FoodWorks Madison has just gained crucial momentum in creating a program that could help significantly fill the kitchens of Madison restaurants in desperate need of skilled workers.
With the recent success of a Kickstarter page that raised more than $50,000, the budding organization is a step closer to connecting the underemployed in Madison with restaurants seeking qualified cooks and prep-cooks.
The seed idea for FoodWorks, which provides training for those seeking to work in professional kitchens, was planted in 2014. Jonny Hunter, Matt Feifarek and Chandra Miller Fienen are all co-founders of FoodWorks Madison, each coming from a background in the Madison food industry. Launching the Kickstarter on May 26, FoodWorks Madison has surpassed its goal of raising $50,000 with the help of 374 backers with time to spare.
The co-founders of FoodWorks believe a professional food training program in Madison will help bridge a gap between restaurants and potential employees.
“It is trying to connect where there’s a hole," says Hunter. "There are new restaurants opening and the quality of labor is going down. It’s been really hard to hold onto people longer. There are a lot of people who want to get a job, but they are intimidated by their lack of skills and standing."
This is where FoodWorks steps in. FoodWorks provides a three-week intensive job-training course for those who wish to learn the skills required to work in a professional kitchen. These skills include knife handling (slicing, dicing and julienning), basic cooking (roasting, blanching and frying), tool and equipment use as well as job skills (interviewing, working with mentors and kitchen vocabulary).
FoodWorks’ curriculum was designed by award-winning regional chefs and kitchen managers, Slow Food Madison and an expert from the University of Wisconsin–Madison’s School of Education. By asking chefs what skills are needed in kitchens and translating those needs into a three-week education for students, FoodWorks intends to give graduates a strong foundation in food service that they can then build upon.
As an incentive for students to complete the program and as a way to balance the opportunity cost of attending the course, FoodWorks offers a $1,000 bonus upon completion and promises to help place graduates into jobs that reflect their goals of working in professional kitchens.
A pilot “First Course” FoodWorks Madison recently graduated its first cohort of four students.
“Every part was great," says Hunter, "The people who taught the course were so great. The students were just wonderful people. They were all so engaged and really super excited about the program.
Overall the pilot course was successful, Hunter adds. Three weeks was the right amount of time, and some small tweaks are necessary, but the program doesn’t need to go through any large overhauls.
In the future, FoodWorks hopes to host 10 three-week sessions per year. With 20 students per session, FoodWorks aims to have a total of 200 graduates a year.