Shelby Bolton, a 17-year-old student at Vicente Martinez High School in Martinez, wants to be a chef. She plans to go to culinary school in the fall, but a few months ago, she said, she “didn’t even know how to cook an egg.”
Bolton is a recent graduate of a new culinary arts program hosted by nonprofit Loaves and Fishes of Contra Costa County, which provides meals and groceries to hungry people in the area. She is one of several students who have gone through the multi-week program to learn skills in cooking and in working in professional kitchens, as well as to learn about job opportunities and workplace practices.
The students in the program — around a dozen over two different sessions — all come from Vicente, a continuation high school in Martinez that is geared toward high school students who are at risk of not graduating.
According to Sally Van Slyke, who heads the culinary program, most of the students who come in have never cooked and are unfamiliar with the dishes she teaches them to make.
“But they’re highly trainable,” Van Slyke said, noting that she has taught the students basic culinary skills like using a set of knives and preparing vegetables and meat for cooking on a large scale, as well as workplace skills like interviewing well and etiquette for working alongside others in a kitchen.