Brooklyn-based Emma’s Torch Classroom Café is not only serving good food. They’re serving good deeds as well.
The restaurant, which launched just this June, offers paid culinary training to refugees, asylum-seekers, and survivors of human trafficking. Their curriculum teaches students how to cook in a restaurant setting, giving them the skills and experience needed to find work within the industry.
For two months, students are taught important lessons such as knife techniques, kitchen movement, dish plating, following recipes, quality control, and food handling. They also take an English class to help them communicate better in the kitchen, as well as get decent-paying jobs.
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To help their graduates find work, Emma’s Torch has even partnered with various chefs, instructors, entrepreneurs, and recruiters, who offer advice and job leads to the non-profit.
“We try and help our students secure jobs where they are paid a fair living wage, and are set up for success,” founder Kerry Brodie told HuffPost. “Part of our training is leadership in the kitchen. We want our students to…feel confident asking for more responsibility, and higher wages.”
Though the program is still small – they only accept two candidates at a time – the café hopes to expand by December 2017. Long-term, Brodie hopes to take in 50 students every year.
She also hopes that her customers will learn a thing or two after dining at the restaurant.
“You know that person who made the most delicious avocado toast you’ve ever tasted? They’re a refugee and they’re a human being,” said Brodie. “We should treat our refugees like human beings.”
We recently caught up with Brodie to know more about Emma’s Torch Classroom Café.
Please tell us more about Emma’s Torch Classroom Café. When did you start the project? What was the inspiration behind it?
“I had been working in public policy and was always curious about how we can use food to further social justice. Everyone has memories of cooking and sharing meals, so why not use that commonality to further integration. I had this idea for a few years but it was always on the back of my mind. I kept saying ‘someone should do this’. Eventually my husband asked me ‘why not you?’”
So far, you can only take in two apprentices at a time. Where do you usually find prospective students? Do you have a certain criterion when choosing who’ll be accepted?
“We work with six refugee resettlement agencies and shelters to find candidates. We are looking for students with a real passion for cooking. Whether they have cooked for their families, or worked in restaurants, it is really about finding that passion.”
Where are the graduates working now?
“We have students at The Dutch, Haru, White Moustache and a few other restaurants. They have had job offers from so many different places which is also so exciting to see.”
What’s your favorite meal that the students have made? And what dish do the customers look forward to the most?
“My favorite is still our shakshuka. It was created by one of our first students and then another student integrated their approach to saffron to the accompanying toasts. I love that integration. Our shakshuka is a top seller as is our avocado toast.”
What are your future plans for the school?
“We are looking to expand into a bigger space to be able to bring on more students and provide more comprehensive training.”