The Freestore Foodbank staff gave the Cincinnati Bailliage members a warm welcome into its cool urban home on a sweltering evening in July. Since 1971, this beacon of hope fulfills its mission to improve lives by eliminating hunger in partnership with the community. The organization’s larger vision goes beyond its immediate neighborhood to creating a hunger-free, healthy, and thriving city, providing nutritious food and support services that offer a pathway from crisis to stability.
One of Freestore Foodbank’s most successful programs is Cincinnati COOKS!, a 10-week, no-cost job training program teaching students about the mechanics of a commercial kitchen. Graduates are employed by local restaurants and then may enroll in the advanced program called Second Course. This eight-week course steps up the skills students need for management positions in fine dining restaurants.
The dining room and kitchen facility would have been impressive even if the rooms had been empty! But they were quite simply alive with positive energy (and good food). While the student chefs prepared main courses in the impressive commercial kitchen, Chaîne members feasted on a resplendent display of hors d’ oeuvres including shrimp, grilled lobster tails, poached salmon, bacon-wrapped figs, crab cakes, and falafel. As is the custom of Cincinnati dine-arounds, each member brought a bottle of a fine wine to share.
To enhance our welcome to their facility, Student Antoinette Reid carved a watermelon with the inscription “Cincinnati Chaîne 2022.” In his welcoming remakrs, Freestore Foodbank President and CEO Kurt Reiber gave an overview of the culinary program as well as plans for a new 25,000 square foot facility that will consolidate programs under one roof. His vision for the future of this amazing lifeline to the community was truly inspiring.
Bailli George Elliott presented Mr. Reiber with a check for $4,000 to support the Freestore Foodbank’s vital services. Over the course of the evening, many people were overheard to remark that they also planned to step up personal support.
Determined to showcase Second Course students’ full range of talents, the kitchen was set up with stations to serve carved filet mignon and panko encrusted lamb chops, made-to-order polenta with custom toppings, and a medley of salads. For those who still had enough appetite to indulge a sweet tooth, a dessert bar capped off the evening.
When Bailli George Elliott invited the Second Chance staff to assemble, the dining room erupted into applause with a standing ovation for an “over the top” evening. Special thanks went to Director of Workforce Tony Lavatori, Chef/Trainer Marcus Hazel, Chef Rôtisseur Alan Neace, and Vice Chargé de Mission Jon Powell, for their roles in making the evening an outstanding success.
This amazing culinary experience, combined with the stories of how the Freestore Foodbank supports the Cincinnati community, made this one of the most successful events in recent memory. In fact, this author struggled to keep dry eyes during many of the presentations and agrees with Bailli Elliott: this should be an annual event including donations from the Chaîne.
Graig Smith, Vice Chargé de Presse