By Todd Cohen
WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — Preparing food for agencies that feed the hungry while providing culinary training for people who are homeless, unemployed or underemployed is the focus of a new initiative of The Second Harvest Food Bank of Northwest North Carolina.
In its first year, training up to 100 students in the “cook-chill” process, the Food Bank’s new Triad Community Kitchen will produce roughly 20,000 pounds of food in ready-to-heat bags, says Nan Griswold, executive director of the Food Bank.
Inspired and directed by Jeff Bacon, president of the Triad Chef Association and an instructor at the Culinary School at Guilford Technical Community College, the $765,000, 2,500-square-foot facility includes a kitchen, classroom and office.
The idea for the kitchen grew out of a need at the Food Bank to find a way to handle a surge in donations of perishable meat and produce, Griswold says.
In the past five years, she says, the volume of those perishable foods donated to the Food Bank has grown 500 percent, in large part because of a 40 percent expansion of its refrigeration capacity funded as part of a $2 million capital campaign that ended in 2002.
That food, however, has a short shelf-life.
Through the cook-chill process, the food is placed in plastic bags and put in a blast freezer, lowering its temperature to 34 degrees Farenheit.
That makes the food ready for use by on-site feeding programs such as homeless shelters, soup kitchens and group homes, which simply can reheat the food, in the plastic bags, in boiling water.
The community kitchen plans to offer five training classes a year for 20 students per class, with each class lasting 10 weeks.
With applicants screened in collaboration with Goodwill of Northwest North Carolina, students would spent eight weeks in the classroom and kitchen, another week in an internship in a restaurant or food service, and a final week receiving coaching in job-seeking skills such as interview techniques.
Thirty restaurants and food service organizations under contract with large institutions such as hospitals already have signed up to provide internships, Griswold says.
Students who complete the class will receive credits they can use to transfer to Guilford Tech.
The first class began Nov. 20, and the community kitchen was dedicated at an open house on Dec. 5.
The Food Bank still needs to raise roughly $100,000 to pay for the community kitchen.