News From the Kitchen
Desmond Boling Jr. (DJ) was 19 and looking for a job. Down the street from his home the new Whole Foods was having their grand opening- so he decided to give it a try and apply. He got the job and right next door was Liberty’s Kitchen opening up its doors.
“It feels like it all fell into place for me.”
DJ (left) and Ahmaad Lott (right) came to us as our Young Men’s Voices have Power (YMVP) interns. YMVP is trying to change the narrative of the young black man and is funded by the Kellogg Foundation.
“Society portrays us as robbers and killers, negative things, but the goal is to change the narrative that we are out here doing things like working here at Liberty’s Kitchen- working as mentors,” DJ.
They have spent the last year forming different parts of the Youth Leadership Program (YLP).
“The YLP is a way for alumni to become more engaged with things outside of the Youth Development Program- getting them to learn about advocacy as well,” Ahmaad said.
They were both crucial to inducting the new Youth Leadership Council (YLC). The council will lead any events for alumni and current trainees to attend. They were involved in all of Liberty’s Kitchens events and happenings around recruitment and alumni.
“I just remember when I was a student here at Liberty’s Kitchen and I was lost not really knowing what I wanted to do. And now …. some of the students look to me as a mentor,” DJ.
These two have proven to be pillars of what Liberty’s Kitchen is attempting to mold: tomorrow’s leaders, young folks taking initiative to achieve their version of greatness.
“It taught me to want more for myself- because this is what it feels like to want more for myself, to be able to make decent income and to travel and to be looked at as a leader. I have a few pictures out there of myself it just – it makes me feel good about myself. I don’t take it for granted- I am just thankful and blessed,” DJ said.
“Some of the major changes that I’ve witnessed is through the Youth Leadership Program. We’ve been able to show the board members we are able to put on our town hall forum- that was the first event in the community room here at Liberty’s Kitchen. We were able to show our voices do matter,” Ahmaad said.
“I’d like to know that I left Liberty’s Kitchen better than I found it. That’s something I’ve always heard Ms. D talk about and it’s been kind of drilled into my head. I want to make sure I am doing anything I can to get things done,” Ahmaad.
DJ and Ahmaad were both able to travel to Baltimore, Miami and Washington D.C. through their roles as YLC members and YMVP interns. They learned about advocacy, what it’s like to own your own business, become entrepreneurs and other valuable skills to take home and shape with their peers.
Through the YMVP internship, they created a documentary on Gentrification in New Orleans.
Check it out below:
“Food is like a lifestyle,” Jervon Francis, 19, reflects on her night working back of house alongside Kristen Essig from Coquette. She, along with three other trainees, helped run Guest Chef Night, our monthly intimate dining experience with our city’s culinary stars.
Kristen Essig has been named one of Coastal Living Magazines “5 Coastal Chefs to Watch”(2015), nominated as one of Food & Wine Magazine’s “The People’s Best New Chef” (2015), and one of Times Picayunes Chefs to Watch (2014). Kristen proudly joined the Coquette family in the fall of 2016 as a co-chef and partner with her love, Michael.
She served a three-course meal and working alongside her were some of our current trainees. Darius Simmons, 17, distinctly remembered the food they cooked. “We made steak and shrimp. I got to taste some of the snacks and appetizers Chef [Kristen] made.” The menu included a surf and turf element with grilled Gulf Shrimp with sauce Romesco and pickled horseradish Gremolata for the first course and Beef Hanger Steak with Louisiana Heirloom tomatoes Georgia Peaches and pickled squash served over braised black-eyed peas for the second course.
“I learned how to grill and that was something I learned the most about from that night,” Gerald Jordan, 20, recalled. “It’s very hot. I still got a lot to learn but it was a good experience.”
With every seat in our cafe filled, the smoked catfish dip with salsa verde and buckwheat crackers started the night off to a great start. “Food really brings people together, everyone in that room was from different backgrounds but all eating together,” Jervon remarked.
Jervon said she really enjoyed working alongside Kristen. “She was patient and very attentive, I didn’t feel rushed and I got to ask a lot of questions.” Jervon will be starting her externship with Kristen at Coquette next week.
“I’m excited to learn more from her.”
When the night was almost over Gerald and the other trainees got to introduce themselves to the guests. “I’m not scared to introduce myself to the guests. I told them the part of the food I did- the grilling.”
“We worked as a team, we didn’t have to rush to do anything and Chef (Kristen) was real nice,” Darius said. He said his team worked together really well. When asked what his favorite dish was he couldn’t pin it down to just one “I just love all food.”
On March 14, 2018, at 10:00 am, students of Liberty’s Kitchen led a walk-out in memoriam and protest of the lives lost in the Parkland, Florida school shooting. The main objective was to observe 17 minutes of silence to commemorate the 17 people who were killed in the mass shooting.
Our students were joined by other young people in the community, along with LK staff and partners. The walk-out was held in the ReFresh Lobby in between Liberty’s Kitchen’s Broad Street location and Whole Foods.
During the 17 minute silence, attendees were able to reflect on how gun violence has affected their lives and communities, and share these sentiments on posters throughout the lobby. There were also messages that expressed LK’s overall stance:
“Gun violence tragically interrupts the lives and livelihoods of youth, families, and communities in New Orleans, and across the United States. We are asking you – our community – to join us in “saying” #NeverAgain and #Enough.”
Judy, known around here as “Ms. Judy,” is from Calgary, and she first heard about Liberty’s Kitchen in 2008. She was working for the fire department and missed a chance to go to New Orleans to volunteer with the department in post-Katrina rebuilding efforts. She started a new job a few months later with an electric company, where she received 31 vacation days.
That’s when she knew she wanted to spend part of that vacation time volunteering in New Orleans.
She connected with Liberty’s Kitchen in 2010 and initially committed to spending two weeks in the city, unsure of what her days would hold. She started at Sylvanie Williams, helping out in the cafeteria. She loved the experience so much, she decided to return the next year, this time for a whole month.
And she’s been returning ever since. So, what keeps her coming back?
“The students open up to me. We mostly talk about family; maybe they feel safe with me. Maybe I remind them of their grandma!” says Ms. Judy.
As I’m talking with her, we’re interrupted by students who want to get in one more hug before she leaves. Charles and Otto walk by, exchanging hugs and inside jokes. Ms. Judy laughs and wipes away tears as they talk, exchange quips, and reassurances about keeping in touch.
The students aren’t the only ones who will miss her; the staff also looks forward to her annual return.
“Ms. Judy has become such a beloved part of our family,” CEO David Emond said. “She loves our young people and sees so much potential in them and inspires us all with her commitment to making the world a better place.”
Ms. Judy’s humility and kindness go a long way. She shared that—as part participant and part observer—she has something to learn from the students just by listening to them.
So what advice does she have for people interested in volunteering?
“You don’t try to solve whatever problem they have because you’re not going to. You just let them tell you whatever it is about their lives, whether good or bad.”
We love you, Ms. Judy! See you next time!
– Contributing Writer, Michelle Mathew, Development Coordinator