Sixty-eight confirmed guests attended the April graduating class of the “Quentin Cooks” held in the H-Unit mess hall.
The graduating class prepared and served a six-course meal that was a worthy finish to the 12-week Culinary Arts Program available to H-Unit residents with an Earliest Possible Release Date (EPRD) of 6 to 36 months.
Overseen by Chef Lisa Dombroski, the program teaches culinary skills and practical restaurant training from instructors with real-world experience. Graduates also earn a ServSafe certification making them “job-ready” to work for any California restaurant.
“This is real-world training, and all graduates get help with job placement upon completion and parole,” affirms Helaine “Lanie” Melnizter of TRUST (Teaching Responsibility Utilizing Sociological Training), a co-sponsor of the program.
TRUST provides practical support for Northern California and works with Project LA for Southern California. These organizations help newly released inmates take the tactical steps necessary to return to the community and find employment, housing and a wide range of support, from getting a phone to opening a bank account. TRUST/Project LA have committed to follow-up with graduates for a year after release.
Attendees included Warden Ron Davis, sponsors and potential employers of these job-ready graduates. The Quentin Cooks had their work cut out for them, as there were approximately 70 guests, double the attendees of the first graduating class in October 2016.
As most of the guests worked in the hospitality industry or managed their own restaurants, they all anticipated a meal worthy of Chef Lisa’s talent.
In order to introduce themselves to the guests, the graduates also served the meal they had prepared:
AMUSE (crostini, fava, ricotta, Java lump crab)
SPRING SALAD (butter lettuce, carrot, radish, cucumber, shallot thyme vinaigrette)
ORGANIC COUNTRY BREAD/homemade butter (donated by Peter Hughes & Pizzaiolo, Oakland)
ASPARAGUS (served with 55° salmon, truffle, yolk, lemon)
MEAT AND POTATOES (Allen Brothers angus, Okinawa sweet potato, mushroom, kale)
‘QUENTIN’ NO BAKE QUESO-CAKE (served with chocolate, berries)
“I saw a person at your table didn’t have water ,and you filled it, and that is the real message,” Chef Lisa told Darnell ‘Man-man’ Stewart. “The goal is a complete dining experience.”
Chef Lisa’s employer, The Chefs’ Warehouse, provided the fixings. It was clear to all who enjoyed the meal how the company earned the motto “Where the Chefs Shop.” Successful participants will receive a Chef’s Knife Set upon release.
“In the kitchen, we were taught to talk to everyone and trust everyone. We are a team,” said Larry Sierengowski. “Don’t matter your race or appearance. They don’t care how it got on the plate.”
Sierengowski is a second striker on a six-year term and will work with TRUST to find a job after his release. As to the 12-week course, “It was a parade of tastes from week one to graduation. My favorite new item was the purple Okinawa sweet potatoes. I’ve invited at least 20 to take the class.”
Michael “Yahya” Cooke said he took the class because “it’s the only profession that you don’t have to wait to be paid to eat.” By the end of the course he had gained an understanding of public safety and work training.
The certification training and testing was provided by Mike Sabella of FoodSafetyCertified.org. “I’ll be working with Mike with the National Restaurant Association to prepare for a Food Protection Manager’s examination jointly with next class,” Cooke said.
Not only did he invite many H-Unit residents to attend the next class, scheduled to begin in July, but he also has a dream of a restaurant of his own, “The Shack was an old boathouse built onto the pier and would be a dream restaurant.”
Darnell “Man-man” Stewart lives by the motto “Got to feel your way to the top.” “Quentin Cooks trained me, and I now have the courage to go ahead and talk with these people,” Stewart asserted. By the end of the night, Stewart had four different invitations to interview with potential employers.
A wait-list already exists for the next class.
This program is made possible by a partnership between TRUST and The Chefs’ Warehouse, a nationwide distributor of gourmet food and restaurant supplies.