News From the Kitchen


Our Chef Tasheena is the Nation’s Catalyst for Change

IMG_4453Our very own Culinary Training Manager, Chef Tasheena, has been named the Catalyst Kitchens 2016 Catalyst for Change! This award recognizes an individual from the CK network whose outstanding service and dedication to empowering lives through job training has made significant impact on individuals, their community, and the field of food service social enterprise. Chef Tasheena was selected out of twenty nominations from across the country and we are thrilled to honor her for her hard work and dedication to the LK mission. Beyond her commitment to our young people, Tasheena is a joy to work with and brings an unparalleled work ethic and contagious laughter to everyday.

Among her accomplishments:

  • Increased Youth Development Program applications by 14%
  • Increased program graduation rate by 14%
  • Increased youth placed in jobs by 33%
  • Decreased youth leaving the program by 43%

“When I think of the words “above and beyond,” my mind goes straight to Tasheena. She is selfless and generous, and has fun every step of the way.” — Dave Emond, Executive Director

We sat down for an exclusive interview with our rockstar to hear about the philosophy behind the work.

Tell us about yourself

I’m from New Orleans, born and raised. I’ve been a chef for over 10 years. I opened my own restaurant and it was a great and proud moment, however I had to close the doors. I always knew at some point I wanted to teach. I was very excited at the prospect of working at LK — it would allow me to take everything I had learned, my successes, my failures, and pass it on to teach and enlighten another group of people. It’s one thing to have a skillset, but if you don’t share it, it dies with you. But this way it perpetuates and goes on through what you teach others.

What do you do at LK?

My official job title is Culinary Training Manager – but I always say I’m a chef instructor. In the way that our program is set up, young people come to me after they go through Foundations where they’ve learned a lot of life skills and gotten comfortable with the culture of LK. I’m their first introduction into the weird wide world of culinary. I teach them the basics: how to use a knife, culinary math, sanitation,  how to identify a tilt skillet and blast chiller — foundational baseline skills that they can continue to grow on as they work their way through program

What does it mean to you to be a Catalyst for Change?

I feel so incredibly blessed. Every group I work with in my professional and personal life are all people who are agents for change and I feel privileged to work with so many different people. What it means to me is that we recognize that things aren’t always as they should be. We have a responsibility to fight for giving everybody a fair shot. For those of us with the good fortune to have been raised well and educated well and have opportunities, we owe it to those who maybe life hasn’t been as kind to, to reach back and not give handouts but hands up.

For me, it comes down to doing small things with great love. Change is very difficult. It doesn’t come overnight. But it’s surprising to me how simple acts can really change the trajectory of someone’s life. We’re not saving lives in that we’re not running into burning buildings or curing cancer. But it’s these small things: giving that attention to detail and good spirit and cheer. It’s small acts of great love that can have lasting and sustaining impacts on people’s lives. Those small acts when added together, when done all over by different people, those small acts become big acts and big changes happen incrementally through small changes. A journey of 1000 miles happens one step at a time.

Any insights for others seeking to be Catalysts for Change?

I would say just remembering that it sometimes can get discouraging when things aren’t happening at the pace you think they should be, because long-term success takes time and it’s a process. Don’t get discouraged and trust the process. The road is not just a straight line, there are points where you have to veer left or right or turn around and all of that is part of it. Don’t be so hard on yourself. Change is coming. It might seem like it happens “suddenly” but the truth is you’ve been working at it this whole time.

We are so proud to have Chef Tasheena on the team and grateful to Catalyst Kitchens for their amazing support of our work!

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Tasheena with our Catalyst Kitchens award ambassadors!

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Chef Robert’s Gumbo Recipe

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Every day, our School Nutrition Program staff is hard at work preparing thousands of healthy and tasty meals for local schoolchildren! We sat down with Head Chef Robert Soper (who’s cooked for celebrities like Johnny Cash and Harrison Ford!) to hear about the highlights and snag his delicious gumbo recipe.

Tell us about yourself!

My name is Robert G. Soper. I was born in NYC and raised in New Jersey. As a young child I became interested in cooking and started cooking at an early age. I got my first job in a restaurant at age 15 as a dishwasher.  I worked my
way up through the ranks. I have worked in all types of restaurants from diners to fine dining. I have been a baker, cake decorator, production chef, corporate trainer, sous chef and then executive chef.  I love cooking and the satisfaction of cooking for people.

What do you like about being Head Chef?

I like teaching people stuff they don’t know, culinary things. And I like seeing the kids enjoy the food.

What is your hope for the students whom you serve?

That they like it and that they try new things. Because as a child, I never tried new things, and I missed out on a lot.

What is your all-time favorite food?

Lasagna. Homemade. When I was a kid, my best friend’s grandmother would make these huge tables of food. She didn’t even speak English, all she did was cook, and she got so mad if you didn’t eat it. Man, she cooked the best stuff.

Any advice for your readers?

Don’t be afraid to try new things. I wasted a lot of time being afraid to try new stuff. You never know if you’ll like something until you try it!

Check out Chef Rob’s recipe below to whip up some tasty gumbo!

Chef Robert’s Gumbochef-rob-2

Ingredients:
6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) Butter
3 tablespoons Olive Oil
1/2 cup + 2 tablespoons Flour
2 pounds Yellow Onions (diced)
1 pound Green Bell Peppers (diced)
1 pound Celery (diced)
1/3 cup Chopped Garlic
1 tsp Cayenne Pepper
1 tsp White Pepper
¾ tsp Dry Thyme
1/3 cup Cajun Seasoning
1.5 gallons Water
½ cup (4 ounces) Chicken base
3-14.5 ounce cans Diced Tomato
2 pounds Sliced Andouille Sausage
4 pounds Chicken (cooked or raw), chopped
1 ½ tablespoon Tabasco
1/3 cup + 1 tbs Worcestershire Sauce

Method:

  1. Read recipe completely. Do not take shortcuts – think QUALITY.
  2. In a large pot over heat, melt butter and add olive oil.
  3. Once hot, whisk in flour to make a deep amber colored roux.
  4. Add onion, celery, peppers, garlic and dry spices, and caramelize well.
  5. Whisk in Chicken base and water, add diced tomato. Simmer 45 min.
  6. Add sausage, chicken, Tabasco, and Worcestershire. Simmer 45 min. If using raw chicken, make sure it is cooked through!
  7. Taste and adjust seasonings as necessary. Serve over rice.

Yield – about 2 gallons
Nutrition Facts (per 1 cup serving without rice): Calories 207, Total Fat 11g, Carbohydrate 7g, Fiber 1g, Protein 20g, Sodium 616mg, Potassium 461mg

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Next Level at Liberty’s: Youth Leadership!

We are thrilled to be rolling out an additional eight months of “next level” support and programming for YDP graduates! We sat down with stellar Youth Leadership Program Coordinator Devon Turner to learn about what’s ahead.

LK grad Kiall, YLP Coordinator Devon, and YMVP interns Wil and Ray!

LK grad Kiall, YLP Coordinator Devon, and YMVP interns Wil and Ray!

Tell us about YLP.

The Youth Leadership Program is an 8-month extension to the training program. It’s all about building upon previous personal successes to cultivate their leadership potential and address issues within their families, communities, and city.

What does that look like day to day?

A lot of this is brand new, so we’ve been building out a structure for the YLP and developing new programming. I’m working with two great interns – Wil Cousin and Raynard Janeau – who came to us through the Kellogg Foundation’s Young Men’s Voices (have) Power initiative. Together, we’ve focused on building an alumni community in general and a strong Youth Leadership Council specifically.

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Wil and Ray with Mayor Landrieu!

Day to day, we’re creating a community of graduates across time and place. We have six key areas of engagement: leadership and civic engagement, education, career development, advanced hospitality exposure, health and well-being, and social engagement. Every month we want to offer at least one activity in each of those areas and have a monthly check in and goal planning session to which all graduates are invited.

What are some events you’ve had?

Our Youth Leadership Council held its first meeting in March 2016, and programming started in May with a career development workshop. We’ve had additional career development workshops, a demonstration with Chef Renee at Palace Café, another with Chef Chris Okorie, goal planning sessions, give back opportunities, and opportunities for alumni to engage trainees. In April, alumni participated in the Raise the Age campaign, which was part of the juvenile justice reform movement.  Youth Leadership Council members also participated in a leadership training offered by Harvard School of Government students and met with Councilmember Latoya Cantrell.

Chef Okorie's demonstration

Chef Okorie’s demonstration

Tell us about the Youth Leadership Council.
The YLC is a group of very dedicated grads who are creating and developing alumni programming, recruiting new participants, and taking on leadership projects. The Council is intended to redefine existing narratives of young people in this city. Narratives about young people who work hard, who have a different vision for what the city can look like, who are tired of crime and miseducation and violence and substandard housing and urban blight – those stories are treated as celebrated exceptions. However, our participants demonstrate that those stories are far from the exception.  They can speak very well about what this city could look like. My role is that of a facilitator and advisor.

YLC with Councilmember Cantrell

YLC with Councilmember Cantrell

Let’s talk future. What is the ultimate vision for YLP (one year from now)?

I’d love to see graduates who have really embraced a leadership role in their communities, who are really active in trying to address the social issues that affect them the most. In a beautiful world, they would be addressing those larger issues so they’re not just trying to survive from day to day, but tackling the issues that produce that kind of day to day living.

Harvard Leadership Training

Harvard Leadership Training

What does leadership mean to you?

To be a leader is to be someone who understands the day-to-day struggle and can transform that understanding into a call to action. As it pertains to YLP, we’re really helping graduates understand their strengths and their leadership potential, helping them to understand that being a leader is not something that’s dependent upon having “X” amount of dollars in your account or having achieved a certain level of formal education. We all can and should be leaders.

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Intern Life at Liberty’s

August 04, 2016 | Behind the Scenes, Staff Reflection

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Life at Liberty’s Kitchen is never boring, and stellar staff make it all the more fun. We sat down with our summer intern, Brendan, to discuss his experience at LK before he heads home!

Tell us a little about yourself.

I was born in Washington, DC but I go to Dartmouth College in New Hampshire. There I am a psychology major and education minor going into my senior year. I walked on to Dartmouth’s Varsity Heavyweight Rowing Team my freshman year and have been competing with them ever since. I’m also a member of the Beta Alpha Omega fraternity. After graduation, I would like to do something in education that would allow me to combine my psych and education background. I’m still figuring out if that means teaching, working at a place like Liberty’s Kitchen, or something else.

Describe your typical day at Liberty’s Kitchen.

Most of my time here was in the Orientation class with Ms. D. I mainly helped facilitate discussions about conflict resolution, anger management, goal planning, etc. I also got to watch the class progress from a group of individuals to one unified class over the course of the three weeks, which was really fun to be a part of in both Orientation groups that I worked with.

Other days I worked with Harry in Professional Development and helped edit resumes, write cover letters, and practice job interviewing. Trainees in this group are beginning the job search process so it was fun to see them land their externships after going through the frustrating process of creating resumes.

In between the two Orientation sessions, I also worked with Devon in the Youth Leadership Program. Since it’s a new program a lot of my work was helping design what this section of Liberty’s Kitchen would look like. I reached out to the Leadership Council to come in for Career Development and Goal Planning office hours but I also worked with the team to plan future events.

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What was your relationship like with the trainees?

My relationship with the trainees was great! I was pretty close with the trainees in the Orientation class because that’s where I spent most of my time. We joked around a fair amount outside of the class (during breaks and Family Meal) and had really good conversations on the different topics covered in class. I definitely felt like I was included in their development to becoming one class of teammates.

Even with trainees I didn’t know as well, I didn’t feel like I was out of the group – from trainees to staff alike, I always felt welcomed and included in whatever was going on.

What was your biggest takeaway from your internship?

Liberty’s Kitchen is a small organization, but their work is powerful and fun to be around! I was lucky enough to sit in on one of the graduations and you can see just from that one hour how much love LK puts into what they do. Everyone comes to celebrate the recent graduates and they bring family members as well as employers. And it’s not just putting on a show; it really does demonstrate that this work doesn’t just happen in the building. It takes family. It takes partnerships. It takes community. It takes commitment from everyone involved and you can see that graduations are one of the many ways LK takes the time to celebrate their trainees and graduates for their hard work and dedication to the process, and to thank community members for supporting their process.

I think it speaks a lot to what Liberty’s Kitchen does everyday: they aren’t just empowering youth to do better for themselves. They’re creating community leaders that, by doing well for themselves, can empower those around them to do the same.

Thanks for all your hard work and dedication to our trainees, Brendan! We know you’ll do great things and will miss having you in the classroom!

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