Friends and family gathered at the Lodi Salvation Army’s Hope Harbor Center on Tuesday evening to congratulate their loved ones who have completed the Salvation Army’s four-month culinary arts program, marking the 20th class in the program’s 10 years of existence.
Snacking on bacon-wrapped dates stuffed with almonds and miniature beef Wellingtons, consisting of morsels of filet mignon topped with pureed mushrooms inside of a flaky puff pastry, the graduates and their families mingle with alumni from the class, past and future employers of some of the graduates as well as the program’s teacher, Chef Barry Crall.
Before enrolling in the class, prospective students must first graduate from the Salvation Army’s Adult Rehabilitation Center (ARC) in Sacramento, according to Crall. Once they have completed that program, the students become eligible for the 16-week culinary arts training, which Crall finds deeply rewarding.
“I love seeing the light come on and watching them get a job, so they don’t have to fall back on what they did in the past. It’s an opportunity to change their lives,” Crall said.
The program also provides the students with opportunities to serve others while improving their own lives, such as donating meals to those affected by fires in Butte, Jackson, Napa and Yuba over the years, according to Crall.
“We served 750 meals twice a day in Jackson, breakfast and dinner, cooked here in this kitchen,” Crall said.
Since the program’s inception, 132 students have graduated, with 92 percent of them finding work at restaurants such as Wine and Roses, Coco’s, Richmaid and more. Joe Yaskovic is one such graduate, who completed the program’s sixth class in November 2010 after being referred by ARC Sacramento, where he now works as the kitchen supervisor.
“I loved the actual book learning, getting to know all the technical aspects of cooking. It was great having such an experienced instructor who knows all the ins and outs of restaurants, Barry Crall is an integral part of my success at ARC. I worked in franchise restaurants for several years before I came here, and now I’m the kitchen supervisor at Arc in Sacramento, in charge of feeding 90 men in rehabilitation. If you have a passion for it, follow it, it’s very rewarding and the passion will pay off,” Yaskovic said.
Raymond Luna, one of the four most recent graduates, enjoyed every aspect of the program, learning culinary techniques and terminology, different types of cuts, plate design and more. Although he has not found a job yet, he is currently exploring multiple options. He expressed his gratitude for the opportunity to succeed, and offered a bit of advice to those considering enrolling in the class.
“Stay focused, be clear in your decisions on what you want to do. Enjoy the experience and treat it as an opportunity for life learning. You only get out what you put into it. Thank you to the Salvation Army for the opportunity they gave me and the encouragement they provided, and of course thank God. It’s a whole new direction in life, so of course I want to thank God for the opportunity,” Luna said.
Brian McRavin, another graduate, learned about the program after graduating from ARC in Paris, Calif., and enjoyed learning proper cooking techniques, as he said he has always had a passion for cooking.
“I make a mean burger, I love cooking steak, smoked chicken, that sort of thing. One of my favorite dishes is cheese pork medallions, which I made for dinner tonight. If you have the passion for it, if you want to do it, then do it. Don’t hesitate,” McRavin said.
As Hope Harbor’s kitchen staff put the final touches on dinner, Maj. Mark Thielenhaus explained that similar culinary arts classes have begun in Napa and Sacramento, before Pam Kludt, who volunteers with both fundraising and the program’s steering committee, approached the podium to address the guests.
“We are so pleased to have another graduation this evening. It’s unbelievable for us on the committee to think that we’ve had this program for 10 years, it’s amazing,” Kludt said.
After Kludt’s introduction and prayer of invocation, Salvation Army volunteer Patricia Fehling offered her own words of congratulations and encouragement to the graduates.
“It’s such an exciting time for us. You’d think that after 10 years and 20 classes, we might be a little ho-hum about this, but, believe me, it’s never ho-hum around here, and that’s because of our students. I really congratulate every one of you. I’ve been with you, I’ve seen your struggles, I’ve seen your successes. My hear is so full of joy for each of you, and I know that your hearts are full of joy as well,” Fehling said.
Following the meal of cheese pork medallions with a mustard horseradish sauce, fingerling potatoes and oven-roasted butternut squash, Thielenhaus began the graduation ceremony. He thanked God for the success of the program and its students, before reflecting upon how often food and fellowship are referenced together in the Bible, from the first Passover to the Last Supper, as well as how often the Salvation Army eats during its meetings.
“My mother-in-law has a saying about the Salvation Army: ‘We’re not meeting if we’re not eating.’ Some of you may know from one of our songs, ‘With sword and shield, we take the field,’ well, sometimes with fork and shield we take the field,” Thielenhaus said.
Thielenhaus then read a passage from John 6, in which Jesus fed approximately 5,000 people with five loaves of bread and two fish, sharing lessons he learned form the Bible passage with the graduates such as using the resources available to them, sharing what they have with others and making relationships a priority before helping Crall present graduation certificates and medals with red and gold ribbon to the four graduates.
Kludt then concluded the ceremony by thanking the City of Lodi for its generosity, as well as the Cortopassi Family Foundation for donating $250 to each graduate, as well as $1,000 to the program for each person that graduates.