Cooking for Life

Our culinary arts training program, Cooking for Life, is achieving remarkable success at setting homeless youth on a fulfilling, sustainable career path. Led by a professional chef instructor, the pre-employment program trains young people for entry-level jobs in the hospitality industry through hands-on experience.

Spanning several weeks, youth in the program learn daily in our professional onsite instructional kitchen and then participate in job placements to gain real world experience. Many of our students are hired during their placements while others find work in similar food environments immediately afterwards.

Repetition and structure

Cooking for Life students learn the fundamental cooking skills required in the industry. They receive hands-on instruction in industrial kitchen equipment, such as the grill, range, deep fryer and mixers, as well as experience with all of the types of pots, pans and utensils. The most important skills they learn are knife skills.

The majority of a chef’s job is prep work. Slicing, dicing, chopping and peeling are essential to orchestrate a full meal service and they are the bulk of what an entry-level position entails. Our students spend a good part of their day on this kind of work to prepare them for work in a restaurant.

Time management is a key skill they learn in class. Understanding how long certain foods take to prepare and cook is essential to preparing a meal. Students learn several facets of time management to ready themselves for career in a restaurant.

The program is strict. Students must be on time every day and must follow instruction during class. Our goal is to simulate industry expectations as closely as possible so that the kids are properly prepared for their job placements. On average, the program graduates two-thirds of the students each Cooking for Life session finishes. The graduates of the program are highly committed and capable.

Food Handlers Certification

Covenant House pays the fee for all students to take their Food Handlers Certification. The certification tests sanitation habits and is an excellent starting point for youth to enter any professional kitchen environment.

Learning good habits

Cooking for Life students are well rounded and have solid basic skills in every area, giving them a distinct advantage over other entry-level applicants. Students spend time in every station in the kitchen. This not only prepares them to do any kind of work asked of them at their job placements, but also exposes them to all areas of the food industry. Many of our students pick “specialties” and request job placements based on the areas they have excelled.

The culinary arts youth worker assists each student with any life challenges they may be having and coordinates placements for them that suit their interests.

For example, youth who enjoy baking will do a placement in a bakery while other youth who want to work in fine dining will be placed in a hotel or high-end restaurant.

Recipe for success

Cooking for Life is one of our most successful programs. Kids from Cooking for Life achieve success on many levels. Not only are kids being hired in the food industry immediately out of this program, but many are falling in love with their jobs. Some are requesting apprenticeships from their new chefs to earn their Red Seal certifications, a highly sought professional designation. Several have plans to become professional chefs.

Students learn valuable life skills in the Cooking for Life program. They learn to work as a team and to deal with personal frustration in a work environment. They take turns leading the group to gain valuable sous-chef experience. Students say the accountability and time management they learn in the program is something they use in their day-to-day life as well.

But, there is another kind of success emerging out of Cooking for Life. These kids are enjoying a sense of accomplishment they have never felt before. The hands-on learning of Cooking for Life bypasses many learning disabilities and even mental health issues, allowing kids to feel capable for the first time in their lives. The entire program is structured to ensure that youth can succeed. And these successes build on one another until they realize that they have value and their dreams may be possible.

Contact us

If you would like to learn more, or are interested in hiring or interviewing our youth, contact:

Cooking for Life Program Facilitator
Covenant House Toronto
(416) 204-7044

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