Buddhist Priest is launching Culinary Training program for those Formerly Homeless and Recently Unemployed

By Kari Lindberg
Daiken Nelson, a buddhist priest based in Harlem will be launching Mandala Kitchens Program, offering free or low-cost 6 weeks of culinary training to those formerly homeless, previously incarcerated, veterans, on September 30. The Mandala Kitchens Program will teach basic culinary and technical skills need to get a job in the food service industry.

“It’s beneficial for restaurants to have someone with [a certain] level of skill, rather then someone who has chopped an onion at home to make chili, but someone who actually has skills. [Someone who knows the] difference between dicing and mincing, and the different techniques behind it. We are providing people with vocabulary and a set of experiences so that they can walk into a place and get a job” said Nelson.

The training program, will meet Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and some Thursdays, running for three to four hours in the afternoon. Training will be comprised of different sections, aimed at teaching a variety of basics, ranging from dealing with poultry and fish, to dairy and deserts. As Nelson explained, “We’re hoping to give folks a range of skills, how to chop stuff, how to identify stuff, how to braise, general kitchen stuff, sanitation, work issues (showing up on time), and taking direction.” At the end of the 6 week program, the trainees will be walked through the Department of Health Food Certification.

Partnering with two agencies who work with the formerly homeless (the Interfaith Assembly on Homelessness & Housing and The Life Experience and Faith Sharing Association) and three working with those former incarcerated (The Harlem Justice Corps, The Welcome Home Initiative, and Circles of Support) Nelson has been referred individuals interested in becoming candidates for the culinary training program.

According to the Coalition for the Homelessness 2015 statistics, the number of homeless New Yorkers sleeping in shelters is 87% higher than that of 10 years ago. Most homeless individuals, or those formerly homeless has faced some kind of trauma. Key to providing help is through stabilization and emotional support. Executive Director, Interfaith Assembly on Homelessness & Housing, Marc Greenberg, explained “Helping people to develop the discipline and the skill to be able to prepare food and potentially gain a livelihood, could be very helpful.

Already, Nelson, who had previously been a social worker for a dozen years and whom launched Mandala Kitchens Catering program this March, has had experience working employing those formerly homeless and incarcerated. Greenberg’s program had helped two formerly homeless individuals get a job placement at Nelson’s catering program. As Greenberg describes the job experience has been “very helpful for them” and has “given them a sense of engagement and income.”

Mandala Kitchen Program is looking to fill a gap in what it views as a lack of opportunities to gain basic culinary skills enter find employment at the lower end of food industry. “New York has high end culinary training programs were folks spend $20,000 per semester, for 2 or 4 years, come out with this degree and work with Bobby Flay,” exclaimed Nelson. Yet when looking around to start Mandala’s Culinary Training Program Nelson found that “there aren’t any programs that are taking people with no skill or very little and training them so that they can get jobs in New York.”