.
7. Diez de Febrero: (Lima, Peru) Diez de Febrero is one of Lima’s thousands of women-run community kitchens. Through their work of feeding the hungry in the city, this kitchen empowers women and trains them in food service, nutrition, store management, marketing, and leadership.
8. Dignity Kitchen: (Singapore) As Singapore’s first food service training school for differently abled or disadvantaged people, Dignity Kitchen provides on-the-job training and places graduates in jobs. They operate a fully functional food court that provides a realistic training experience for students. The six- to eight-week program covers food stall operations, basic food hygiene, food preparation, kitchen safety, and simple cooking skills.
9. Greater Vancouver Food Bank: (Vancouver, Canada) This food bank focuses not only on food access and quality, but food literacy as well. Their community kitchens teach participants nutritional knowledge and culinary skills while building community and nurturing relationships. They also host workshops in topics such as leadership, canning, food safety, and knife skills to train facilitators who run community kitchens.
10. Infinity Culinary Training: (Cape Town, South Africa) Infinity Culinary Training is a non-profit chef’s school that provides a free 12-week course covering the basic cooking skills, life skills, and professional skills needed to enter the hospitality industry. They ensure a smooth transition from training to the workforce by remaining in contact with students after graduation.
11. Inspiration Corporation: (Chicago, Illinois, United States) Calling itself a catalyst for self-reliance, Inspiration Corporation provides workforce development to help homeless and impoverished individuals find employment. Their foodservice training offers skill-specific training and job placement services in the hospitality industry. Participants are trained at Inspiration Corporation’s social enterprise restaurant, called Inspiration Kitchens. This is also where many students find work after completing their training.
12. Kitchens for Good: (San Diego, California, United States) Kitchens for Good rescues ugly and surplus produce, offers culinary job training, and provides meals to the community. Their culinary and hospitality job training prepares unemployed individuals for careers in food service. The 13-week program includes technical culinary education, industry certification, and internship and job placement assistance.
13. L.A. Kitchen: (Los Angeles, California, United States) L.A. Kitchen works to reclaim, empower, nourish, and engage the city of Los Angeles. They empower people with their culinary job training, which focuses on emancipated foster youth and formerly incarcerated adults. Their 15-week training cycle provides daily hands-on training from certified culinary instructors, technique sessions taught by guest chefs, and internships with industry professionals. Graduates receive food handling certificates and job placement support.
14. Liberty’s Kitchen: (New Orleans, Louisiana, United States) Focusing on vulnerable New Orleans youth, aged 16 to 24, Liberty’s Kitchen uses their café and coffee house to teach and provide experiential learning for students. Their youth development training program provides occupational and employability skills training, as well as employment placement.
15. Life’s Kitchen: (Boise, Idaho, United States) Life’s Kitchen builds self-sufficiency and independence in young adults through food service and life skills training, job placement, and continuing education. The free training program lasts 16 weeks and is designed for youth aged 16 to 20 who have significant barriers to employment. Trainees work at Life’s Kitchen’s café and catering company.
16. Social Kitchen: (London, England) This social enterprise specializes in food training and enterprise projects. They work with young people, families, and vulnerable individuals. Their training programs include: food and family courses that teach recipes and healthy cooking tips, a cook and eat club that gives youth the opportunity learn about the fundamentals of cooking, and the Recipes of Life project that integrates talk therapy with cooking and eating to address health and wellbeing.
17. Square Food Foundation: (Bristol, England) Founded by award-winning food educator, Barny Haughton, Bristol’s cookery school and community kitchen provides hands-on and informative workshops to adults and children. Their class topics vary widely, from master classes on cooking farm harvests and Italian cuisine to basic culinary technique classes. The programs target different populations, including families, seniors, youth who are not in school, teachers, students, home care cooks, and youth with Down syndrome.
18. The Alameda Kitchen: (Oakland, California, United States) In collaboration with Alameda Point Collaborative (APC), FoodShift’s Alameda Kitchen uses surplus food to create healthy meals. They do this by training and employing residents of APC, a housing community for formerly homeless individuals, the majority of whom are unemployed and living in poverty. The kitchen is integrated with APC’s existing job training program, serving as a bridge to provide additional work experience and training to APC’s graduates before hey enter the workforce.
19. The Food Hub: (Drumshanbo, Ireland) The Food Hub provides food production space to artisan food producers and is home to Ireland’s first time-share production kitchen where emerging food businesses can produce their products. They also provide training programs to help entrepreneurs start their own food businesses, understand labeling requirements, master food safety regulations, or develop new products.
20. The Stop: (Toronto, Canada) The Stop Community Food Centre’s community kitchen cooking groups are designed to build food skills, reduce social isolation, and increase access to healthy food. Their groups include: a drop-in kitchen where participants cook and eat together; a men’s cooking group that covers knife skills, kitchen safety, meat-handling, budgeting, and planning healthy meals; a Latino kitchen that focuses on the cultures and cuisines of Latin America; and a six-week course that highlights affordable, nutritious recipes that use seasonal, local ingredients.
(Danielle Nierenberg is President, Food Tank, foodtank.com)