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Culinary school gives homeless cooks skills and hope

 The Contributor (USA) 21 February 2019

Ten years ago, Brett Swayn was sleeping at Nashville’s largest homeless shelter and landed a job in the kitchen at Fleming’s Restaurant. After spending years climbing the ladder in the restaurant business, Swayn is now teaching members of Nashville homeless community how to become master chefs. Following in the footsteps of programs in other cities, Swayn hopes to give not only cooking skills to his homeless friends, but hope. (728 Words) - By Julie Williams


TheContributor_ cookery school

 Brett Swayn and Terry Kemper. Photo courtesy of The Cookery

Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu once said, "Give a man a fish, feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, feed him for a lifetime." What about cooking the fish?

In the United States, there exist a growing number of culinary schools whose sole purpose is teaching people struggling with homelessness how to cook like professional chefs. One successful program is the Salvation Army's Culinary Training Program in Louisville, Ky. The program, which began in 2005, is a 10-week intensive course that trains men and women in everything from knife skills to sanitation. The students also learn how to make dishes like soups and sauces from scratch.

"The program was designed to provide an accessible, practical and cost-free training opportunity for homeless and low-income men and women," said Kiera Phillips, representative for the Louisville Salvation Army program. "Students are provided [a] classroom and hands-on kitchen training that leads to living-wage employment opportunities and a life of dignity, purpose and self-sufficiency."

Everything the students learn is intended to prepare them for a professional kitchen. This training provides not only skills needed to make it in the culinary world but also pride, confidence and hope for those who need it. The Louisville program has had approximately 100 graduates, many of whom have gone on to work in restaurants and country clubs in the Louisville area. Others continue to work in the nonprofit field.

Here in Nashville, an organization named Lambscroft is in the early stages of developing a similar culinary program called The Cookery. Chefs Brett Swayn and Terry Kemper will be teaching four month long programs to six or seven students at a time.

"It's an opportunity…to deal with the homeless situation that everybody wants to deal with in a positive manner," said Swayn. "Instead of taking care [of] and maintaining homelessness, here's a job placement opportunity that will be biblically based, social health-minded and community-advantageous."

Having experienced homelessness himself, Swayn understands what his friends on the streets feel, and he wants to help. When he was homeless, nearly 10 years ago, Swayn was volunteering at a shelter in Nashville when he met and worked with the sous chef from Fleming's Prime Steakhouse & Wine Bar. The chef soon gave Swayn an entry-level job at the restaurant.

"I was there for eight years learning how to clean a restaurant, all the way up to doing the books and ordering and running the whole back of the house," Swayn says. "Every aspect of the cooking I was responsible for." As a result of his hard work, Swayn was eventually sent all over the country to open other branches of the Fleming's franchise. He also became sous chef for the Nashville restaurant. Last May, Swayn resigned from that position to go into full-time ministry.

Even after all of his success in the restaurant business, Swayn has not forgotten what it was like to be on the streets. That is why Swayn continues to spend much of his time trying to help people who are still out there. Part of those efforts, with the help of many other people, churches and organizations, was the formation of the nonprofit Lambscroft. The many programs that Lambscroft offers all revolve around assisting the homeless community of Nashville.

Lambscroft has a building on 12th Avenue South where it will be operating its program. The building is currently undergoing renovations to convert it to a café, culinary school and event area. There will be a commercial-grade kitchen, and the café and event areas will give the students the opportunity to practice what they learn. The money made from the business will be used to support the school so the students can attend for free. Lambscroft has been working hard to get the codes, contractors and architects on the same page. "We're almost to the stage where we can begin putting up the drywall," Swayn said. He believes it will be about three months until teaching can begin.

However, while training students as chefs and getting them off the streets is a primary concern at The Cookery, its ultimate purpose goes beyond the kitchen alone. "The main drive of what we're trying to do…is to teach them the principles and the discipline that they can take into any field of their life," said Swayn.


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Originally published by The Contributor ©

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