Chopping, basting, frying, baking, marinating and learning how to adapt recipes for a large group were only a few of the things that four inmates learned at the recently held Culinary Academy offered at the Sawyer County Jail during the month of April.
A wide array of skills, including food preparation, nutrition, hospitality, customer service and “hands on” menu preparation were completed in both the classroom and in the kitchen of the Senior Resource Center for a total of 60 hours credit.
Students also completed the ServSafe certification process.
The Culinary Academy is a program coordinated by the Northwest Wisconsin Workforce Investment Board (NWWIB) in partnership with the Sawyer County Jail, Hayward Senior Resource Center and the Sawyer County Criminal Justice Programs.
Currently there is a shortage of culinary workers in the state and it is the hope that graduates of this program will find work as line cooks, prep cooks, kitchen managers and chefs at a variety of restaurants and businesses in the area.
While cooking in the kitchen at the Senior Resource Center several nights and weekends it proved to be a program where everyone enjoyed themselves while learning.
“Participants are not treated here like they might be inside the four walls of the jail,” said Char Jaeger, nutrition director at the Center. “We are honored to have them here and we enjoy their willingness to learn and share their lives; what they like to cook for their families and what they like to do.”
“I think this program is very good, everyone seems to be enjoying it and are eager to learn,” said Barb Applebee, site manager/head cook for 12 years at the center. “It certainly makes us think about the issues and people in our community in a different light.”
The program has been offered in various counties in northwest and western Wisconsin, with one offered at the Bayfield County Jail, which has proven to be very popular with inmates. With the aid of a Wisconsin Fast Forward grant through NWWIB, the opportunity to provide an effective educational program for Sawyer County jail inmates seemed to be the perfect match.
“The Culinary Academy proved to be a program that helps create opportunities for employment for those individuals returning back into the community by teaching lifelong skills,” said Criminal Justice Coordinator Diane McNamer. “For individuals who are incarcerated, how can a person make a lasting change to their life if we do not give them the skills to make that change?”
After attending one of the culinary classes, Sheriff Doug Mrotek said the sheriff’s department will continue to explore options to help inmates transition and become productive members of society.
Under the supervision of Jail Administrator Joe Sajdera and Mrotek, this is seen as just the first stepping stone to hopefully more re-entry based programs in the jail.
“This is a great opportunity for individuals to get training of a skill for employment, not in a low level or entry type job, but one where their training and certification opens up new opportunities at a much higher level for them,” said Jail Programs Deputy Dick Welsch. “On a personal level, I see positive changes in everyone. They are engaged, work well with each other, take direction positively and are very appreciative of both the training and their instructors.”
Sajdera added, “This class provides a skill that has positive effects on the inmates and the community. We hope to be able to have more options like this class in the future.”
Joey Johnson, Senior Resource executive director, summed it up by noting, “this program has left us with a good, lasting impression. From the first night on we could see and feel how comfortable and secure everyone felt. I think this program is long overdue as it has been a good experience for not only the participants, but for us as well. We do not care why someone is here, only that they are here today and we are planting seeds that can only grow and expand in the future for each of them.”