Breaking News

Ian McNulty: A culinary program that changes lives is thriving as restaurants change too | Where NOLA Eats

Many people know Liberty’s Kitchen as a place to get a burger, a salad or a coffee at its cafe, next to the Whole Foods Market on North Broad Street (some know it particularly for its black-eyed pea “cowboy caviar,” too). Others might know it for its catering service. Both of those facets of Liberty’s Kitchen have been on hiatus in the pandemic. But quietly, the underlying work of uplift and change at this culinary-based community group has been thriving.

Enrollment in its program has swelled. Graduation rates have reached new peaks. And job placement for its graduates has improved, not just in number but in the quality and trajectory of the jobs they are getting.






Liberty’s Kitchen CEO Dennis Bagneris high-fives a trainee during family meal, where trainees and staff gather to eat lunch at Liberty’s Kitchen in New Orleans.




“In the midst of the pandemic, the hospitality industry rallied with us,” said chief executive officer Dennis Bagneris. “In the past year, we’ve had some of the best successes we’ve seen in the history of Liberty’s Kitchen.”

That’s one reason why the Liberty Kitchen crew is in celebration mode for the return of their largest annual public event. After switching to virtual events last year, the group is bringing back its Come Grow With Us gala on Nov. 5 at the Ace Hotel. It is the most important fundraiser for the nonprofit, and even more so this year (see details below).






CGWU 2019e.jpg

Attendees dance at celebrate at the Come Grow With Us gala benefiting Liberty’s Kitchen at the Ace Hotel in 2019. (Contributed photo from Liberty’s Kitchen).


Liberty’s Kitchen was created to be more than a workforce training program. The goal is to use the structure of a restaurant kitchen to build life skills, add layers of support and tap the potential of the young people who take part. It’s about investing in youth and talent development.

Its graduates may go on to college or seek jobs in different fields. But many do continue in restaurants, and right now they’re finding an especially eager welcome.

“The pandemic has exposed the need and opened the way for better dialogue,” Bagneris said. “Our restaurant partners are more willing to meet our young people where they are. They’re offering more support and more significant paths to growth. Because they’re all trying to rebuild, they’re looking at how they can develop this young person.”






CGWU 2019a.jpg

Liberty’s Kitchen is a nonprofit that uses the structure of restaurant and culinary training to help young people reach their potential. Trainees in the program celebrate together at its Come Grow With Us gala at the Ace Hotel in 2019. (Contributed photo from Liberty’s Kitchen).


Closure orders and tight restrictions early in the pandemic forced massive layoffs across the hospitality industry. As these businesses are trying to build back, restaffing has been a major challenge.

Many of those just getting started, however, are finding more and better opportunities in the field. That’s true for Liberty’s Kitchen trainees too.

Right after parking by a low bridge over Bayou Terrebonne, Hamid “Hammer” Watson lit the charcoal for his brand-new, trailer-mounted grill. Mi…

“Restaurants are telling us they can teach them in house — they’ll pair them up with someone more experienced,” Bagneris said. “Our graduates are telling us they’re not just getting jobs, they’re getting really good jobs, jobs with benefits and paths to management positions.”

To focus on keeping its core program running safely in the pandemic, Liberty’s Kitchen has paused its usual café and catering services. That’s been a boon for the education component, because, for now, all the kitchen space and resources are devoted to students. However, without the revenue that the café and catering normally bring in, the group’s other fundraising efforts are that much more important.

Every Thursday we give you the scoop on NOLA dining. Sign up today.

Come Grow With Us convenes people within the group and across the culinary community to celebrate the work and potential of its mission.






CGWU 2019f.jpg

Trainees from the Liberty’s Kitchen culinary program work with guest chefs and restaurant pros at the group’s annual gala, Come Grow With Us. Liberty’s Kitchen is a nonprofit that uses the structure of restaurant and culinary training to help young people reach their potential. (Contributed photo from Liberty’s Kitchen).




The night’s honoree is Gary Netter, a culinary entrepreneur and culinary ambassador for the city of New Orleans, who will receive the Food Justice Champion Award. Two Liberty’s Kitchen alumni, Larry Cacho and Angelina Garcia, will be honored for their achievements as well.

Lenora Chong, of Morrow’s, and Michael Gulotta, of Maypop and MoPho, serve as culinary co-chairs for the night.






CGWU 2019b.jpg

Trainees from the Liberty’s Kitchen culinary program work with guest chefs and restaurant pros at the group’s annual gala, Come Grow With Us. Liberty’s Kitchen is a nonprofit that uses the structure of restaurant and culinary training to help young people reach their potential. (Contributed photo from Liberty’s Kitchen).


Liberty’s Kitchen trainees play a key role in producing the event. They’ll work with the culinary co-chairs and chefs from the hotel’s restaurants, Josephine Estelle and Alto, and partner restaurants Commander’s Palace, Carmo, Café Sbisa, Copper Vine, Saba I-Tal Garden, Saba, Restaurant R’Evolution and Netter’s Next to Eat culinary enterprise.

“This is an opportunity to raise up our unsung heroes, the people who took up the reins to make sure our work could continue,” Bagernis said of the event. “They didn’t just get it done, they excelled, because they care so much for these young people.”

Come Grow With Us

Nov. 5, 7 p.m.

Ace Hotel, 600 Carondelet St.

The event includes food, open bar, music from Glen David Andrews and dance party to close out the night.

Get tickets and sponsorship information at libertyskitchen.org.

How this nonprofit is ‘Turning Tables’ for black bartenders, tackling industry racial inequality

Autumn in New Orleans had been stacked with a lot of plans, and not just festivals. A full harvest of new restaurants had been working toward …

Purchases made via links on our site may earn us an affiliate commission


https://www.nola.com/entertainment_life/eat-drink/article_1b3cb09a-3369-11ec-a69a-6f825d842be2.html