Metropolitan Ministries, Monin establish innovative culinary training partnership

In a kitchen at Monin Inc.’s Clearwater campus, a contingent of chefs-in-training create dipping sauces to pair with a meal of chicken wings, salad and smoked chicken.

Working in three teams of three, they concoct barbecue sauce, dressings, hot sauce, vinaigrette and more. It's part of Kitchens on a Mission, a newly-launched initiative in Metropolitan Ministries’ Culinary Arts Program, an intensive training program for individuals looking for a career path in a commercial kitchen. Through the partnership with Monin, the culinary students will visit the test kitchen at the gourmet syrup, sauce and cocktail mixer brand's U.S. headquarters every three months to invent recipes and expand their skills.

“Monin is a great partner because they have us come here and see how they develop new products for restaurants,” says Metropolitian Ministries Vice President of Social Enterprise and Food Service Cliff Barsi. “It’s kind of the r and d (research and development) part of the business. It gives them an idea of something else they can do, get in that r and d side of the profession. This is a fun field trip for them, but it’s also education and an opportunity to think a little bit more about where your career can go.”

Metropolitan Ministries culinary students created sauces to pair with a meal during a June visit to Monin Inc.'s test kitchen in Clearwater.“Honestly, there’s so much to do in the industry, showing them another part of it really makes us happy,” Monin’s Innovation Chef Jacob Sturm says after the June training session wraps up.“It was really fun to watch them mix and match and create different recipes with whatever flavor profile they want. It kind of helps me in my own way because they come up with combinations I haven’t thought of before. So we help each other honestly.”

Sturm says Monin has a simple and straightforward reason for partnering with Metropolitan Ministries on the program.

 “We like to help give back to the community and help teach future culinarians,” he says.

Making a difference

Making a positive difference in the community is the primary motivation behind Metropolitan Ministries’ culinary program as well. The program, which launched almost a decade ago, achieves that goal in multiple ways. It offers extensive training and hands-on experience in a professional kitchen to individuals who cannot afford to pay for a culinary program. Some are homeless or at risk of homelessness, Barsi says. Through Metropolitan Ministries, they also have access to wraparound services that will help them find a place to live or address other critical needs.

For 12 weeks, the aspiring chefs train and work at one of two kitchens. There’s one on Metropolitan Ministries’ Tampa campus and one at Levy Restaurants, the Tampa Bay Rays’ food concessionaire at Tropicana Field. For those training in St. Pete, Levy gives “hands-on and practical experience actually working in the business," Barsi says. Some students stay on to work there after completing the program.

In Tampa, the program’s catering rotation includes time working in a for-profit catering business. It also serves the community.  The chefs-in-training prepare meals for PromiseLand, Metropolitain Ministries’ early childhood education center, and partner sites at social service agencies and other locations in the community that feed 3,000 hungry people each day. That community impact is important to the students.

“I am grateful for the program, not only what it does for us, but what it does for the community,” says Dominick Jackson, who graduated from the culinary program over the summer. “The food that we provide helps homeless individuals, the Salvation Army, mothers who are expecting children. The purpose is not only to help us but help the community as well.” 

Janis Morgan, another recent graduate, says she worked in the culinary field before a two-year battle with cervical cancer. The Metropolitan Ministries program was an opportunity to get back into the industry. She wanted to help the community the same way the program helped her. 

“To give back, to the shelter, to the homeless, is just overly satisfying,” Morgan says. “The mission behind this is absolutely amazing.”

Putting skills to the test

Toward the end of the culinary program, the students typically have an externship in an upscale restaurant, with the goal that they might get hired full-time. Barsi says three recent graduates were offered positions at Boulon Brassie in Water Street Tampa.

“That’s what we want, for them to work in a restaurant with high-quality food,” he says. “They can grow and develop their skills and make a living wage. That’s why they come to us.”

Toward the end of their time in the program, the students also put their culinary skills to the test by planning out a meal and overseeing its preparation.

“You come in and your instructor is not your instructor,” Morgan says.”You’re the chef for the day. You delegate all the tasks and you execute it.”

Her meal was eggplant parmigiana, antipasto salad, from-scratch garlic breadsticks and cannoli poke cake.

Kuvawn Phelps, another recent graduate, went for pulled beef tacos, red beans and rice and homemade slaw. 

“That turned out fantastic,” Phelps says. “Everybody loved it.”

For more information, go to Metropolitan Ministries adult education
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Read more articles by Christopher Curry.

Chris Curry has been a writer for the 83 Degrees Media team since 2017. Chris also served as the development editor for a time before assuming the role of managing editor in May 2022. Chris lives in Clearwater. His professional career includes more than 15 years as a newspaper reporter, primarily in Ocala and Gainesville, before moving back home to the Tampa Bay Area. He enjoys the local music scene, the warm winters and Tampa Bay's abundance of outdoor festivals and events. When he's not working or spending time with family, he can frequently be found hoofing the trails at one of Pinellas County's nature parks.