Men­tor­ing teens to­ward culi­nary suc­cess

Chicago Sun-Times - - TASTE - BY EVAN F. MOORE, STAFF RE­PORTER emoore@sun­ | @evanF­moore

When chil­dren from un­der­served com­mu­ni­ties de­cide they want to break out of their cur­rent cir­cum­stances, what can they do to make their dreams come true?

What if one of them has as­pi­ra­tions to be­come a chef at a Miche­lin-starred restau­rant?

The Hos­pi­tal­ity Schol­ars Foun­da­tion (HSF) aims to an­swer those ques­tions, and more.

The foun­da­tion is the brain­child of Ni­cola Copeland, a trained chef with 13 years of ex­pe­ri­ence, and ac­tivist­e­d­u­ca­tor Dr. Brian J. Hill.

The foun­da­tion de­vel­ops re­la­tion­ships with the culi­nary com­mu­nity via men­tor­ship and em­ploy­ment op­por­tu­ni­ties while guid­ing CPS stu­dents from 19 schools through schol­ar­ship man­age­ment and ca­reer readi­ness.

Copeland and Hill helm a team con­sist­ing of com­mu­nity mem­bers and ed­u­ca­tors who have taught and cer­ti­fied more than 5,000 CPS and trade school stu­dents since 2005, while do­nat­ing more than $160,000 to pro­vide pro­fes­sional li­cen­sure.

Copeland be­lieves the foun­da­tion helps chefs of color break through the culi­nary in­dus­try’s glass ceil­ing.

“African Amer­i­cans have al­ways been the cooks,” said Copeland, HSF’s ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor. “In the last 30 years where you do not see as many African Amer­i­cans, I think a lot of that had to do with the for­mal­iza­tion of culi­nary ed­u­ca­tion and ac­cess.

“The emphasis slowly be­came ‘Go get your ed­u­ca­tion in culi­nary so you have ba­sic foun­da­tions,’ and I think a lot of that elim­i­nated per­sons of color; it specif­i­cally elim­i­nated them from ex­ec­u­tive chef po­si­tions and man­age­ment — lead­er­ship po­si­tions in hos­pi­tal­ity. With that, a grad­ual shift from ap­pren­tice learn­ing to more for­mal­ized learn­ing.”

Chef Ken Polk of Bat­ter & Berries, a Lincoln Park eatery where some HSF stu­dents find work, says the pro­gram is ben­e­fi­cial for ev­ery stake­holder in­volved — es­pe­cially for stu­dents who can’t gain on-site work ex­pe­ri­ence due to the pan­demic.

“It’s a win-win for all par­ties in­volved; my main in­ter­est [is] mak­ing sure that stu­dents who look like me — and the ar­eas where we’re from — can ac­cess op­por­tu­ni­ties that we cre­ate that they may not have any other way,” said Polk. “For in­stance, mak­ing an omelet. It sounds re­ally sim­ple, right? I’m in a pro­fes­sional kitchen, and I can’t tell you how many eggs don’t make it. Now that’s some­one who’s prac­tic­ing that at home.”

Polk said the restau­rant in­dus­try re­ally stepped up amid the pan­demic as mil­lions of restau­rant em­ploy­ees were laid off, shed­ding light on why ca­reers in the culi­nary in­dus­try are more es­sen­tial than ever. (Only a few places across the coun­try could keep folks em­ployed with car­ry­out pro­grams.)

“Ev­ery other in­dus­try is heav­ily re­cruited; there’s lots of money put into [In­for­ma­tion Tech­nol­ogy], but as you saw dur­ing the shut­down, what was still open? Restau­rants,” said Polk. “What do peo­ple try to get ev­ery day? Some­thing to eat. Where do we find th­ese peo­ple? We have to cre­ate that la­bor pool.”

HSF’s an­swer to the “shift,” Copeland said, is ed­u­ca­tional pro­gram­ming, such as Mil­lie’s Camp, a sum­mer camp hosted by Loy­ola Uni­ver­sity’s Recre­ational and Ecol­ogy Cen­ter where 30 stu­dents learned last year the ins and outs of farm­ing and sea­sonal cook­ing.

Also, stu­dents have the op­por­tu­nity to com­pete for schol­ar­ships via HSF’s “Legacy Week Cel­e­bra­tion,” an an­nual culi­nary com­pe­ti­tion in honor of Black His­tory Month. Stu­dents are awarded schol­ar­ships from schools such as the Wash­burne Culi­nary and Hos­pi­tal­ity In­sti­tute of Chicago.

HSF alum­nus Ma­lik Waddy re­cently grad­u­ated from Ur­ban Prep’s Bronzevill­e cam­pus. Waddy, who’s cur­rently a chef at The Wood­lawn, a Chatham eatery and event space, says the foun­da­tion gave him the skills and train­ing to boost his culi­nary ca­reer.

“[HSF] teaches us about knife cuts, safety and san­i­ta­tion, and how to write a recipe,” said Waddy, who also worked at Soulé Chicago, a West Town-based bou­tique restau­rant. “But dur­ing the sum­mer­time, it’s all about your re­sume, your cover let­ter, your el­e­va­tor speech.”

Copeland echoes Polk’s sen­ti­ments when it comes to sup­port­ing stu­dents who may not come from the culi­nary in­dus­try’s tra­di­tional em­ploy­ment pipe­lines.

“It is pretty mag­i­cal,” said Copeland. “I think Brian [Hill] and I all have th­ese shin­ing ex­am­ples of young peo­ple who may have had a pass­ing in­ter­est in hos­pi­tal­ity or food and that pass­ing in­ter­est blos­soms into some­thing amaz­ing. … Work­ing with kids, they all be­come kind of your own chil­dren or your fa­vorite cousins — and you root for them.”


Some foun­da­tion alums (from left: Hannah Cun­ning­ham, Shae­jonah Jones, Heaven Trot­ter) have gone on to work with lo­cal chefs such as Ken Polk (far left) of Lincoln Park’s Bat­ter & Berries.


Hos­pi­tal­ity Schol­ars Foun­da­tion alum­nus Ma­lik Waddy cooks at The Wood­lawn.

Ni­cola Copeland

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