Creative Cuisine, a program of the Upper East Tennessee Human Development Agency, is a 14-week culinary experience that teaches students everything from basic knife skills and sanitation to creating menus and business plans. In addition, it also teaches financial management, confidence and gives hope for the future.
Haley White, communications manager with UETHDA says, “This comprehensive program was inspired mainly by the huge deficit in the culinary workforce nationwide. There are jobs, but not skilled labor.” The culinary arts education program serves low-income and income-vulnerable people in Northeast Tennessee. It helps with case management, financial literacy and can lead to a thriving career.
“The skills learned can help one find a successful career within many different facets of the food industry, including quick service, fine dining, banquets and entrepreneurship,” White said.
So, how does it work? Students who enroll receive culinary education, real-world experience, career development and support from a highly-trained staff – and it’s free to those who meet the income guidelines. It is a non-profit organization within the community serving the low income of East Tennessee. “We partner with restaurants and hotels to ensure a job for the students once the program is complete,” White explains. “MeadowView Restaurant and Convention Center is one of the main partnerships we have. There are also other restaurants within the Tri-Cities and senior living homes we are partners with (on this).” The Farmers Market in downtown Kingsport also helps educate those who are interested in starting their own business.
Each of the students who walk through the doors of Creative Cuisine take a different path to get there. Some make contact through an agency social worker or case manager to get enrolled. Others seek it out. Potential students are asked why they want to be a part of the 14-week culinary program, their specific income and their goals for after the program. Everything is provided for the student, including equipment, uniforms, food and knives.
The students have to bring the passion, the drive and the right attitude.
“I have high standards and always have. I take hospitality and what I do very seriously. If it isn’t right, it doesn’t come out of the kitchen,” said current student Cat Castle.
Castle got involved with the program after seeing a flyer; she decided to make the call to enroll.
“I am just finishing the program and we will be working with the new students when they come in a few weeks. The students get to become the teachers at the end,” said Castle, who says she has thoroughly enjoyed her time at Creative Cuisine and learned many valuable skills for her future in the culinary world.
In addition to loving to cook for those in the community, she uses her skills in the kitchen to make her own artisan cat and dog treats for animal lovers like herself. She also grows her own herbs. “I know what the animals can and cannot have, so I find alternatives,” she explained.
Students of the program are instructed by Chef Gerald Egger of the Art Institute. Chef Egger, as with all the staff of the Creative Cuisine, is a highly-trained and passionate culinary teacher. With 25 years of experience within the culinary realm and his own website (chefjerryonfood.com), Egger enjoys what he gets to be a part of everyday within the Creative Cuisine program.
“I found the job on Indeed and wanted to help with the start-up. I sincerely believe in the mission and the program itself,” says Egger. “Culinary is the easiest skill for self-sustainment.”
Another student benefiting from the program is Joann Sams. With a passion for cooking, Sams saw the ad for Creative Cuisine on Facebook and calls it fate.
“With cooking, you either have it or you don’t. You love the chaos, or you hate it,” said Sams. And she loves it. She especially loves learning the different combinations of foods and why they work so well together.
“The main thing you learn is patience! You have to just slow down,” Sams said. “I encourage anyone to do it. Why not? I was stuck in my job and, if you are settling, you are sinking. But now I am rising!”
Sams says she looks forward to using the skills she’s learned at Creative Cuisine to get into catering and encourages people to put love into whatever they do, especially when it involves cooking.
While the students learn and benefit from the skills training Creative Cuisine provides, the community can enjoy the fruits of their labor at the program’s Café 121, open from 10:30 a.m. to 2 p.m., Tuesday through Thursday, each week at 121 Jack White Drive (behind Planet Fitness) in Kingsport. The café offers express lunches prepared by Creative Cuisine culinary students. Creative Cuisine also offers on-site catering for businesses and a banquet room for meetings or events. There is no set menu; they cater right to the patron.
All proceeds go back into the program for food, uniforms, etc. Donations are also welcome, and individuals can sponsor a class or a student. There are also cooking demos that include “A Night with the Chef” for anyone interested in something different. A new 14-week program just started Aug. 1, and will run Monday through Thursday from 8:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. However, students can apply at any time as Creative Cuisine is always taking applications. To learn more, call (423) 246-6180 or visit www.uethda.org/creative-cuisine.