Aspiring SF chefs using culinary training to overcome homelessness, addiction

"From knife training to life coaching, we're helping them in all facets of their life," Chef Timothy Tucker said.

Stephanie Sierra Image
Thursday, March 7, 2024
Aspiring SF chefs using culinary training to overcome addiction
The Salvation Army's culinary training helps aspiring San Francisco chefs to overcome homelessness and addiction -- and get a second chance at life.

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- The Salvation Army's Culinary Training Academy hosted its first tasting event to highlight the talent of aspiring chefs. It's part of a program designed to help people struggling with addiction and homelessness.

"Our goal is to train them basic skills and help them find great employment," said Chef Timothy Tucker, who leads the academy. "This is our goat cheese caramelized onion tart."

The nonprofit's central kitchen is not just any ordinary kitchen serving up delicious dishes. The work here goes far beyond that, serving up success.

"It's truly a mission," said Tucker. "I've been doing this for 20 years."

Tucker leads the 10-week culinary program that aims to help people get a second chance.

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"From knife training to life coaching, we're helping them in all facets of their life," Tucker said.

Jayla Towns is one of his 13 students. She says his culinary training has changed her life.

"Before this program, I was drinking everyday. I was partying every day, I was in between homes - I felt like I had no purpose," said Jayla.

Now, the 24-year-old is serving up lobster as her culinary dream becomes reality.

"Once I stepped into this kitchen it was like home for me," Towns said.

A new home paving the way for a new life. That was the case for Lillian Oliver who recently left community college.

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"Then I found this program and I got super excited," said Oliver, as she smiled at her creation of homemade cupcakes. "It let me know that my journey isn't over. If you show your dedication and hard work it will pay off."

"It gave me my pride back," said Francisco Rojo, another student in the class. "It's helped me communicate better with my peers."

Steve Adami is the executive director of the Salvation Army's Way Out homeless initiative.

"People that are really struggling with homelessness and addiction are really finding hope through recovery and employment programs like this," Adami told ABC7 News. "This program is in its fifth cohort and everybody in this program are actually getting jobs and staying in those jobs."

Restaurateurs from across the Bay Area showed up to taste the food and scout for potential new hires.

"I have my eye on a few," an executive chef told ABC7 News.

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"What's your favorite dish?" ABC7's Stephanie Sierra asked Sheryl Rogat, owner of Piccino in San Francisco's Dogpatch neighborhood - an Italian-inspired cuisine.

"Wow - the lobster nachos," said Rogat.

The restaurateurs pledged when it is time to hire, they'll be calling Chef Tucker to scope out the talent.

"The next class is starting March 25," Chef Tucker said. "Our current class graduates this week."

A graduation of culinary talent putting their skills to good use - grateful for a second chance.

"I thank Chef Timothy for making me feel - I am somebody," Jayla said. "And that I will be somebody."

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