It’s not a new story, finding home and a sense of belonging in the hot and hectic kitchen of a bustling restaurant.
The high-pressure, high-passion industry has brought countless young people steady paychecks and a chance to build skills and put them to work.
But the way Toni Elka sees it, for too long around here, the recipe for success in a kitchen has run through pricey cooking schools. So, for the past eight years, Elka has been changing the menu when it comes to career readiness.
“You don’t need to spend $100,000 to learn how to cook in a restaurant. It’s ridiculous,” she said.
After working in food and pivoting to a career in nonprofits, Elka founded Future Chefs in 2008 with the goal of giving Boston youth opportunities through the universal language of good eats.
“Working in kitchens can be a real crucible for transferrable skills, like showing up and being part of a team and working with a sense of urgency,” she said. “All the stuff you and I need to have for our professional jobs.”
It’s been a big year for the program. It recently wrapped up the first round of a six-month paid apprenticeship program that matches aspiring young cooks with seven of the city’s top restaurants, who train the young cooks for free. The students get paid to learn, and four of them now work at those restaurants full time. Another round is underway.
It’s also working through a freshly baked program called Future Chefs Delivers, which has students prepare and transport food bound for homeless and women’s shelters and nonprofits like the Boys and Girls Club.