After weeks of hard studying, intense kitchen conversations and the occasional cooking mistake, culinary school students displayed nothing but smiles at their graduation ceremony.
Eight students graduated from the Food Bank of Delaware Milford Branch's third culinary class. The 14-week program is intended to teach skills sought by employers in the food industry, putting students on a path to jobs and economic sustainability.
“Today is important," said Patricia Beebe, president and CEO of Food Bank of Delaware. "But what happens after graduation is the most important."
Bailey, 49, grinned after receiving an award for highest class GPA and leadership. He said after spending time as a bartender, he wanted to know more about restaurants. One day, while reading the Cape Gazette, he came across an article about the food bank's first culinary class and knew that's what he wanted to do.
“Someday I'd like to own my own place,” he said. “This has given me a starting point.”
Besides Bailey, Carla Franco, Joseph Fulmer, Sierra Hughes, Antonio Kokkinos, Caytlin Montgomery, Sean Shaver and Katoria Showell walked up to the podium to receive certificates and praise for their efforts.
Graduates listened to a message by local restaurateur and philanthropist the late Matt Haley, owner of Lupo Di Mare, Papa Grande and Catch 54 restaurants among others. Haley spoke about his journey through life and recent achievements, including receiving the 2014 Humanitarian of the Year Award by the James Beard Foundation at the Lincoln Center in New York City.
“I believe in the food bank and the food bank believes in us,” he said about his companies and the food bank.
Haley had one simple message to the students, citing earlier struggles with substance abuse.
“Never, ever, ever give up,” he said.
“It was a really great program. I just got a really good feeling about this place,” said graduate Antonio Kokkinos, who was hired by Haley's Catch 54 restaurant in Fenwick Island after a two-week internship. In addition to receiving a graduation certificate, Kokkinos earned the most positive award.
He credits his time with the school for his new job with Catch 54.
“I've already started,” he said. “They've really taken me in over there.”
Following the ceremony, graduates served a lunch they had prepared to attendees.
Students in the program are referred through the Criminal Justice Council, Delaware Department of Labor, Delaware Division of Vocational Rehabilitation, and other community-based organizations.