Savor Event Celebrates Twentieth Anniversary of RI Food Bank’s Community Kitchen Program
Celeb chefs Jacques Pépin, Sara Moulton, Ming Tsai and more will be in attendance at tonight's event at Newport Vineyards, which will raise money for the culinary job training program.
Jacques Pépin is in town for a celebration to mark the twentieth anniversary of the Rhode Island Community Food Bank’s Community Kitchen program. Tonight is the Savor event, a sold-out soiree at Newport Vineyards in Middletown, complete with celebrity guests, including Jacques Pépin, Ming Tsai, Sara Moulton, Rick Moonen, Jeremy Sewell, Champe Speidel and many more renowned chefs. Guests will sit down to a four-course meal with wine pairings while mixing and mingling with the culinary personalities and raising funds for the program that prepares low-income adults for careers in the food industry.
“Community Kitchen started as a way for unemployed and underemployed adults to lift themselves up out of poverty,” says the RI Community Food Bank’s chief executive officer, Andrew Schiff. “We saw people coming to our agencies in need of food and other assistance, and we wanted to find a way for them to learn skills that would allow them to support themselves and their families.”
Food and cooking are the perfect outlets for the RI Food Bank to make an impact. For each session, twelve to thirteen students work in the Food Bank’s kitchen to learn valuable skills to gain entry-level jobs in the restaurant and food service industry, including basic cooking, food service operations, food safety and first aid.
More recently, the Jacques Pépin Foundation – launched by chef Jacques Pépin’s daughter, Claudine Pépin, and her husband, Rollie Wesen – has teamed up with the Rhode Island Community Food Bank for the Savor fundraiser. Wesen, who is an assistant professor at Johnson and Wales University, also volunteers in the Food Bank’s kitchen to provide hands-on learning, along with other chefs and past Community Kitchen participants who’ve gone on to lead successful careers in the culinary and food service industry.
Claudine Pépin and Rollie Wesen live in Barrington, and they were looking to support a local organization that reflects their philanthropic values to give back to the community, specifically towards education. “When we first put together the Jacques Pépin Foundation, we wanted to honor the legacy of Jacques and find a way to give back to our food service and culinary arts community and family,” says Wesen. “In multiple conversations with Jacques, we kept coming back to the idea of technique, training and education. At the same time, I started volunteering at the RI Food Bank, and it became obvious to me that this was a great opportunity for us to use Jacques’ expertise as an educator and his focus on training and technique to help community kitchens like the one at the Rhode Island Food Bank.” The Jacques Pépin Foundation also helps support similar culinary education programs across the country.
The Rhode Island Food Bank’s Community Kitchen program started in 1998 with chef instructor Heather Langlois at the helm, who continues to lead as director. More than 500 individuals have graduated and moved on to a wide range of opportunities, some that have stemmed off from the on-the-job training that they received. As part of the program, participants gain experience in the actual kitchens of a local restaurant or organization. Right now, there are students working at restaurants and bakeries, including The Capital Grille, the Salted Slate, Wildflour bakery, Public Kitchen and Bar and many more.
“It’s amazing to think of all of the lives that have been impacted over the twenty years: the students, their families and the larger community,” says Schiff. “It’s wonderful to hear from graduates who credit the program with improving their lives.”
Langlois explains that her career is rewarding because she gets to watch so many program participants make their mark in the culinary industry. Some have started their own businesses or help run the kitchens at local organizations; another graduate even helps lead a similar program at the Amos House. Langlois explains how the Community Kitchen participants spend their time making meals for kids at the East Providence Boys and Girls Club and the West End Community Center. “It motivates them to come in and have a sense of purpose that they are feeding kids,” she says. “They like that feeling of helping others while they gather the skills and learn.”