Culinary Classes for the Community

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By Rikki Breznak

Elijah’s Promise is not only a soup kitchen for the hungry, but also works to educate students and place them in jobs.

Elijah’s Promise is located on Livingston Avenue in New Brunswick. It began as a soup kitchen where many people volunteered to feed the hungry. The organization soon began teaching culinary classes in order to provide an education to the community.

“We no longer call it a ‘soup kitchen,’” said Chef Pearl Thompson at Elijah’s Promise. “‘Soup kitchen’ is old language. Today we call it a ‘community kitchen.’”

Chef Thompson, a teacher at Elijah’s Promise, attended the Culinary Institute of America for Catering in Upstate New York. Thompson opened the culinary school at Elijah’s Promise with its executive director at the time, Lisanne Finston. When hiring for culinary staff, Thompson looks for people who have had experience at a restaurant or who have been to culinary school.

The Elijah’s Promise Culinary School students are not necessarily the same people coming to the community kitchen. The students have varying backgrounds—some have recently been laid off, some have always wanted to cook, and others are homeless. The average age group is around 30 years old. Elijah’s Promise also works very closely with the Middlesex County Employment and Training Youth Program to help children who are at risk. The Elijah’s Promise Culinary School accepts tuition for students.

“We don’t view people as being separate,” said Thompson. “The rich should not be separated from the poor. We accept everyone—that is the beauty of it.”

At the Elijah’s Promise Culinary School, there are classes for cooking, baking, and pastries. All classes take place five days a week and include both hands-on material and lectures. According to Thompson, her students are placed in jobs in the corporate, institutional, and restaurant sectors.

Thompson says the hardest part is getting the word out about Elijah’s Promise Culinary School. However, the group still manages to get word out through community events, prior students, the newspaper, and social media such as their website and Facebook page.

“The most rewarding aspect about this job is when people get it.” said Thompson. “When they understand food permeates all aspects of society. It’s cultural and it’s political.”