Monday, March 26, 2012

Teach a man to fish...

One of the hot areas of philanthropy in New Orleans today is in the field of culinary instruction. It seeks primarily to give otherwise at-risk individuals skills that enable them to compete for jobs that are comparatively plentiful in this city. Today we are going to look at some of the risks, opportunities, and challenges involved with this sort of philanthropy and analyze it in terms of Ignatian values broadly considered.

There are three different programs in our city that offer a similar, at least in concept, hands-on approach to offering basic culinary instruction to at-risk youth. The most established of these is Café Reconcile, which is an outreach program of the Immaculate Conception Jesuit Church (or "Jesuits on Baronne"). Very similar in its approach and sharing some of the same talent is Liberty's Kitchen, which is right across the street from the New Orleans Criminal Court system and jail - also known infamously as "Tulane and Broad." Liberty's Kitchen is branching out in areas beyond culinary instruction that multiply its impact within the community, including the preparation of healthy school lunches for New Orleans College Prep Charter School. It is also a member of a program known as Catalyst Kitchens, which should help give you an idea of the nationwide scope of programs like this. Then there is Café Hope on the West Bank in Marerro. Run by Catholic Charities, it has a much larger overall mission although you would not recognize that based on its web site.

Taking a very different approach with high-school age students is the brand-new culinary arts program at the New Orleans Center for the Creative Arts (NOCCA). 

Unanswered questions remain about all of these programs' long-term impact, and we'll talk about that some today. One thing worth noting is that attendance at a private culinary school like Johnson & Wales will set you back at least $26,000 a year in tuition alone. Much more affordable is the John Folse Culinary Institute at Nicholls State in Thibodaux.

Our local chefs are also involved in many of these programs. Some of the more notable parties are Emeril Lagasse and his Emeril Lagasse Foundation, which sponsors many programs throughout the city including all of the ones named above. The John Besh Foundation also has a very different approach toward culinary instruction with its "Chefs Move!" program.

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