Success Story: Dennis Wilson

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When Dennis remembers his childhood holidays, delicious home cooking always comes to mind. “All the women in my family were great cooks. Most of my family came from the South, so we always had fried chicken, collards, and cornbread when we got together.”

Dennis loved to help out in the kitchen and even dreamt of one day cooking professionally. Decades later, he’s finally realizing that dream.

A friend told Dennis about The Doe Fund’s Ready, Willing & Able program, where he could gain new skills and train for a career in the culinary arts. It sounded too good to be true. “I thought my friend was exaggerating. But then I got here and it was even better than I had hoped!”

After a few months on pots and pans duty, Dennis began working his way up in the kitchen. His talent and passion for baking soon became clear, and he began preparing muffins, cookies, breads, and danishes for The Doe Fund’s weekly farmers markets.

Dennis’s hard work and dedication have paid off. In a few day’s time he’ll join the culinary staff at The Doe Fund’s Harlem Center for Opportunity as its newest Food Handler.

Eventually, Dennis hopes to own his own bakery. But for now he takes each day as it comes. “It’s about becoming motivated and inspired by what you do. I know this is going to lead to something great.”

Graduate Success Story: Derrick Bouknight

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Derrick never thought cooking would change his life. Then again, he never expected to achieve most of what he has over the past three years.

Derrick was at a low point in his life when he joined The Doe Fund. “I had lost my job, custody of my children, my apartment, and my car. Then I went to jail. I didn’t mentally or emotionally recover from those loses.” Ready, Willing & Able, The Doe Fund’s transitional work program for formerly incarcerated and homeless men, offered Derrick the chance to start again.

As much as he loves it now, Derrick wasn’t excited about joining The Doe Fund’s Culinary Arts team at first. But then, “I started having fun and learning things.” That’s when he decided to dedicate himself to the kitchen.

After graduating from Ready, Willing & Able, Derrick became a full-time employee in the Culinary Arts department, where he is Food Service Coordinator, Customer Service Class Instructor, and Farmers’ Market Manager.

He is eager to improve and give his all in the kitchen. “Being able to grow, learn and progress is such an amazing feeling.” Yet some of the most important changes in Derrick’s life have taken place outside of the kitchen. “I’m able to raise and take care of my grandchildren and children like I truly want to, and I’m able to be a positive role model in their life.”

Sautéed Zucchini and Yellow Squash in a Homemade Basil Pesto Sauce

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Ingredients:

2 zucchini
2 yellow squash
1 tablespoon olive oil
½ onion, thinly sliced
½ cup basil pesto (see below for basil pesto ingredients)
Salt and pepper to taste

Basil Pesto: Yield 4 cups
½ cup pine nuts
2 large bunches fresh basil leaves, washed and stemmed
3 garlic cloves, coarsely chopped
2 cups olive oil
Pinch of salt and pepper
½ cup freshly grated Pecorino Romano cheese

Directions:

Preheat the oven for 400 degrees. Roast the pine nuts on a baking sheet in the oven until golden, about 5 minutes. Place the basil in the work bowl of a food processor and begin processing. Add the garlic, then pine nuts, and continue processing. When the mixture has a grainy, paste like consistency, begin adding the oil a little at a time, continuing to process. Wait until the oil is absorbed before adding the next small amount. Add salt and pepper. When the oil is added and absorbed, add the cheese. As soon as the cheese is mixed in, stop processing; if you over process, the cheese will melt.

Wipe zucchini and squash with a damp towel. Cut the zucchini and yellow squash in half lengthwise, then cut them into 1/4″ thick slices. Heat the olive oil in the saucepan and saute the onions over medium heat until translucent. Add the sliced zucchini and squash and cook for about 3 minutes. Add the pesto and salt and pepper to taste, toss, and continue cooking for another 2 minutes. Remove from heat, let cool, and enjoy this wonderful vegetarian dish!

Tips: Place pesto in containers, seal, and label. You can use your pesto immediately after making it or store it up to 6 months in the freezer. Pesto stored in the refrigerator will last up to 1 month.

Graduate Success Story: Christopher Hall

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When you first meet Chris Hall, “leader” may not be the first word that comes to mind. But watch him in action in The Doe Fund’s Porter Avenue kitchen, and you’ll soon think otherwise.

Chris is a graduate of the Ready, Willing & Able program and has held multiple positions in The Doe Fund’s Culinary Arts Department.

From his earliest days as a trainee in the Porter kitchen, he has brought an unparalleled passion and hustle to his work. He tackles some of the kitchen’s most arduous tasks–those that are critical to the success of any kitchen but often go unnoticed or underappreciated.

While he has evolved on many levels in his transition from trainee to staff and then onto supervisory roles in the kitchen, his industriousness and resilience have been a constant. As his supervisor, Chef Kronna Williams, puts it, Chris can “take a lickin’ and keep on tickin’!”

Chris’s commitment to his team, the trainees he serves, and The Doe Fund extends well beyond his own hard work. He has grown to become an educator and a mentor to trainees as well, providing a first-hand example of integrity, accountability, and initiative.

Leaders come in many forms. Chris is living proof that they can be born out of hard work and determination.

 

Angel’s Homemade Samoa Cookies

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Who doesn’t love Girl Scout Cookies? Angel decided to make his own style of the original Samoa Cookie and instruct one of our Culinary Vocational trainees through the process. We hope you enjoy this recipe as much as we did.

Ingredients:
Cookie Base
8 ounces butter
4 ounces sugar
1 egg yolk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
10 ounces all purpose flour

Topping:
3 cups shredded coconut
15 ounces caramel
2 tablespoons milk
¼ teaspoon salt
8 ounces chocolate

Directions:
Cream butter and sugar with a pinch of salt until very light, about five minutes on medium speed. Beat in yolk and vanilla until smooth. Remove from mixer. Fold in sifted flour. Divide dough in half and roll evenly flat (about ¼ inch thick) between two pieces of parchment paper. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cut out dough with desired cookie cutter. Bake cookies in the preheated oven until slightly golden and soft, eight to ten minutes. Transfer cookies to a wire rack to cool completely. Bake shredded coconut for about five minutes, or until golden brown. Melt caramel bits on a double boiler until smooth, about two minutes. Stir coconut into caramel. Melt chocolate on a double boiler until smooth. Dip the top portion of each cookie into melted chocolate and place onto the wire rack. Press a spoonful of caramel coconut mixture on the top of each cookie, then drizzle chocolate over the top of each cookie. Enjoy!

Graduate Success Story: Leroy Green

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For Leroy, cooking isn’t just a job. It’s a way of life. “When I’m in the kitchen, all my worries go away.”

There was a time when Leroy had plenty to worry about. After 15 years in federal prison, he found himself spiraling towards his lowest point, accomplishing “a long list of nothing.”

He learned about The Doe Fund’s Ready, Willing & Able program, where he could gain new skills, get back on his feet, and make a fresh start. Maybe this was the change Leroy needed to finally break free from the nightmare he’d been living.

Ready, Willing & Able offers a variety of occupational training tracks but, for Leroy, the choice was simple: Culinary Arts. “I grew up in a house of women, so there was always something being cooked. I’ve always had a love for kitchen work–baking, cooking, preparing. It was just the right choice for me.”

In The Doe Fund’s Harlem kitchen, Leroy learned much more than culinary techniques. He learned invaluable life lessons from his mentors, to finish what he starts, and to think things through before reacting.

Leroy is now the Head Line Cook at a Manhattan restaurant, and training to become Kitchen Manager there. He’s more motivated than ever to pursue his dreams of one day running his own kitchen and “getting that chef’s title–Chef Lee!”

Angel’s Red Velvet Cupcakes

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Yield: 2 dozen cupcakes

Ingredients:
2 ½ cups flour
1 ½ cups sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cocoa powder
1 ½ cup oil
1 cup buttermilk
2 eggs
2 tablespoons red food coloring
1 teaspoon vinegar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Frosting:
1 pound cream cheese
4 cups confectioners’ sugar
1 cup butter
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Directions:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease or use baking cups to line two 12-cup muffin pans.

In a large bowl, beat the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Mix in the eggs, buttermilk, food coloring and 1 tsp. vanilla. Stir in the baking soda and vinegar. Combine the flour, cocoa powder and salt; stir into the batter just until blended. Spoon the batter into the prepared cups, dividing evenly. Bake for 20 minutes. In another large mixing bowl, beat the cream cheese, butter and 1 tsp. vanilla together until smooth. Add the confectioners’ sugar and beat on low speed until incorporated. Increase the speed to high and mix until very light and fluffy. Once cupcakes are completely cool, top with cream cheese frosting. Enjoy!