When young adults are considering a career in restaurants, access to programs like The Portland Kitchen gives them a chance to not only get experience, but to also receive valuable life skills they’ll need to succeed. The Portland Kitchen brings high school students into a kitchen environment, using culinary activities to teach active learning, healthy living and teamwork. As a bonus, the program can also be a gateway into professional kitchens, launching culinary careers.
One of the program’s many success stories is Mason Pallanes. He first joined The Portland Kitchen when it was a pilot program. He was only 14, but already had an eye on working in kitchens. When The Portland Kitchen was rolling out its complete program, Mason rejoined as a high school senior.
“I was interested to know how to feed myself, plus I needed a job,” he said. “I needed documents like a food handler’s card – but I really needed to understand how a restaurant works.” This would be his first experience in a kitchen. He was immediately surprised by all the details. It was more than just cooking meals, he quickly discovered, but it was also focusing on nuances like plating, presentation, understanding flavors, and techniques.
“I was plating turkey and mashed potatoes,” he looked at the ceiling as he spoke, as if picturing it in his head. “I added some red cabbage and kale for texture and a ‘pop’ of color.” Understanding the basics of presentation was just the beginning.
Mason showed himself to be a stand-out student, so when he completed The Portland Kitchen’s course, he was hired as a Kitchen Assistant. This was an opportunity to learn the fundamental people skills necessary to work in a professional kitchen. “I quickly had to learn about teaching, and patience. To let people handle it for themselves, to let them learn.” The hardest thing to teach? “Explaining what to do and what not to do,” he said. “Food safety, kitchen prep, not cross-contaminating the veggies, and staying clean are all very important.”
Taking what he learned at The Portland Kitchen, Mason was able to move up into his next job – Huber’s Café in Portland, Oregon. Huber’s is Portland’s oldest restaurant, founded in 1879. Walking into a kitchen with that much history fascinated Mason, motivating him to quickly climb up from the dish pit to also taking on prep work, line cooking and bar backing. Working in a professional restaurant can be challenging – even frustrating, but Mason had learned patience and communication.
“If things get difficult I stick with it. I keep thinking on the music, keep listening to the beat,” he said. “But I still stay aware. That’s key.”
Mason plans on continuing with his culinary career. “I keep thinking about what a great opportunity I have,” he muses. “A great opportunity to make friends and acquaintances, to grow my network and to eventually help others come into the kitchen.”
In addition to the teen programs TPK offers, they are expanding their programming to young adults ages 18-24. The goal of the new young adult culinary training program is to provide affordable training to job-ready students interested in a career in the food industry.
“We’ve heard from many food service employers in Portland who are not finding enough trained, reliable employees for their kitchen crews,” said Arielle Clark, TPK’s Culinary Director. “At the same time many of the low-income youth we serve feel that the cost of for-profit culinary school is out of reach. This is an effort to bridge the gap by providing low-cost training to young adults who want to make a career in Portland’s food scene.”
To learn more and apply please visit www.theportlandkitchen.org/student-info