Theresa Fitzgerald stands in the classroom at the FoodBank of Monmouth and Ocean Counties in New Jersey and looks on as the students in the Culinary Job Skills Training class are lectured on different types of roux.
A year ago, Fitzgerald sat in the same classroom – but under much different circumstances.
“I recently lost my house and my dog and you know, I was separated from my husband at the time and just kind of felt like this was it,” said the 28-year-old mother.
Despite having a passion for cooking, Fitzgerald had been out of the kitchen for six years. With job opportunities looking bleak, she started to look for ways to get back behind the line.
After hearing about the food bank’s culinary job training program from a family member, Fitzgerald decided to apply.
“I wasn’t doing anything else,” said Fitzgerald. “I had nothing to lose and why not try something new.”
A few weeks later, Fitzgerald was accepted into the program and was introduced to Chef Ray Cattley, the chief instructor of the program
The program, taught by Cattley, is five days a week and is a crash-course of sorts in cooking – teaching the applicants knife skills, sauce making and different cooking techniques, with the hopes of giving them a skill set that will help them find job. The food bank also offers mock interviews, resume tutorials, and an opportunity to shadow a chef in a working kitchen.
Ronnie Polidoro / NBC News
“They come here to just learn for a good foundation from the ground up,” Cattley said. “I like for them to know there’s an opportunity for them to go out there and grow and with the hard work, they’re gonna be able to do something, make something of themselves.”
Fitzgerald thrived, graduated at the top of the class and found a job right away in a chain restaurant. Now, she is a personal chef for a family in Port Monmouth, N.J., creating weekly menus inspired by the skills learned in Chef Ray’s classroom.
“They taught me a lot here. Due to Chef Ray and everybody that’s worked here – they made things possible for me that I didn’t think were possible before,” said Fitzgerald. “I didn’t have the confidence and now I do. And now, I feel like I can do anything.”