Fresh Start Culinary Program regroups for the summer

FRESH Start chefs Matt Patterson and Rainbow Trosper, right, congratulate spring graduates Andrew Gray and Maggie McCulloch at the June 9 graduation dinner at Mountain View Orchards’ on June 9. About 60 people attended the five-course fundraising dinner. Patterson has since moved to be kitchen director at Boda’s Kitchen in Hood River, among other changes with the program.

Photo by Kirby Neumann-Rea.
FRESH Start chefs Matt Patterson and Rainbow Trosper, right, congratulate spring graduates Andrew Gray and Maggie McCulloch at the June 9 graduation dinner at Mountain View Orchards’ on June 9. About 60 people attended the five-course fundraising dinner. Patterson has since moved to be kitchen director at Boda’s Kitchen in Hood River, among other changes with the program.

Fresh Start Culinary Arts Program is taking a summer break from training students to look at lessons learned from its successful first 18 months of operation.

“After graduating our fifth student cohort and looking at some staffing changes, we thought it best to step back and think about ways we can better serve the needs of students and the local food and beverage sector,” said Board Chair Kathy Watson.

Growth of the tourism industry in the Gorge has created high demand for kitchen help, without an adequately trained pool of talent to fill those jobs.

The non-profit program provides an intensive, 12-week training in foundation culinary skills. Training is designed to prepare graduates for entry-level cooking jobs that can help under-employed people enter a career track with unlimited growth potential.

Fresh Start took in its first class in the spring of 2016. Since then, it has trained and placed 16 students. Graduates have worked at Skamania Lodge, the Water’s Edge Bistro, Gorge Gluten Free Bakery, Good News Gardening Cafe, Chips, Whiskey Tango and Full Sail Brewing, among other Gorge restaurants.

“No new program like ours survives without a few challenges along the way, and we know so much more than when we started,” Watson says.

“Our students are really struggling to spend three months in training, even with full scholarships, when they need to work. There are plenty of low-wage jobs available right now, so our potential students are opting to work rather than train. We need to rethink how we reach and serve those people so that they have a future beyond low-wage employment.”

The Rev. Vicky Stifter, a founding board member who spearheaded planning for the program as a mission of Riverside Community Church, says the board will explore a variety of new programs, including shorter duration courses that allow students to stay in paid jobs while they train. Stifter and Watson are also seeking additional board members to help with the relaunch of the program in the fall.

The program will also be looking for a new chef instructor and hoping to recruit and hire its first paid program administrator. Watson has been filling that role on a volunteer basis until now.

Those interested in board membership or staff positions should contact board member Gean Rains at 541-806-0900.

During the summer break, the program will be training no new students but will continue to serve contracted catering clients. Its popular weekend breakfast service is temporarily suspended until further notice.

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