At first blush, a five-star hotel and a local community food kitchen would seem to have little in common. An innovative program funded by USDA’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), the Ritz-Carlton in Pentagon City, Va., and the DC Central Kitchen (DCCK) in Washington, D.C., have created a partnership that takes hard-working SNAP participants and helps them grow into professional chefs at the Ritz-Carlton.
DCCK’s Culinary Job Training program prepares adults facing high barriers to employment for careers in the food service industry. It specializes in equipping adults with histories of incarceration, addiction, homelessness, and trauma with the hands-on training and support they need to begin a culinary career. The program is partially funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s SNAP Employment and Training Program, or SNAP E&T. SNAP E&T, which operates in 53 states and territories, is designed to help SNAP participants gain the skills they need to find work and become economically self-sufficient.
The most effective SNAP E&T programs partner with local training programs in high-demand industries, often manufacturing, construction, healthcare, and hospitality. And that’s just the type of program the District of Columbia is supporting with DCCK and the Ritz-Carlton. DCCK (a SNAP E&T provider) partners with the Ritz-Carlton to place graduates of their culinary program in culinary positions. At the end of a rigorous, 14-week training program, these successful graduates have earned the right to wear a chef’s coat at the prestigious hotel, where they are part of the staff or, as the Ritz-Carlton motto declares, “Ladies and Gentlemen Serving Ladies and Gentlemen.”
Sriram Hariharan, the executive chef at the Pentagon City Ritz-Carlton, shared the inspiring story of a former intern and now full-time line cook named William. William graduated from the DCCK culinary job training program a year ago.
“DCCK opened a door for William. And because of my relationship with their culinary school, I knew he possessed the qualifications for the position I needed to fill,” said Chef Sriram. “But as I told William and a number of other interns from the program, you have to earn your continued employment. You have to continuously have an exemplary attitude towards learning and zeal to succeed.”
William spent many years battling addiction and homelessness before learning of DCCK’s culinary training during his time in rehab. “DCCK helped me refocus my life,” he explained. “The training was not just focused on kitchen skills; they taught me how to deal with my addiction too. The empowerment class taught me how to handle the stress and demands of employment and how to deal with people instead of reaching for a drink or using drugs.”
The Ritz-Carlton has hired seven entry-level staff since the program began in 2015, providing women and men like William an opportunity to grow in the hotel’s culinary hierarchy. Chef Sriram says the hotel gets as much out of the relationship as their new staff. The hotel kitchen not only has many hard-working staff, but also a reliable source of resumes for future job openings.
“Our partnership with DCCK and the culinary training program is impressive,” said the chef. “It’s like the old Chinese proverb, ‘if you give a man a fish you feed him for a day. If you teach a man to fish you feed him for a lifetime.’”