Chef Rick Bayless Connecting West Side Youth To The Culinary Arts | WBEZ
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Celebrity Chef Helps Bridge The Gap Between West Side Youth And The Restaurant Industry

Chicago restaurants need workers. Meanwhile, unemployment is high on the West Side.

A celebrity chef wants to close that gap and create a pipeline for peer restaurants.

On Monday, Rick Bayless launches Impact Culinary Training. It’s an eight-week program in food training followed by an internship at some of the city’s top restaurants — Frontera Grill, Lula Cafe, Duck Duck Goat, Luella’s Gospel Bird, Big Jones and Honey Butter Fried Chicken. Chefs from those restaurants will also teach one day in the program.

All over the city’s glittery culinary world, restaurants are understaffed, Bayless said. “You put an ad out for something and you get zero responses.”

“There’s also a need, I think, in some underserved neighborhoods for job training and somehow bridging a gap into those neighborhoods,” he added.

The program’s first cohort includes 20 people, ages 16 to 24, who’ve struggled with employment or who’ve possessed a passion for food beyond fast food. They come from Austin, Humboldt Park, North Lawndale and the Garfield Park area. Chronic unemployment for black youth in this city is staggering.

Bayless said similar food job readiness programs don’t help people when the instruction is over. “They give them the training and then throw them out in the street and say, ‘Good luck, hope you find a job,’” Bayless said.

He said the biggest hope with his program is that after the internship, the young people get hired.

“Our goal is to get them ready and then help them get a job. Not just in fast food but in restaurants where they can see there is great potential in culinary. But also, hopefully, be able to fill in the gaps because we have so many gaps in the restaurant industry,” Bayless said.

The types of jobs they would qualify for would be back of the house jobs, like a prep cook. But they also may go into catering or food manufacturing down the line, or perhaps become an entrepreneur. Classes will be held in a teaching kitchen at the Hatchery, a food and beverage incubator in East Garfield Park, which is a joint venture between the Industrial Council of Nearwest Chicago (ICNC) and Accion.

“There’s a population that’s been untapped,” said Priscilla Torrence, director of workforce development for ICNC. “What will make them be retained with restaurant owners is the ability to show up on time, have a professional resume.”

On the first day, students will earn their food handler certificate after taking a written test. They will also receive wraparound support, if needed for mental health and child care services. They also will receive bus cards.

Natalie Moore is WBEZ’s South Side reporter. Follow her on Twitter at @natalieymoore.

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