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Nonprofit Teaches ‘Knife Skills And Life Skills’ To San Diegans In Need Of Jobs

Frank Daley helps prepare meals for attendees at the Kitchens for Good gradua...

Photo by Megan Burks

Above: Frank Daley helps prepare meals for attendees at the Kitchens for Good graduation, Oct. 11, 2017.

Southeastern San Diego nonprofit Kitchens for Good is teaching “knife skills and life skills” to formerly incarcerated and homeless individuals in need of jobs. Sixteen graduated from the 12-week program Wednesday, including former gang member Emily Gonzalez.

“I gained a love for hospitality and service,” she said at the graduation ceremony. “I had changed from a job of bringing chaos and destruction to a job that brought joy and happiness to others.”

Gonzalez, who grew up in Logan Heights, is training to manage the kitchen at the Willowbrook Country Club in Lakeside. Nearly everyone in her cohort already have jobs lined up in popular San Diego restaurants, including Draft Republic in La Jolla, Starlite Lounge in Little Italy and Blvd Noodles in La Mesa.

Video by Christopher Maue

About 90 percent of Kitchens for Good’s more than 100 graduates are employed, according to the nonprofit, making an average of $13 an hour.

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Program alumna Melissa Ortiz said she’s already received two raises and was promoted to train as a sous chef at Draft Republic. She joined a gang when she was 16, she said, and spent the whole of her 20s in prison.

“While in prison, I would watch the Cooking Channel nonstop,” Ortiz said. “Somehow the idea was planted in my brain that this is what I wanted to do.”

She said she has gone “from having a gang family to having a kitchen family.”

“I was shocked they hired a tattooed gangbanger like me,” Ortiz said.

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In addition to the formerly incarcerated and homeless, Kitchens for Good works with foster youth who have aged out of the system, individuals with a history of substance use disorders and victims of domestic violence.

The tuition-free program includes job readiness training and hands-on experience preparing food for homeless and elderly San Diegans and catering events that fund more than half of the program. Participants leave with food handlers and culinary apprenticeship certificates.

There’s a chance the cook at your favorite San Diego restaurant used to be in prison or homeless. Southeastern San Diego nonprofit Kitchens for Good has helped place more than 100 people in San Diego’s culinary industry since its founding two years ago.

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