Future Chefs: Preparing teens for life after school

Printed from: https://newbostonpost.com/2015/08/24/future-chefs-preparing-teens-for-life-after-school/

Transitioning to a new home in Roslindale, Massachusetts was not easy for 17-year-old Douley Oliver, who moved to the area with his family from Haiti about four years ago. Harding had to learn to adjust to a new culture with new rules. Now, Future Chefs is helping Douley transition to his next phase in life after high school. This non-profit organization teaches urban youths how to prepare for life and work through cooking.

“The first day I walked in [to Future Chefs] and they were cooking, I was kind of lost and I didn’t know where to go,” said Douley. But after being introduced to a few people Harding said, “They were all friendly to me and I felt welcomed.”

Through Future Chefs, Douley has had the chance to meet other chefs in Boston and now has the dream of becoming the kind of first-class cook his grandmother had been at a five-star Haitian hotel.

“She used to love cooking a lot, so when she died and when I came here, I started cooking and I began to like it,” said Douley. “I feel like I want to keep her legacy, keep cooking and pass it on maybe.”

Through Future Chefs, Douley, a rising senior at City on the Hill High School, hopes to receive a college scholarship and major in business and culinary arts.


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Copyright: ©Beth Treffeisen


In 2008, Toni Elka, founder and executive director of Future Chefs, conceived the project to help low- and moderate-income kids who did not have any plans after high school. Elka, herself, had come from a low-income background and graduated from high school without a clear idea what to do professionally. She finally realized that the food industry allowed people like herself to be self-sufficient. Today, she stresses that “a hands-on focus like a career in culinary [arts]” can help people become successful in their personal and professional life.

By partnering with Quincy, Everett, Somerville, and Madison Park high schools, children from around the region can take part in the program and learn not only how to cook, but also to be on time, be a team player, how to take care of themselves, and how to plan ahead.

Participating in the program can be a real “confidence booster for them,” said Elka. Students come in and learn a hard skill and a craft according to the high standards that Future Chefs establishes.

The students “have incredible assets that they bring to the industry level, a lot of energy, creativity, youthful ability to engage and willingness to work long hours,” said Elka.

There is currently a chronic need for chefs in Boston and, according to Elka, Future Chefs provides a pipeline of talented people. Restaurant jobs accounted for 9 percent of the Massachusetts’ economy in 2014, according to the Massachusetts Restaurant Association. It is estimated that the culinary arts and food services sector will create 22,000 new jobs in Massachusetts by 2020. This industry offers entry-level jobs for teens without a need for a college degree, and it is an ideal fit for the 37 percent of low-income students who do not graduate high school.

“It’s a win-win for their institution and restaurant. It’s a win for the young person, and it is a win for the communities that they come from,” said Elka, who believes that the industry needs to step up and start investing in the next generation.

Future Chefs alum, Jose Teixera from Roxbury-Dorchester, works as a mentor in the Future Chefs kitchen this summer and assists in the Madison Park High School kitchen during the school year. Teixera said that the program helped him achieve his goals.

“What I learned most [from Future Chefs] is definitely networking,” said Teixera. “I’m a really shy person so [Elka was] trying to teach me: you got to put yourself out there. And she’s definitely helped me out with that. Communication, connections and networking, definitely.”

Teixera enjoyed attending Future Chefs because he learned real skills. In the future, he plans to open a Cape Verdean cuisine restaurant that combines old world cooking with new world techniques. Until then, he hopes to continue inspiring young kids from his neighborhood.

“Dorchester, Roxbury, they are not the best neighborhoods in Boston to live in,” said Teixera. “I want to show these young kids you can do whatever you want to do, as long as you set your mind to it.”

Contact Beth Treffeisen at [email protected]

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