The vibe is definitely backyard barbeque, even in a concrete building and kitchen converted to a classroom.

The Temptations “Just My Imagination” on iTunes. Sloppy joes. Jerk chicken kabobs being assembled. Fruit skewers. Lots of laughter. Maybe some muffled complaints about washing dishes.

You’d never know it’s the backdrop to a cooking competition. Or, looking deeper, that the setting is teaching real-life skills. But it’s all that, plus some, according to the instructors of JEVS Kitchen Table.

“These young adults are like my babies. I feel like I’m at home,” says Yalanda Lewis, program instructor at Kitchen Table.

Operated by JEVS Human Services in conjunction with the Achieving Independence Center (AIC), Kitchen Table can serve as an important rite of passage for 14 to 21-year-olds at AIC who are looking to brush up on their culinary repertoire–or merely shop for nutritional items on a budget.

But today is one of AIC’s quarterly recognition days, which means that feeding 150 celebratory members and guests is on the menu.

“I wasn’t really a cooker,” said Tylier, browning large quantities of ground beef on the stove. “But I like to eat, so…” He smiles. “It’s helpful when everybody is cool and friendly.”

That cool, friendly vibe is perpetuated by Lewis and Jocelynn Marshall, who run their kitchen as a part-time classroom, gastronomy laboratory and skill-building seminar.

“I’ve served other people as a job,” said Kenneth, who is halfway through the program, and whose favorite thing to cook for his grandmother is chicken florentine. “Here, I was able to figure out what I like to do: bake.”

It’s like a kitchen at home, you never sit because you’re being shown or taught something or trying a new thing.”

“That’s a big goal of ours,” noted Marshall. “We just want them to say at the end ‘I gained some type of independence in the kitchen; I know something different than when I walked in the door.’”

Marshall agreed. “There’s a level of trust in all this. Members come to us and they say, ’Who are you and what can you teach me?’ Showing that you truly care helps encourage young adults to open up and accept not only you, but new foods, new tastes, and new ideas.”

But with food put aside for recognition day, the chatter quickly turned to Kitchen Table’s upcoming event–the 4th Annual Teen Battle Chef competition, with a friendly showdown against Team Get HYPE Philly and the Free Library of Philadelphia. (Note: The competition was held Friday, July 28, 2017.)

“I’ve been doing this [Teen Battle Chef] all four years,” said Aicha. “I was born in Malaysia, and left there at the age of five. I like the different types of food there; it was my passion to be a chef at one point. This is a chance to be competitive and show different types of cuisine.”

The competition, in addition to allowing young adults the opportunity to explore foods from around the world in a “Chopped”-style cook off, also teaches valuable lessons about leadership, teamwork, time management and presentation.

“Teen Battle Chef allows for goal-setting,” said Marshall. “We ask members to come in and talk each day about how they feel; why they feel that way; what their goal is for the day…and how you or someone you know can help accomplish that goal.”

It’s the constant hunger for new goals that motivates–even in this laid-back classroom on a Friday afternoon, cool jams playing and all.

“There’s a lot of negativity in the world,” said Lewis. “But these young people know that they can always come back to the kitchen; that they’re adventurous enough to try new things and that they’re skilled enough to provide for themselves and for others. That’s real.”

A special thank you to Teen Battle Chef partners: Achieving Independence Center, The Free Library of Philadelphia, The Food TrustGet HYPE Philly!, and the City of Philadelphia’s Department of Human Services.

To our judges: Kenneth Bush from Bistrot La Minette, Jezabel Careaga from Jezabel’s, and Nigel Bowe, program director for the JEVS-operated The Choice is Yours.

To our coordinators: Rose Skolnick, Aurora Sanchez, and Sheena Starling

And to our Co-Hosts: Scott Seiderman from JEVS, and Gregory Wright from the Mayor’s Office of Education.

Posted in Blog JEVS Service: Youth & Young Adult