Little Rock Culinary program sees first round of graduates post COVID

Around Arkansas

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – It’s more than just slicing and dicing; one local program is giving young adults a second chance by preparing them for a culinary career.

It’s called Food Jobs Work, a program designed to help adults who have faced challenges in life pick up a new skill set to make themselves more marketable and unlock a passion in the process.

The course held its first graduation in over a year, with four students receiving their certificates, chef’s coats, and knives in a short but emotional ceremony as part of the 11th cohort.

For Bre’Aunna Peoples, one of the graduates, the moment marks the start of the rest of her life. She got more out of the program than just new ways to cook or prepare food.

“This actually opened up a door for me,” Peoples said. “My main thing I feel that I have very much accomplished is my communication skills. I’m not scared to talk anymore.”

Christie Ison founded the program and has watched dozens of students over the years take their knowledge to the workforce, one skill at a time.

“[Students learn] basic sauté, knife handling, how to cook all kinds of things,” Ison explained.

The class is inspirational for many students who sign up but is especially meaningful during a pandemic. Ison hasn’t been able to hold a class for over a year and a half, and this most recent group of students had to be less than half the size of the usual 10 to 12 member cohorts.

As this latest batch of students prepares to make their way to a local kitchen, they face a job market desperate for their help.

“It’s very timely right now because COVID has opened up so many opportunities,” said Ison. Restaurants and the food industry, in general, are stretched thin, with hospitality and culinary workers in short supply but in high demand.

It’s a career path Peoples is thrilled to be in, with her ultimate goal, “to one day own a restaurant and run it.”

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