About this project
FoodWorks Madison was started by Jonny Hunter of Underground Food Collective, Matt Feifarek of Slow Food Madison, and Chandra Miller Fienen of Starting Block Madison. We started FoodWorks to serve our community through the connective power of food. What are we working on and how did we get here, and most importantly, why do we need you? Well...
Madison, Wisconsin is consistently voted one of the best cities to live in America, featuring good quality of life, good schools, and low unemployment among other factors.
However, it also has persistently high unemployment in communities of color. This contributes to a startling gap in social equity between different segments of Madison's citizenry; while some enjoy our famously high quality of life, others find Madison to be an extremely difficult place to thrive.
Meanwhile, powered by deep roots in the farm-to-table movement, Madison area food-based businesses are doing very well. They are winning national awards, expanding, refining, and opening new ventures. But these same businesses are experiencing a long-standing shortage of qualified cooks and prep-cooks.
Our first project aims to connect these dots to address both problems.
One Solution: Job Training
We’re currently piloting First Course, a three-week job-training program for professional kitchens, designed to provide students with the basic kitchen skills they need to get good jobs in food service. Upon graduation, we'll provide all students a $1000 bonus to incentivize completion and help offset their opportunity cost. Finally, we are committed to placing all graduates in good jobs that set them up to pursue their goals, with ongoing mentorship to support their job retention and long-term success.
A Cook's Curriculum
First Course’s innovative curriculum has been developed in partnership with award-winning regional chefs & kitchen managers, community partners, Slow Food Madison, and an expert from the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Education. We'll be open-sourcing this curriculum, making it available for other communities to use it, fork it, translate it, and otherwise tailor it to local needs.
We are currently testing this curriculum—and our model—with four students. The city of Madison has provided partial funding for this test and the reporting that will follow.
What's IN the curriculum? It provides essential skills to help people get professional cooking jobs. Our goal is to build a strong foundation so graduates can pursue careers in the kitchen, or work toward launching their own businesses, but at the very least, skip the dishwasher station:
- Knife skills instruction and practice (slice, dice, julienne, chiffonade...)
- Basic cooking (sauté, roast, blanch, braise, fry, grill, as well as making stock, seasoning, tasting...)
- Job skills (interviewing, asking good questions, identifying mentors...)
- Tool and equipment use
- Intro to ingredients
- Kitchen vocabulary
- Food safety (holding temperature, danger zone, contaminants...)
- Mentoring and networking with industry professionals
We host lots of visitors from the industry: cooks, chefs, restaurateurs, managers, entrepreneurs, teachers. They share the stories of their enterprises, backgrounds, and hiring practices. We have a field trip day, where students visit food businesses, from food carts to university residence kitchens. Students get to ask questions, seek advice, and make connections. We prepare and eat lunch together every day so that students have more time to talk about the industry, their job goals and challenges.
Our immediate goal is to finish our pilot, place all students in jobs, and report our results to the City of Madison. Also, we need to raise funds to finish paying for the test!
Once we've reported on our pilot program, we would like to refine the curriculum and beta test it, before scaling up First Course to ten sessions per year. That would mean training, supporting and finding jobs for up to 200 graduates a year.
Sounds good, but don't live in Madison? Here's why you should still support us:
Our fervent and explicit goal is to make it so that others can take the core of what we've done, replicate it, modify it, and make it work for their own communities; that's the open-source part of the proposition. We think it's one of the most important things. If we just make a nice little program with a great teacher that's in Madison but relies on magic sauce or expertise that nobody else can do, we haven't moved the needle very much. See our FAQ for a little more, or send us a message! And notice the reward level that gives you early access to our open-source curriculum.
How Will We Use Your Funds?
So far, FoodWorks has been volunteer-powered. We've received generously donated help from community groups such as the UW Law and Entrepreneurship Clinic. But some stuff does cost actual money! The city's grant allowed us to rent a professional kitchen, hire a teacher, and buy some supplies, but it's not enough to do it all.
Your support will help us meet many of our goals, including:
- A graduation bonus for each student
- Full open-sourcing of our curriculum (not just a document dump, but a true github/gitbooks-style sharing that is well indexed, annotated, and stuffed with videos and supplemental materials)
- Seed funding for FoodWorks's next chapter
Risks and challenges
We know that there are lots of underemployed people. We know that businesses are desperate for workers. We know that businesses and potential employees need help to connect.
We also know what we don't know. We don't know best how to reach the communities that we aim to serve. We don't know the optimal blend of kitchen skills and job-readiness skills that will help people find and stay in jobs that meet their needs.
Fortunately, Madison has several excellent community service organizations that do a great job of connecting real people to programs and services like ours, and they have helped us find our first group of students. We hope this will be the start of a long cooperative relationship.
We know how to teach food-service skills; we have a qualified teacher, an industrial kitchen to use, and a partial budget to execute the test. We have many potatoes, carrots and onions to chop, and a chef's knife, paring knife, and board scraper for each student. We're already cooking!
We're borrowing from entrepreneur-speak, thinking of this pilot as our "MVP" test: our minimum viable product. We want to test our model and our methods, and refine them to meet the needs of our students and their eventual employers.
We could be wrong with our model: we could teach the wrong skills, or in the wrong way. We could under-prepare our graduates for the job-readiness skills that help to get and retain work. Our graduates may find that the pay rate for entry level kitchen jobs are often not enough to meet their needs. Our course could be too difficult or too easy.
So far, though, it's been great. Our first four students are engaged and excited, and we're sure they'll complete the course. They all seem very engaged and interested in cooking, and we believe that they'll go on to be exemplary and happy employees.
Without your help, we'll have a hard time delivering on our goals. We'll still share our curriculum, but it'll be rough and minimal. We'll have to scramble for other sources for the graduation bonuses, and we'll start the next phase of our work underfunded and in a state of scarcity.
Fundamentally, we are already cooking: First Course is live right now. In that sense, we are a success already. Our failure would be in not being able to support the students as much as we hoped, and in not being able to share our work as widely and completely as we had hoped.Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
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