Fresh Starts and Full Plates with Triad Community Kitchen
Kristi Maier| @triadfoodies
Fresh Starts and Full Plates marked a milestone for Providence Restaurant & Catering but the event last Sunday also marked giant leaps for hundreds of people whose lives have changed by being a part of Second Harvest Food Bank of Northwest North Carolina’s Triad Community Kitchen.
Nearly 200 supporters, sponsors and community leaders joined the gala to celebrate Triad Community Kitchen’s ten year anniversary and Providence is an extension of that organization. It was an inaugural stand-alone fundraising event “celebrating ten years of changing lives one recipe at a time.”
Triad Community Kitchen, or TCK, has always been about fresh starts. The culinary training program is designed to help unemployed and underemployed individuals reach a goal of sustainable employment, particularly through the hospitality industry. In October 2015, Providence opened as a real world training ground for TCK graduates to be a part of the “learning continuum” and earn a living wage.
The fundraiser also marked another opportunity for Providence to show its interpretation of Farm to Fork regional cuisine and to celebrate over 600 alumni as well as members and supporters of the organization, along with farmers and contributors, like other local chefs, restaurants and businesses.
Guests enjoyed a cocktail hour with silent auction and eventually moved to a ballroom where several farm-sponsored food stations were set up for service while the Wally West Little Big Band played old standards. Emcee for the evening was former WXII anchor Cameron Kent and the guests got to hear from leaders and alumni whose lives have been made the better since graduating from TCK.
Founding Director and TCK Executive Chef Jeff Bacon said it was the perfect way to celebrate how far Second Harvest Food Bank has come and how they may continue to serve. Bacon brought the TCK concept, one which he had seen run successfully in other parts of the country, to Second Harvest Food Bank of NWNC ten years ago. He knew there was a need here and said he had to make it happen. Bacon says he’s proud of the impact it has had on others. “Technical skills are only part of the equation. You can teach a person how to dice or make a sauce or roast a chicken properly, but that doesn’t mean you will be successful in life or in the workplace. There’s so much more to it than that. There’s the family element here, the life skills, being coachable in a team environment, to believe in yourself. It’s amazing when you haven’t been encouraged in so long, what a little encouragement will do. That’s what TCK and Providence do, they give people that culture of encouragement.”
Clyde Ferguson, CEO of Second Harvest Food Bank of NWNC thanked supporters for helping them celebrate these milestones. “Our food bank’s mission is to provide food and hope to our neighbors who have far too little of both. While we simultaneously work with the people we serve and other fine organizations to help people change their life circumstances so that tomorrow, they won’t need help with those needs.”
More than 300,000 people across 18 counties receive more than 40 million pounds of food from Second Harvest Food Bank of NWNC. It’s all privately funded with donations (monetary and food) and contributions from citizens and organizations. Ferguson added, “In a biblical sense, we essentially are teaching these folks in need how to fish, so they can become self-sufficient in their lives.”
Bacon says there are so many success stories of people who’d practically given up hope, but who’ve now gone on to positions of Executive Chef or Employee of the Year after leaving the TCK culinary program. One example is Vanessa Lanier, one of TCK’ s first graduates, who’s now Executive Chef at Providence. And Lanier, who’s originally from Barcelona, Spain, also spoke to the guests Sunday about her journey ten years ago, suddenly finding herself in a failed marriage with no job and no hope. “I went online to find a plane ticket to go home. And by the grace of God, I saw this ad for TCK and Chef Jeff Bacon’s name and I wrote an email to him. I went through school and through my internship, and I knew I could turn this around and be an example for my girls.”
Years later, after successful stints in the restaurant industry and in country clubs, Lanier returned to TCK and now holds her current position. “Who knew that little ol’ me, from another country, who couldn’t drive a car when I got here, that because of the kindness and compassion that was given to me, that I’d be able to buy my own home, purchase my own car and more importantly, became an example to my young daughters.” Lanier says she strives to be an extension of what was given to her. “It is by providence that I’m here to extend that compassion and kindness and I must pay forward to the people who come to this kitchen. It has been an honor and privilege and it has changed by life.”
Guests were able to view posters with the testimony of other TCK graduates from years past, like Alex Galvis, who’s now the sous chef at The Lenox Hotel in Boston, or Terrell Anistead, who’s now a line cook at Winston-Salem’s popular Willow’s Bistro. Others like, Amber Castillo, have gone on to management positions at area restaurants. Each graduate has his or her own story to tell about how their lives were transformed with the Triad Community Kitchen.
As Lanier said in her comments, while quite possibly stealing a few hearts, “We have to remind ourselves that even when we lift one person, we truly, truly are lifting humanity.”
Wanna go? Providence Restaurant & Catering is located 5790 University Parkway. providencerestaurantws.com. Every meal purchased supports Triad Community Kitchen. For more information about Triad Community Kitchen or Second Harvest Food Bank of Northwest North Carolina, visit hungernwnc.org.