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Knife Skills to Life Skills — A Career Readiness Program in Culinary Arts

Through hands-on culinary training and skill development that translate into catering and supermarket work, GRACE’s program is empowering people to transform their lives.

Gainesville resident and homeless advocate Pat Fitzpatrick is somewhat of a legend in the Gainesville community. Remembered widely around town for his, let’s say, colorful contributions to City Commission meetings, he never lost focus on his mission to “Feed Everyone.”

Pat was a long-time opponent of Gainesville’s policy limiting soup kitchens to serving only 130 meals per day. And he wasn’t shy about asking commissioners what they would say to the 131st person who would be turned away hungry.

The dining hall at the center of the GRACE Marketplace campus pays homage to Pat and how he helped erase the 130-meal limit from Gainesville’s books. The aptly named Café 131 now serves upward of 400 hot meals every day.

“You don’t have to be a resident at GRACE Marketplace to eat here,” said Development Director Karen Slevin. “It’s free to anyone who is hungry.”

Café 131 serves more than just nutritious meals, however. Behind the kitchen doors, Chef Marty heads up GRACE Marketplace’s culinary training program, which serves up real-world job training to up to 15 students per 10-week semester.

Training for Personal and Professional Development

GRACE launched its culinary training program in February 2016 to further its mission to be a one-stop assistance center for people without housing. Through a grant from the Community Foundation of North Florida, GRACE was able to secure the services of CIA-trained Chef Marty, who has worked for industry giants, including Emeril Lagasse, and led kitchens at large-scale dining facilities at the Grand Floridian and Walt Disney World.

The goal of the training program is simple — to empower people to obtain gainful employment through hands-on training and life coaching.

“We really just try to make it similar to what job applicants encounter in the real world,” Karen said. “We give them kitchen training, but we also provide education on softer skills that are often overlooked such as professional interaction with colleagues, résumé writing, and interview skills.”

Students in the program receive a $50 cash stipend and work 20 hours each week. Karen noted the money and experience work wonders to boost the students’ confidence in their ability to rejoin the workforce.

“Some people come to us during the most difficult periods of their lives,” she said. “It is amazing to see the transformation that takes place when they enter the training program. You can see it in the way they carry themselves and interact with others.”

When students near the graduation phase of the program, they are provided vouchers from The Junior League so they can buy interview outfits at the Junior League Thrift Shop on North Main Street. GRACE makes sure graduates have everything they need to secure employment, from kitchen shoes to a professionally written résumé.

GRACE Catering — Great Food for a Good Cause

Give Back to the Community by Cooking at Café 131

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