Culinary training program gives back for holidays

BY Lauren Wanko, Correspondent |

The aroma of Thanksgiving fill the kitchen as chefs-in-training prepare a holiday meal.

“The turkeys are really good. We just pulled some out of the oven and they taste amazing!” said Fulfill Culinary Training Program student Celeste MacCray.

The turkeys aren’t for paying customers. The entire meal is provided for those in need and prepared by Fulfill’s Culinary Training Program. Formerly known as the FoodBank of Monmouth and Ocean Counties, Fulfill has been offering the 13-week program for the past 15 years or so.

“We start off with knife cutting skills and classic sauces and get into soup making. We teach all of the different cooking principals and techniques, like braising, sauteing and broiling and things like that and just get a well-rounded taste of the food business,” said Ray Cattley, chef instructor for the Fulfill Culinary Training Program.

Students train with Cattley and a student success coach who helps them with things like resume writing and job interview questions. The trainees must apply for the free program.

“All of them are low or moderate income currently and some could be unemployed, and others are just looking for a second or third attempt at success,” said Fulfill’s Executive Director Carlos Rodriguez.

“Life for me before I started this program was unmanageable, chaotic. I struggled with addiction for multiple years and this program is a sense of stability that I have in my life,” said Fulfill Culinary Training Program student Dara Mott.

How does it feel to be making Thanksgiving meals for those in need?

“Honestly, that’s my favorite part because I was them, I was there, I was in that place, so to be able to give back I can’t even put into words,” Mott said.

About 80 percent of Fulfill’s graduates are currently working in the culinary field. Mott looks forward to joining that group. MacCray also plans to work in the industry after graduation. She says she had to drop out of college because she couldn’t afford it and now she’s grateful for this training.

“It’s like a gift from God,” she said.

Before starting the program, John Tallia was unemployed. Now, he’s making an entire holiday meal for strangers.

“Hopefully nobody is going to be hungry, nobody is going to be sitting alone by themselves. Hopefully this will bring some of the families together,” said Tallia.

This marks Fufill’s 50th graduating culinary training class. Every year, Chef Ray and his students prepare hundreds of thanksgiving meals for local residents in need. It includes all the fixings — the turkey, stuffing, fresh cranberry sauce, a blended sweet potato mash and, of course, dessert.

“It’s important to provide not only meals during Thanksgiving, but Thanksgiving especially when we want to give thanks for something as basic as a warm plate of food. When you think about what this represents, it’s about being able to nourish yourself not only physically, but really emotionally and spiritually,” said Rodriguez.

The students insist their own Thanksgiving meals will taste even better this year because they know their cooking has nourished others.