Grilled chicken, mushrooms, and asparagus. “At home, that’s all. I cook that all day every day,” Goff said enthusiastically, describing his favorite meal.
But like Gibson, over the past several weeks, he’s been working through trauma as much as he’s been chopping and sautéing. Four years ago, his daughter passed away. “I got into trouble a couple of times in the past because I had trouble with my anger,” he said. “It kind of still haunts me to this day, because I wasn’t there for her.”
In Goff’s mind, Rustin’s self-empowerment classes helped him even more than previous attempts at therapy did. “Once I came here and started opening up about my past, it just became more comfortable, and I started trusting,” he said. Now, Goff wants to draw on his passion for cooking for his family and previous experience acting to forge a path for himself. “My long-term goal is to find somewhere I can incorporate acting and food together,” he said.
Johnson’s externship at the Ritz Carlton is starting on Monday and her excitement is palpable. “I am ready!” she says, laughing. She loves baking and already sells the treats she makes, like cupcakes and chocolate-covered strawberries, to friends and family. She wants to build on that and rent her own space to open a bakery.
Project Empowerment, a workforce development program for residents with employment barriers including lack of education, history of substance abuse, homelessness, and incarceration, pointed her toward the culinary job training program.
Johnson said she has appreciated learning to portion dishes and breaking down chicken and fish, but she wished there was more baking included. Still, the program “really helped me stay more focused and stop worrying about everything else,” she said. “It helped me leave my drama at home when I came through the door.”
At 21, McCraw has already been through a lot, including a year in prison that was the result of a situation involving domestic violence, she said.
She’s also brimming with ideas. “I wanted to be a singer, a painter, a knitter,” she said. “And then I started cooking again.” McCraw said she loved seeing her family enjoy meals she made—like stuffed shells with ground turkey—and when another community organization suggested she apply to the culinary job training program, she decided to do it.
She has been working on communication and expressing herself, which made her realize that her initial plan to open a restaurant wasn’t the right fit. Instead, she wants to fuse art and food in a museum environment. “You’re walking around looking at the exhibits and you can actually taste it,” she said. “That’s my dream career.”
“I’m a better person,” McPherson says, simply, describing how his time in the job-training program has helped him with things like developing courage and a positive attitude.
Now, he can focus on what he loves: making dishes like fried chicken, baked chicken, mac and cheese, and cabbage, and McPherson is confident he’ll have his own soul food restaurant someday.
Given how much he’s gained through DC Central Kitchen, he also wants to give back to his community. “I want to help others who are less fortunate,” he said.
Just three years ago, in 2019, Rebudan arrived from the Philippines. As the only immigrant in the class, one of his challenges has been communicating in English. While he speaks it fluently, he finds it difficult to express himself fully, he said.