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This Celebrity Chef Wants To Help Low-Income Students In Chicago Break Into The Culinary Industry

“I believe our city is rich with untapped resources.”

Rick Bayless, once the Obamas' chef, has all the trappings of a celebrity chef: four star restaurants, best-selling cookbooks, a line of salsas in stores, and a chain of casual eateries at airports across America. Now that he's reached the top of his field, the James Beard Award winner is finding ways to help aspiring future restaurateurs in his adopted home of Chicago.

Bayless has several award-winning restaurants in the Windy City, so it’s only fitting that he’s starting a culinary training program for Chicago’s low-income students. The program will not only teach high school and college students necessary kitchen skills, like knife work, cooking techniques, and how to identify and work with ingredients, but it will also place them into internships at some of the finest food establishments in the city. According to Bayless, the program — which will cost students a “nominal fee” — will benefit both students and restaurant owners alike.

“I believe this program can help surmount two big challenges in the city — lack of cooks to fill our restaurants’ kitchens and a lack of both solid preparation and career opportunities for the youth of Chicago’s toughest neighborhoods,” Bayless said in a press release announcing the program. “There’s a reason I think this program can make a difference: I can say that some of the most valuable people in our kitchens are ones that we’ve brought up from the most entry-level jobs, taught basic skills and self-respect, and seen flourish.”

The culinary classes will take place at The Hatchery, a groundbreaking new food co-op located in Chicago, and are expected to begin in fall 2018. Bayless has already gotten buy-in for the program from many of the city’s top chefs, including Paul Kahan, Grant Achatz, Stephanie Izard, Matthias Merges, Cosmo Goss, Erick Williams, Josh Kulp and Christine Cikowski, Genie Kwon, and more.

While it’s only in the incubation phase, Bayless’ new culinary training program may put a small dent in the youth unemployment crisis in Chicago, where up to 70% of young people do not have a job. Though many invoke the Windy City’s challenges to score political points, Bayless believes Chicago is full of promise.

“I believe our city is rich with untapped resources,” he said. “If we can develop a way to cultivate them, both our restaurants and our community will be the better for it.”

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