New York, NY—Stephani Alvarez wasn’t entirely sure she wanted to pursue a career in the culinary industry but after cooking some of her mother’s favorite recipes, she quickly found a calling. She was about to apply to a culinary school but then learned of a culinary program offered by a local nonprofit that is saving her thousands of dollars.
The Stanley M. Isaacs Neighborhood Center offers an advanced training culinary program for New York City youth ages 18 to 24 who are out of school and out of work. The program’s duration is 20 weeks.
In the first seven or eight weeks the students learn all the basics of food, food preparation, as well as kitchen and culinary techniques. They also complete and earn a Food Protection Certificate through the New York City Department of Health, as well as a certificate vis-à-vis ServSafe, the restaurant industry’s leading association.
For the last 12 weeks of the program the students participate in a paid internship with a variety of companies in the food and beverage business.
Cortney McKenzie, a career services manager at the Isaacs Center, noted why the Isaacs Center’s program is a unique offering.
“This is an intensive program where students are learning many skills, and it’s free,” McKenzie exclaimed.
“Culinary schools cost thousands of dollars. This is a program where not only it is not costing [the students] anything, it’s also a guaranteed paid internship, which is not necessarily the norm in the industry.”
Alvarez is currently interning with Eterra Kitchen, which is a flexible, commercial kitchen and workspace solutions company based in Harlem. According to its CEO, Bella Karakis, the flexible workspace includes shared kitchen stations, bakery kitchen stations and co-working space.
Companies who use utilize Eterra Kitchen’s services include caterers, bakers, meal prep, consumer packaged goods’ suppliers (items such as brownies, cookies, soups—anything that is packaged for sale into stores) and delivery-only restaurants.
Karakis said that Alvarez is currently working 25 to 29 hours per week when she is learning all the different sides of the food business—operating, management, food inventory, as well as the daily operations in being in a kitchen.
“We’re especially proud of our public, private partnerships that we have carefully cultivated [with organizations] such as the Isaacs Center, and through that we help the community put chefs back to work and help young entrepreneurs such as Stephani to grow and become successful,” said Karakis.
She also stressed that while interns like Alvarez are learning invaluable skills, the public/private partnership also provides benefits to the Eterra Kitchen’s clients because the interns are performing a variety of tasks for them.
“So, through this partnership we will be able to provide the job skills to an intern, as well as potential job opportunities once they graduate the program,” Karakis said.
“In addition, the partnership provides extra assistance to our members who are usually small food companies that could use the extra set of hands that doesn’t cost them or doesn’t hurt their bottom line.”
Alvarez said she’s learned so much collaborating with Karakis at Eterra Kitchen. After she completes her internship, she’d like to possibly start a small business selling birria tacos. Her more ambitious goal is to open and operate a restaurant.
“That’s been my dream, and also my mom’s dream, so why not make it come true,” said Alvarez.