Updated on June 8, 2016
The Art of Cooking for a Lifetime
by Brandi Salas
Five mother sauces.
Butter versus margarine.
Paneer Cheese and Fromage Blanc.
These lessons aren’t from a gourmet cookbook, they’re straight out of a treatment facility at The Salvation Army in Kaimuki. The culinary class at The Salvation Army Family Treatment Services (FTS) isn’t just changing lifestyles through healing and rehabilitation, they’re changing perceptions about the art of cooking. A recent partnership between The Salvation Army FTS and the organization Touch A Heart has established an intense culinary program for women who are about to exit treatment.
“It came about from the needs of our clients,” said Candace Pang, the Clinical Director at The Salvation Army FTS. “The clients are women who are getting out of treatment, trying to become financially independent. It was difficult with the type of opportunities that were available to them. Touch a Heart approached us and showed that they could start a vocational program that would enable them to confidently apply for jobs in the food industry.”
The culinary program, which began in May 2015, teaches up to four clients during a 12-week period. The curriculum diversifies the art of cooking with creativity, life skills building, and empowerment. Each day’s lesson begins with a life skill component and ends with a cooking activity for the women. “We realize that the women we have were broken at one point in their lives. In order for them to learn something new and exciting, we have to empower them with the knowledge first and encourage them to take risks,” said Colin Kumabe, the Touch A Heart instructor and Director of Operations. “Our philosophy comes from the saying give a man a fish and you feed him for a day, teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime. In our case, we are helping these women feed themselves and their families for life.”
Pang said the teaching methods are effective in the clients’ healing process and also prepares them for working in the service industry. “It’s not only about the culinary skills, the women built confidence, feeling of accomplishment, understanding about commitment to doing something, showing up,” she said. “It was more about cutting carrots in five different ways. It was a bigger lesson for them.”
The partnership currently accommodates a limited amount of clients each period. “We only take on four clients because we want to get to know them, their palettes, and personalize their experience. We adapt the curriculum to what they usually cook, and what’s practical for them to make,” said Kumabe. The clients are taken on outings that help them price vegetables, meats, and spices around town. Kumabe and his wife, the President of Touch A Heart, plan to take the women to Chinatown next week to show them how affordable it is to cook their own food for their families. “My wife and I used to feed the homeless each week on a small budget. Helping The Salvation Army clients prioritize healthier options will help them save money and instill healthy habits in their children,” said Kumabe. One lesson that Colin taught was making a beef stew with fresh vegetables and showing how the women can use leftovers to make a beef and vegetable soup for the next day. “It’s little tips that show them how to save money and feed their families.”
Lessons in cooking couldn’t come at a better time for 46-year-old De Ann K., a client who is just about to graduate from FTS. “I’m blessed to be taking cooking lessons right before I graduate from the FTS program. I’m hoping to get a job at a restaurant and start cooking for my own family at home,” she said. De Ann was homeless for five years, suffered an addiction to meth and marijuana, and ran away from a very abusive relationship. “I’m so thankful that I finally feel stable. I was in and out of domestic abuse shelters for a while. Being able to have these skills under my belt will help me find a job that I truly enjoy,” she said.
Another client, Ana R., expressed that cooking has helped her bond with her baby. “Colin showed us how to incorporate our kids into preparing dinner. Like having them mix the salad at the table, little things like that,” said Ana. “We’re all trying to be better people, better mothers, it’s great to get tips on teaching our kids healthy habits and bond with them at the same time.”
The Salvation Army’s partnership with Touch A Heart has already helped two recent FTS graduates secure jobs at popular local restaurants. The Walmart Foundation ‘s Hawaii State Giving Council recently granted The Salvation Army $50,000 to continue the intense culinary training with Touch A Heart with a focus on supporting the clients’ abilities to support themselves.
Click here to learn more about The Salvation Army Family Treatment Services.