News From the Kitchen
At this year’s Come Grow With Us (Friday, September 15), Liberty’s Kitchen will honor Jeff Gulotta with the 2017 Youth Advocate Award. Jeff and his brother Michael are co-owners of the award-winning MoPho and Maypop restaurants here in New Orleans. Before starting his own restaurants, Jeff worked at Restaurant August, Besh Steak at Harrah’s New Orleans, and many other restaurants in the city.
We are honoring Jeff because he continuously works with Liberty’s Kitchen to shape the “next face of the New Orleans restaurant industry,” which is a vibrant industry that means a lot to him. He is always looking for ways to give back to his community, and luckily, he found an opportunity through Liberty’s Kitchen.
Busy with his many restaurants and other ventures, Jeff also participates in the LK Youth Development Program by meeting with trainees during their fourth week of the program. Today, I was fortunate enough to join Jeff and the trainees at MoPho, the first of Jeff’s Southeast Asian restaurants. During the meeting, Jeff talked about his 25 years in the restaurant industry, how he worked every job from dishwasher up to owner, and how each trainee can also find success in the industry.
He spoke about the “big picture” of working at any job, how it is a way to make a living and support yourself so that you can also enjoy life. In order to get to that point, it is important to work hard at your job and improve your skill-set, and that starts with showing up to work and consistently proving your value to your employer. Liberty’s Kitchen gives its trainees the basic skills so they can get their “foot in the door,” but then it is up to every individual to grow from there and increase their value as an employee.
As a restaurant owner, Jeff pointed out all of the costs that contribute to maintaining a successful business. Employees must do their work well in order to be worth the cost of paying them. To do so, Jeff discussed the importance of time management; instead of seeing every free moment as a chance to take a break, you can see it as an opportunity to develop a new skill. Everyone can set “little goals that you can hit every day,” and that will make you attractive to an employer and contribute to a successful career. For people with a strong work ethic, there is so much potential in the restaurant industry, especially in New Orleans.
Jeff’s restaurants will also participate in our Come Grow With Us: Chef Showdown celebration. Maypop’s serving up Whole Roasted Eggplant with Goat Feta and Warm Bacon Vinaigrette & MOPHO’s bringing Khoa Soi, coconut braised chicken, and peach sambal.
-Posted by Miriam Teller, Development Intern
Once a year, some of the biggest names in the New Orleans restaurant scene gather together to honor individuals within the hospitality industry who are doing remarkable things. Hosted by the Louisiana Hospitality Foundation, the Sixth Annual Gold Medal Chefs Gala was held at the Morial Convention Center’s La Nouvelle Orleans Ballroom on a sultry August evening.
My name is Ahmaad Lott and I am 23 years old. I joined the Liberty’s Kitchen team back in March as a YMVP (Young Men’s Voices Have Power) intern, an internship program sponsored by the Kellogg Foundation. I work with the Youth Leadership Council (YLC) to develop alumni programming and also work with our Youth Development Program to explore youth advocacy, gearing up for our very own town hall meeting in September.
I was invited to attend the event along with YLC member Andryan Lagarde and alum Kenisha Charles in support of our very own David Emond who had the honor of receiving the Archie Casbarian Humanitarian Award.
We had a great time and enjoyed a five-course dinner created by Chefs Michelle McRaney of Mr. B’s Bistro, Wilfredo Avelar of Meril, Brandon Felder of Centerplate, Brian Landry of Borgne, and Karen Anderson of Dickie Brennan’s Steakhouse. On the menu: chilled roasted corn soup, fried rock shrimp salad, sugarcane glazed Kurobuta pork belly, lemongrass short rib, and for dessert: bananas foster cheesecake. While the food was certainly a high point of the night, the atmosphere of the event, equal parts philanthropy and revelry, took things to a new level.
The day after the gala, I had the chance to talk with Dave about the previous night’s proceedings. When asked how winning the award relates to his work at Liberty’s Kitchen, Dave was humble, shining the spotlight on the staff and participants of the program for the work they’ve done.“When I got the call letting me know that I received the award I immediately wanted to deflect that attention to the people in our organization that are doing so much work every day because I think the award is really a reflection, not so much of what I have done, but of the work that Liberty’s Kitchen does in the community and the impact that we’re achieving.”
According to Dave, a humanitarian is “someone who believes in the dignity and potential of every human being and who makes an effort to recognize that dignity and develop that potential.” While inspired by bold and resilient humanitarian figures like Barack Obama and Mother Teresa, Dave points out that you don’t have to be famous to be a humanitarian. “You just have to show up and do the work, roll up your sleeves, have that commitment, have that passion. The people that inspire me the most are the people I work with every day. I really felt like I was accepting the award on behalf of [them] and the young people that are working so hard to make a positive situation for themselves out of what in so many cases is a really challenging environment that they’re forced to live in.”
I, for one, think that the Archie Casbarian Humanitarian Award was well earned, not only for Dave, but for the Liberty’s Kitchen’s family as a whole.
“I’d like to quote one of our graduates, who said: “Liberty’s Kitchen is like having all the aunts and uncles you could ever want.” For lots of reasons that we don’t have time to get into tonight, too many of our young people aren’t being noticed. That’s where we come in. Let’s all agree to be those aunts and uncles, seeing the potential of our next generation and helping them develop it. If we can all commit to this, we will build a better New Orleans for everyone.”
Congratulations again on receiving the award, Dave!
— Posted by Ahmaad Lott, YMVP Intern
Guest Chef Night last Thursday was a huge success and a delicious taste of what’s to come next month with Come Grow With Us. The seventh installment of this event featured Chef Ysaac Ramirez of Josephine Estelle at the Ace Hotel, who will also be joining us at our upcoming annual gala alongside 19 other renowned New Orleans chefs.
Chef Ysaac supports Liberty’s Kitchen because he appreciates the commitment it makes to all of its trainees. He employed Elijah, a YDP graduate, in his restaurant two years ago and has appreciated how how Liberty’s Kitchen continues to check in and support Elijah after the program.
Chef Ysaac is also committed to using Louisiana produce as much as possible, and last night’s meal was no exception. He cooks Italian dishes but uses local Southern ingredients to provide a special touch to the menu. For example, he incorporated muscadines – a type of southern grape – into the first course.
In addition to previewing one of our Come Grow With Us chefs, we also recognized Nadja Sampson and Da’Mon (Tumma) Keelen, the two LK graduates who will receive the Janet Gorence Davas Youth Achievement Award, and Jeff Gulotta, the 2017 Youth Advocate Award recipient. Director of Youth Success, Dennis Bagneris, made glowing remarks about all three honorees and why Liberty’s Kitchen chose to honor them this year.
“Nadja is an incredible young woman who we consider to be a shining example of our Youth Development Program in how she just personifies resilience. In the face of new opportunities and challenges, even in recognizing her own fears, she continues to push through, regardless of personal and professional challenges, always inspired to do better and be better.”
Nadja started working at Good Karma Cafe through her externship with YDP, and now, two years later, she still enjoys her job and even runs the kitchen from 3 – 8 PM.
“Tumma is a young man driven to create the most successful version of himself. He strives not only to excel personally, but also to support his peers’ development. He’s a born leader and exudes all the qualities that this program would want to see personified in a young adult and mentor.”
Tumma has been working for The Ruby Slipper Cafe for a year and is progressing through the ranks in the kitchen there. He is also studying to become a video game designer.
“Jeff regularly opens up his restaurant to our program and takes time to meet with these young people individually. He is committed to setting them up for success.”
We look forward to celebrating our award winners at our seventh annual Come Grow With Us: Chef Showdown, on September 15th at the beautiful Ace Hotel. Join us for more amazing food from Chef Ysaac and many other talented New Orleans chefs. We will also have an open bar, live auction, and music by T-Ray the Violinist and DJ RQ Away.
Thank you to everyone who joined us last night in supporting youth success, and a special shout out to West Elm for providing the table decor.
– Posted by Miriam Teller, Development Intern
Keith Gardner, author of I Never Would Have Made it Without You, was back at Liberty’s Kitchen today to speak with our trainees and staff. He survived a seemingly-fatal injury, and now he shares the inspirational thoughts that pushed him through difficult times in his life. Here are a few of Keith’s points:
- Be grateful and don’t take anything for granted.
- Don’t be ashamed to ask other people for help.
- Dedication, determination, and willpower; it’s all up to you. If people are negative about your abilities, use that as motivation.
- Sometimes you have to look in the mirror and check yourself. Make a change for the better. We’ve all made mistakes, but we can also make a change.
- Surround yourself with good people and treat people right.
Keith’s visit was full of positive vibes and motivation for self-empowerment. Hopefully, everyone heard something that they could relate to and keep in mind as they work towards their goals. Inspirational stories like Keith’s prove that anything is possible. That’s something we truly believe at Liberty’s Kitchen.
-Posted by Miriam Teller, Development Intern