Recently, Bottleneck Management had the opportunity to head over to Inspiration Kitchens for two days of coaching, and what an inspiration it was!
Inspiration Kitchens, part of Inspiration Corporation, is a comprehensive, 13-week job-training program that enables homeless individuals, ex-offenders and other low-income individuals to obtain career-track employment in the food industry. Students receive pre-employment instruction, restaurant training, sanitation certification, internship experience, and job-placement and follow-up support services. How are they changing lives? Read on…
Learn About This Great Cause
The Bottleneck team had the pleasure of visiting the Garfield Park location (the other Inspiration Kitchen is in Uptown). Elizabeth Porporato, Business Services Representative, guided me through the program and toured me around the location.
Inspiration Kitchens – Garfield Park (GP), holds orientations every Wednesday, where potential candidates can learn about the program. If interested, candidates are given a basic math, and English test, are required to fill out an application, and are reviewed by the Inspiration staff. If the candidate passes the basic tests, they are brought back for another interview. After completing this final interview, candidates supply general documentation, before being accepted into the program.
The Chef-Driven Program
From day one, students are in the kitchen, learning from Executive Chef David Rosenthall, and Sous Chef Greg Darrah. Both Chefs have extensive backgrounds in the culinary field. Rosenthall was a candidate on Bravo’s Top Chef, headed up Bobby Brown’s release party, along with a long list of nationwide experience. Darrah worked for well-known Chicago restaurants such as Park Grill, Green Dolphin Street, among others. Darrah noted, “He had great mentors along the way, and wanted to give back.” Mike Usiak, Catering Coordinator, pointed out that “the Chefs are what makes this place go.”
Students have a classroom day on Monday (where Bottleneck Chefs were able to provide tips and lessons), handle any prep work that’s needed on Tuesday (they had a tent at Taste of Chicago this year), and are working in the kitchens Wed-Thurs and Sat-Sun. Fridays are reserved for “Career Club,” where organizations like Bottleneck can come in and offer advice and feedback, conduct mock interviews, and other “real-life situations.”
Chicago Restaurants Can Benefit & Help
This 13-week schedule provides students with the skills and experience to apply for positions such as dishwasher, line cook, prep cook, etc. In fact, it would behoove restaurants in Chicago to reach out to Inspiration Kitchens for candidates, before they resort to their typical methods. Chicago restaurants such as Nana, Dry Hop, Grandma J’s, and Bottleneck’s Howells & Hood, have all employed graduates of the Inspiration Kitchens program.
Tips For Students
During a classroom visit, Bottleneck’s Director of Kitchen Operations, Derek Viehman & Executive Chef Paul Katz shared their experiences of how they started their careers, and how they both worked their way up from humble beginnings. In regards to the job search, they encouraged students to
- Convey confidence
- Show their passion for what they’re doing in the kitchen
- Exude a hard work ethic and display how they’re a team player
- Find a place to stage, which provides invaluable experience
During a Career Club Friday, Bottleneck’s Vice President of Operations, Ken Henricks and Owner Jason Akemann, spoke to the job search/interview side of things. Key takeaways for students were as follows:
- Ask questions about the job you’re applying for
- Interview the company as much as they are interviewing you (make sure it’s a good fit)
- Be Yourself. Don’t dwell on history, rather, why you want to make the change you are making
- Give examples of how you’re a hard worker and team player
- Share your research right off the bat (if you’ve done your homework, share that)
- Beat the streets (being in the right place at the right time)
Taste The Restaurant For Yourself
Inspiration Kitchens – GP houses a full-service restaurant that serves an all-day menu, Wednesday – Friday (11am – 9pm), Brunch and Dinner on Saturday (10am-9pm; brunch until 3pm), and Brunch on Sunday, 10am – 3pm. The students aspire for full-time jobs within this restaurant, or to be placed in and around the city.
This working restaurant sees a lot of business from groups visiting the Garfield Park Conservatory, and neighboring communities. Items like Matzo Ball Gumbo; with chicken and Andouille, The Quinoa Burger; with herbed aioli, slow roasted tomato, and mixed greens, and the Roasted Beet Salad with candied pecans, goat cheese, arugula and honey vinaigrette are sure to please even the most discerning “foodie” palate. Many fruits and vegetables used in the dishes come from their very own on-site gardens! Any gratuity left by diners is put back into the program.
Inspiration Kitchens also offers catering for both public and private events (they have 2 upcoming weddings on the books). Although they only have one van, they are looking to grow. Mike Usiak, who heads the program and has a business background, explains that even though they are a training company, make no mistake, they are a legit caterer! Catering orders require $100 or a 10-person minimum. $20 delivery fee applies. As with the restaurant, any gratuity goes back to the program. To plan your next catered event, call Usiak, at 773-801-1110 x.15, or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jason Pruett works at the Inspiration Kitchen in Uptown. A Kendall College grad, he’s experienced front-of-house management and has been a Private Chef, but has found a passion in Inspiration’s program, in that he’s always wanted to teach cooking and employment skills.
His tasks in Uptown are a bit more challenging than Garfield Park, to say the least. Uptown helps certain males and females with basic skills, such as bathing, finding shelter, etc. After spending 5 weeks on those types of basic necessities, the students can begin their 8-week program.
How To Help
Although Inspiration Kitchens works with a number of agencies here in Chicago, they rely heavily on “word of mouth” to find potential students, and to spread the word about their program. Grants from generous donors and over 1,500 volunteers provide the resources for Inspiration Corporation to assist more than 3,000 people annually. To learn more and get involved, visit Inspiration Corporation online.
~Angela Zoiss • Director of Marketing for Bottleneck Management