DEAR BALTIMORE drug dealers: Tired of your loser life? Tired of being usedto spread the poison in your hometown? Tired of living with your motherbecause, despite what people think, you can't afford a place of your own?Tired of the prospect of going to jail again, or ending up with a bullet inyour head?
Here's today's proposition: Learn how to cook. I know a master chef who isready to train you to make tarragon-infused poached chicken breast withlemon-basil cream.
You could become a master chef yourself, maybe even open your ownrestaurant, or have your own cable show, or end up cooking at a fabulousresort in the Caribbean. If you're in your 30s or 40s, it's not too late toget started. If you're a teenager or in your 20s, doing little more thanselling dope on the corner, the time couldn't be better to get on a new track.
"For the 21-year-old who is motivated, there is absolutely no limit to howfar he or she can go from here," says Kurt Clodfelter, the chef who will trainyou.
Let me tell you about this guy. Kurt learned to be a chef at the CulinaryInstitute of America - the CIA - in New York. That's one of the top cookingschools in the world. He grew up in the Baltimore area, and he helped open andreopen a bunch of restaurants around here. He's been cooking since he was akid. He could probably have an executive chef's job at any number ofrestaurants or hotels, if he wanted to do that.
But he likes to teach.
So six months ago, Kurt hooked up with Moveable Feast, which is thenonprofit program that prepares and delivers up to 600 meals a day tohomebound people living with AIDS. The group works out of St. Benedict'sparish hall, off Wilkens Avenue in Southwest Baltimore.
In addition to providing meals for the homebound, Moveable Feast runs12-week programs to train men and women to cook as a career. The class doesn'tcost a penny. In fact, you get a $50 weekly stipend for perfect attendance.Kurt Clodfelter is the teacher. His last class learned how to make Jamaicanjerk rib roast with horseradish-coconut creme fraiche, hickory-smoked porktenderloin, paella risotto and walnut-crusted yam cakes.
So, a CIA man to train you, $50 a week to show up - there might not be abetter vocational training deal around.
All you have to do is come off the corner and give it a try.
"This is real culinary education. The students are not just being used forlabor at Moveable Feast," says Vince Williams, operations director. "They getclassroom and hands-on instruction, and instruction in life skills."
You have to be at least 18 years old to apply for the class.
"And," says Vince, "the student has to be referred to us by a caseworker,or a friend, family member or sponsor. There needs to be a sense ofaccountability."
He means you need to show up - or have a friend or relative who will seethat you do.
You can't be partying all the time, or staying out all night on the corner.You probably have to get away from your dope-selling, dope-sniffing friends -your "homies" - maybe move to another place where you can get some sleep andfocus on training.
Your criminal record doesn't matter to these guys.
"You can have felonies," says Vince. "You can have misdemeanors. We dobackground checks. When we decide to go with a student, we'll give him achance - if they have support, a sponsor. We look for the highly motivatedperson."
"The one who says they've had enough [of street life and jail], they'redone foolin' around and want a career," adds Kurt.
Since Moveable Feast started this program a couple of years ago, they'vetrained about 60 men and women. Graduates receive ServSafe food safetycertification from the National Restaurant Association, and a certificate fromMoveable Feast. "Our graduates are ready to be prep or line cooks when theycome out of here," says Kurt. "But they can go on from there. They are alwaysgoing to be able to find a job in the hospitality industry."
And that industry has been in a long boom period. A good cook or chef canfind excellent jobs right in Baltimore.
But it involves hard work and long hours. Kurt will tell you all about that- and the kind of money you can expect to make - if you take his class. "And Ican help them overcome questions [from prospective employers] about theirpast," he says.
It would be nice if drug dealing could be in your past. Here's a chance toput it there. Tomorrow is Independence Day. Declare yourselves free, brothersand sisters, and start a new life. You can contact Kurt Clodfelter or VinceWilliams at 410-327- 3420. They want to get a new class of 16 students startedin the next week or two.
Persons who are interested in hiring any of the ex-offenders profiled inrecent columns can contact Dan Rodricks at 410-332-6166, or by e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.