News From the Kitchen

Our Youth-Led Mayoral Town Hall

October 11, 2017 | Events, Youth Leadership

On Thursday, September 28th, Liberty’s Kitchen held its first event in our brand new Taylor Center for Young Leadership. The inaugural event was none other than a Young Adult-led Town Hall forum featuring the mayoral candidates. The event was put together by fellow YLP/YMVP intern DJ Bolling, myself, and members of our Youth Leadership Council (Andryan LaGarde, Kiall Wilson, and Nadja Sampson).

After attending the Spring Lobby Weekend hosted by The Friends Committee on National Legislation where Nadja, DJ, and I learned how to lobby by telling your story, DJ and I came up with the idea for a town hall forum. We realized the power that young adults have when it comes to voicing their opinions on the issues that matter most to them.

We started planning the forum in June. From the inception to the execution of the event, we knew that we were in charge of organizing a project that took a great deal of time and effort to execute. Many hours were poured into meetings and research sessions to ensure that we were able to put forth a quality event that would allow not only participants of our Youth Development Program (YDP), but young adults around the city the opportunity to voice their concerns about the issues they find the most important to potential leaders of our city.

DJ having a conversation with Michael Bagneris during the meet and greet portion of the town hall.

I’m glad to say the event was a huge success. Featured on our panel of candidates were Michael Bagneris, Manny “Chevrolet” Bruno, Edward “Ed” Bruski, Edward Collins Sr., Brandon Dorrington, Matthew Hill, Derrick O’Brien Martin, Tommie A. Vassel and Hashim Walters.

Before the start of the forum, candidates had the opportunity to talk with their potential constituents during the meet and greet portion of the event.

The topics of the town hall forum were drawn from both participants and alumni of our Youth Development Program. In preparation for the event, over the course of the summer, during every other Friday, DJ and I held a series of informational workshops, conversations, and presentations deemed “Advocacy Friday”. Throughout these sessions, we discussed topics such as lobbying, apathy in the political process, utilizing social media to have conversations on important issues, and other issues that the participants of the program found to be the most pressing.

After narrowing down the wide list of suggested topics, we found that the 3 topics that participants and alumni found most important were: The Criminal Justice System, Minimum Wage, and Homelessness.

Audience members during the town hall forum.

Next, came the outreach portion of our project. In order to have an audience for our event, we reached out to various youth-focused organizations in the city along with any of our personal contacts involved in similar organizations, letting them know about our plan to have a young adult-led town hall forum. Along with said organizations, we also tapped our alumni base to see what issues they found to be important and invited them to be a part of the forum. In the process, I also learned how to write a press release to attract news media to our event, a skill that I’m sure will be quite useful in my career.

From left to right: Alum Kenisha Charles, Joya Barconey, and Jayy Riley.

Alum Kenisha Charles, YDP participant Jayy Riley, and alum Joya Barconey, volunteered to each present one of the 3 questions, which were voted on by participants and alumni prior to the event. The questions included:

  • “As Mayor, what will you do to curb crime in the city? Will you put more NOPD officers on the street? Or do you have a different approach to making New Orleans safer? (Criminal Justice System)”
  • “As Mayor, what will you do to increase the minimum wage while ensuring the cost of living doesn’t outpace it? (Minimum Wage)”
  • and “What are your plans for reducing homelessness and helping homeless people get the resources they need? (Homelessness)”

Hashim Walters discussing his plans to improve the city’s outdated water pump systems.

After the preselected questions, we opened the floor to audience questions. The questions ranged in topic from blighted properties to fixing potholes in the street and what should be done about the city’s water pump systems.

When asked about what they would do to improve the city’s water pump systems, Hashim Walters offered a creative solution: in order to inform people about the status of the pumps, he would utilize an app that would notify people which pumps are in working order with updates once a week outside of hurricane season and notifications every four days during hurricane season.

Lita Farquhar asking the candidates what they would do to improve the lives of hospitality workers.

Overall, the audience was highly satisfied with the answers that the candidates gave. Lita Farquhar, Director of Community Engagement at R.E.A.C.H. Out NOLA, who asked a question about what the candidates would do to improve the lives of hospitality workers, noted: “It felt like a one-on-one experience, and I feel like a lot of voices got heard that usually don’t get heard.”

Assane Ndiaye asking a question about how the candidates would improve the condition of damaged roads in the city.

After the event, I had a chance to talk to Assane Ndiaye, a student at Benjamin Franklin High School, who had a question about how the candidates would fix the various damaged roads in the city. He said, “I think the event was very helpful, in terms of deciding who’s the best for the job. I know I can’t vote yet, but I’m starting to see how we’re moving away from our kind of shady type of politics in New Orleans to more open conversations and leading to change. I think all of the candidates here seem like they were open to being open with us instead of what we’ve been seeing, which is more closed in.”

The event ended just a little while before 7 p.m. With the audience feeling content about the issues that the candidates covered, we were able to end the forum earlier than planned with our thoughts focused on how we could possibly follow up this momentous occasion.

Our Mayoral Town Hall Forum may have been the first major event in our brand new space, but it certainly won’t be the last. We look forward to bringing you many more exciting, informative, and thought-provoking events in the near future.

Posted by Ahmaad Lott, YMVP Intern

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Come Grow With Us 2017

September 20, 2017 | Events, Fundraising, Videos

Come Grow With Us 2017 was our best gala yet! The total is in: We raised OVER $230,000 to keep creating pathways to success for New Orleans youth. Thank you so much to the fantastic chefs, sponsors, auction donors, artists, and the many friends of Liberty’s Kitchen who helped make this possible!

Congratulations once more to our award recipients: 

The Honorable Calvin Johnson Youth Advocate Award
Jeff Gulotta

The Janet Gorence Davas Youth Achievement Award
Nadja Sampson and Da’Mon Keelen.


To learn more about Nadja and Da’Mon, watch this beautiful video. Many thanks to Nicelle & TG Herrington of Nom de Guerre Films!

Finally, congratulations to our Chef Showdown Winners! 

Best in Show
Chef Michael Gulotta from Maypop and Chef Mark Quitney from Roux Bistro
Whole roasted eggplant with goat feta & warm bacon vinaigrette (Maypop)
Praline pork belly in steamed bun & Asian slaw; king cake pushup pops (Roux Bistro)

Most Creative
Chef Lulu Chustz from our very own Broad St Liberty’s Kitchen cafe!
Crispy hot chicken skins with maple rosemary cotton candy

Best Presentation
Chef Ysaac Ramirez from Josephine Estelle
Canestri – cacio e pepe

Click HERE to check out more photos. We can’t wait for next year!

Posted by Nadia Laher, Development Coordinator 

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Jeff Gulotta: 2017 Youth Advocate Award recipient

August 30, 2017 | Behind the Scenes, Events, Fundraising

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.

It’s always a pleasure to work with people who share our goal of supporting New Orleans youth to achieve their vision of success, and that’s why we are honoring Jeff with the Youth Advocate Award.

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. 

Get your Come Grow With Us tickets here for a chance to celebrate Jeff, award winners Nadja and Tumma, and the vast potential of New Orleans youth.

-Posted by Miriam Teller, Development Intern

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Dave Emond Recieves Archie Casbarian Humanitarian Award

August 22, 2017 | Events, Staff Spotlight

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.

In order from left to right: Myself, Kenisha, Andryan, and Dave

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.

Speaking of family, that reminds me of a quote from Dave’s speech:

“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

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