By Greg Hernandez
Culinary Director Nick Penepinto was hoping a few dozen youth and seniors would show up for a cooking demonstration and information meeting about the Los Angeles LGBT Center’s new Culinary Arts Program.
Soon, more than 45 people had excitedly crowded into the upstairs meeting room on March 28 to hear Penepinto talk about the program and to watch Executive Chef Instructor Janet Crandall demonstrate basic kitchen knife skills. She also demonstrated how to construct a Vietnamese spring roll.
“I wasn’t expecting such a big crowd,” Crandall said to the crowd as she began to julienne a yellow pepper. “I’m really excited about this program.”
Moving on to carrots and cucumbers, the chef joked that if she were to hold the knife incorrectly, “I’m just going to give myself a manicure.”
“I don’t believe in a kitchen where someone’s screaming—we’re not (fiery TV chef) Gordan Ramsay here,” Crandall added. “The two most important ingredients are love and pride. We want you to put all the love and pride that you have into it.”
The Culinary Arts Program and its commercial teaching kitchen are part of the Center’s new Anita May Rosenstein Campus, a first-of-its kind intergenerational campus that opened in April.
“With youth and senior services being so close together, you wonder ‘How will the generations interact with each other – especially when they will be in a classroom together every day?’” Penepinto asked.
But during their presentation, he and Crandall saw instant camaraderie between the generations.
“It was great to see that everyone interacted as if they were friends and were already working together,” Penepinto said. “Everyone came together and helped each other. It really showed how food unites everyone and makes a natural connection between people.”
The kitchen will be staffed with youth (ages 18-24) and seniors (ages 50 and over) students who have completed a 12-week, 300-hour culinary training program.
As part of the program, students will eventually produce up to 600 meals a day to be served throughout the Center, including for the youth drop-in center, the Transition Living Program, Senior Center programming, and senior housing (opening in mid-2020).
The program will include four weeks of basic culinary skills development, four weeks of campus meal production, and four weeks of an internship along with job placement assistance.
“The goal is if you want a full-time job in a commercial kitchen, this program will get you ready,” Penepinto said. “When you graduate the program, not only do you have these cooking skills, you already have a experience on your resume.”
Crandall detailed for the prospective students what is in store for them: “We’re going to learn how to hold the knife, how to do certain knife cuts, how to cook vegetables in a certain way, how to filet a fish, how to break down a chicken, how to make tarts, and so much more.”
She continued: “There will be an egg day where you just make eggs in different ways and a day you make potatoes different ways. Once you learn certain skills, you’re going to redo them over and over again. So when you get to the second month, you’re going to be making food in a larger portion because you’re going to be making it for the Center. You’re going to learn how to do food costing, food portioning, as well as scaling a recipe.”
After the demonstration, 20-year-old Nathan Ha was all smiles as he was about to start snacking on a freshly-made Vietnamese summer roll.
“It’s kind of surreal,” he said of the new program. “I find it amazing that a program like this is going to become available here at the Center, not only for the youth, but also for the seniors. It’s really inclusive and a great opportunity to gain experience in how to work with other people, learn kitchen skills, and being in a work environment.”
Ha, among those who plan to sign up for the program, liked the age and ethnic diversity he saw in the room.
“I look forward to learning more about where people come from, their backgrounds, their race, their culture, and what they experienced during their youth,” he said. “We can find ways to connect with each other and learn from each other.”
Phyllis Rose-Child and Belita Edwards, both residents of the Center’s Triangle Square senior housing complex, sat in the front row during the presentation and walked away smiling.
“I’m amazed by the program they’re setting up for us,” said Edwards. “This is amazing!”
Rose-Child added: “I’m excited about the youth learning new skills. To know that you are going into a class where you are going to be supported is important.”