Skills for life, cooking

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By Denise DuBois

For 10 years, Open Door Community House in Columbus has helped people get on their feet through the Open Door Institute, an 18-week program that teaches life skills, work readiness and culinary arts. That’s where Central High School Culinary Arts teacher Chef John Chapiewski comes in. For six weeks, he teaches about knife skills, soups, baking and more to those going through the institute so they can learn a skill and find a job in the culinary field.

“There have been a lot of success stories that have come out of this,” Chapiewski said. Two former students are sous chefs. One works at St. Francis Hospital and the other at Bare Roots Pharmacy, Chapiewski said.

Chapiewski got involved in the first year of the program after reading a newspaper article detailing its ideas.

“I knew I had to find a ministry to get involved with. In the article, it talked about having local chefs teaching culinary classes. I’m like, ‘Holy cow, this is my ministry.’ I finished the article, put down the paper and called,” he said.

Little did he know, the program lacked a chef. They had already accepted federal funding and had to find someone to teach the classes. The boards of directors for the program formed a prayer circle to pray for a chef to come.

“As soon as Kim (Jenkins) said ‘Amen,’ the phone rang and it was me calling. That story always touches me,” Chapiewski said.

In its first years, Chapiewski taught culinary skills outside of his Central High School kitchen. Last year was the first time a single class was taught in the restaurant-style kitchen. This year, all the classes are held at the high school.

The first thing Chapiewski teaches is knife skills and how to properly cut vegetables. The second week focuses on soups and sauces. The third week, the students learn how to break down a chicken. That was the favorite of Rebecca Goodwin, a student who hopes to one day have her own catering business. The students learn about breakfast, desserts and baking as well.

Lisa Tolbert is going through the program and said her favorite thing so far is the hands-on experience she is receiving.

“I like learning different procedures and following a recipe. I never did cook in a restaurant type atmosphere, just for myself,” she said.

Throughout the program, students will have the opportunity to take the ServSafe exam, a license that shows the students have had proper training. It costs between $1,600 and $1,800 per student to complete the training and receive the licensing. The funds are provided through donations, federal dollars and partnerships making it free for everyone who wants to participate. The institute is once per year from April to August, said Octavia Downing. Downing is the institute coordinator for Open Door. This is the fifth year she has spent with the students.

“The program is to help individuals become more self-sufficient and give them work and training skills they need,” she said.

People who are interested must have a high school diploma or have passed at least two portions of the GED test while continuing to work to pass all portions. For more information about the institute, call Open Door at (706) 323-5518.