News From the Kitchen
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!
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
- Read recipe completely. Do not take shortcuts – think QUALITY.
- In a large pot over heat, melt butter and add olive oil.
- Once hot, whisk in flour to make a deep amber colored roux.
- Add onion, celery, peppers, garlic and dry spices, and caramelize well.
- Whisk in Chicken base and water, add diced tomato. Simmer 45 min.
- Add sausage, chicken, Tabasco, and Worcestershire. Simmer 45 min. If using raw chicken, make sure it is cooked through!
- 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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
For a year now, I’ve worked at Liberty’s Kitchen as our Career Development Manager. I’ve worked intensively with over sixty of our trainees and graduates. I’ve watched them warm up to the program, set goals, reach them, fall short of them, get excited, get disappointed, and get back up to do the whole thing over again. I’ve come to understand what we are asking of them.
On the surface, we are asking them to enter a workforce training program and start a career.
We are asking much more than that.
In psychologist Abraham Maslow’s terminology, we are asking our trainees to self-actualize–to build a career that speaks to who they are, what they excel at, and what they want to see in the world. Maslow will tell you that the preconditions for this are vital. To achieve this, a person needs to be functioning physiologically (be basically healthy), feel safe, feel love and belonging, and have esteem in the eyes of self and others.
We are asking this level of achievement in a world where health care access is still not a given in most hourly jobs and access to affordable fresh food is still remote; where an unacceptable proportion of young people will witness or be a victim of domestic, neighborhood or police violence; where loving relationships can be quickly interrupted by the criminal justice system or strained by poverty; and where the loudest message they hear from society is that “this is not for you.” We ask them to believe that they can eventually reach the top in an industry that promotes white workers at double the rate of black workers.
We ask a young person to invest four months in a full-time training program instead of working. We ask them to arrive at work on time and be consistent despite relentless challenges that undermine their safety, security, and belonging. We ask them to bring a $14/hr attitude to a $9/hr job. We ask them to pursue opportunities to increase their knowledge and skill set, to seek further education. We ask them to lead and mentor others, to involve themselves in their community, and to make a better world.
What we are asking may seem impossible. It’s not–but it is hard. But we ask any way. And every day, our trainees walk through the door and put one foot in front of the other, giving us answers that surprise and inspire us. And when they come back through our doors as alumni, building their careers, they amaze us with their determination, resourcefulness, and generosity.
So thank you. Thank you for joining us in making the impossible less so. Thank you for supporting Liberty’s Kitchen.
— Posted by Harry Schnur