The New England Culinary Arts Training (NECAT) program recently teamed up with East Boston YMCA to bring the first bonafide chef training program to the neighborhood.
Three months ago a group of aspiring chefs embarked on a 12 week culinary arts training program at the East Boston YMCA’s Ashley Street site.
Last week the first cohort of NECAT’s East Boston program, which was taught in both Spanish and English, graduated with their certificates in culinary arts. The group is now well on their way to launching careers in professional kitchens.
“The culinary industry is booming and people with professional culinary skills are in high-demand,” said NECAT Executive Director Joey Cuzzi. Cuzzi also served as the East Boston Y’s executive director from 2006 to 2014. “Language should not be a barrier to those who wish to participate in culinary job training. Through our partnership with the YMCA in East Boston, we are able to bring NECAT’s program to the community and help graduates connect with well-paying jobs through our network of employer partners.”
During her eight-year tenure at the East Boston Y, Cuzzi oversaw the opening of the Y’s Ashley Street Teaching Kitchen. At the time Cuzzi said opening the kitchen was a personal passion of hers as it brought a robust culinary nutrition/ education center for our community.
Despite the on-going pandemic fluctuations affecting the food services industry, Cuzzi said the weekly number of prep cook and line cook vacancies in Eastie alone–including airline and airport food service companies, hotels, and local restaurants–continues to be an active market. The need for qualified cooks has become ever more urgent.
The 12- week, trauma-informed program provided students with daily culinary arts training; case management focused on connecting students with wrap-around services and delivering social-emotional support and career services, including resume, cover letter, and interview assistance and job placement strategies. All these services are offered free of charge to students in the program.
As the prgram continues it will be funded by the YMCA of Greater Boston with special support from Cargo Ventures in Eastie.
“Programs like these are beyond impactful,” said East Boston YMCA Executive Director Joe Gaeta. “They are not just one and done but allow for participants to grow and achieve new heights. Creating equity and job security in an unstable economy is key to our community’s survival.”
President, and CEO of the YMCA of Greater Boston James Morton added, “We are very proud of the graduates who have worked so hard in this 12-week program. We are especially proud to partner, for the first time, with NECAT to provide students with a pathway to stable, long-term culinary employment, while supporting graduates on their path toward economic self-sufficiency.”
The NECAT program at the Eastie Y empowers adults facing barriers to employment through training in culinary skills, social-emotional development and career readiness for success and long-term financial stability.
“I’ve always had a passion for cooking,” said graduate of the Eastie program, Vanessa Salvana. “I spent a year in culinary school in Peru but was not able to complete the program. When I saw the ad for the NECAT program at the Y, I was so happy. The hospitality industry is growing fast, and this program taught us professional skills and techniques that will help open doors.”
Former NECAT graduate, Chef David Spear, teaches the classes in Eastie and brings a unique perspective as a NECAT graduate, a successful chef and a professional educator fluent in Spanish.
“After graduating from NECAT’s culinary program in 2017, I worked my way up to an executive chef position,” said Spear. “The relationships I built at NECAT are very important to me, and I’ve always stayed in contact with NECAT. After working as a Chef Instructor for the previous year at the Pine Street Inn, then joining NECAT as a Bilingual Chef Instructor. I’m so lucky to be a part of the team and have the chance to inspire students the way I was inspired. These students have been phenomenal to work with.”
According to Cuzzi, historical, persistent, and overt discriminatory policies and institutions have created communities of color in Boston where people have been disempowered and destabilized through lack of access to opportunities and resources.
Since 2013, the NECAT program has enrolled over 1,060 adults who were experiencing significant barriers to stable employment, including prior incarceration, lack of training, substance use recovery and homelessness.