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'Back of the House' Event Brings At-Risk Youth Together with Pittsburgh's Best Chefs

Emmai Alaquiva
Courtesy Table Magazine

When Christina French joined the board of directors of YouthPlaces, a non-profit after school program with 17 locations throughout the Pittsburgh region, she saw an opportunity.

French is the publisher of Table magazine, and she’d been hearing from restaurateurs and chefs in the area that they were having a hard time finding people with basic kitchen skills to fill entry level positions.

Finding that first job can be especially difficult for at-risk teens and young adults, so the organization already runs job training programs in landscaping and other fields.

“Food service just seemed like a really good tie-in, frankly, because I do publish Table and because we have all these great contacts in the food service community,” French said. “We’ve been hearing from chefs in Pittsburgh specifically that there is a lack of this entry level skill base right now.”

More than twenty of Pittsburgh’s most celebrated chefs will come together Sunday to raise money for YouthPlaces and to jump start its new food service training initiative.

“Back of the House” will take place at the YouthPlaces headquarters on the North Side, and will feature BBQ and casual food offerings from Kate Romane of E2 in Highland Park, Rick DeShantz of Meat & Potatoes and Butcher in the Rye downtown, and Derek Burnell of Lawrenceville’s Round Corner Cantina, among others. At-risk youth will work alongside the chefs to prepare and serve the dishes.

Romane said she’ll be providing vegetarian dishes to complement the beef and pork BBQ offerings of other chefs.

“We’re going to do some wheat berry salad with butternut squash and baby kale,” Romane said. “We’re also going to do some warm collard greens that are going to be vegetarian, with chilies and garlic.”

Romane not only runs E2, but also a catering business, and said she has a great need for entry level employees—like prep and line cooks—who already know their way around a kitchen.

“We need a lot of hands in multiple places,” Romane said. “With the (Cordon Bleu) culinary school closing downtown and so many new restaurants opening, there’s just a lack of hands.”

According to Romane, those basic skills include things like knife skills and hygienic practices.

But she said nothing can replace that first job in a restaurant, which can help young adults learn “the rhythm of the kitchen, the language of the kitchen.”

French said some of the participating chefs are already reaching out to at-risk communities, by hiring people post-incarceration to work in their kitchens. She said she’s hopeful that the youth who complete the food service training program at YouthPlaces will find jobs with some of the chefs participating in Sunday’s event.

A ticket for Sunday’s “Back of the House” fundraiser is $35 for adults and $12 for children 6 to 18 years old. That buys seven different dishes; patrons can purchase other dishes a la carte if they choose. Beverages will be provided by Bar Marco and Natrona Bottling, and music by DJ Selecta and DJ Gordy Greenawalt of Title Town Soul Funk Party.

And in case you’re concerned about missing another event happening that day, French said there is no need to worry.

“We’re going to definitely be broadcasting the Steelers vs. Browns game … so you won’t be missing anything,” French said.

Liz Reid began working at WESA in 2013 as a general assignment reporter and weekend host. Since then, she’s worked as the Morning Edition producer, health & science reporter and as an editor.
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