Project Renewal's Culinary Arts Program serving up a fresh start for veterans

Project Renewal's Culinary Arts Program is not just about creating delicious dishes – it's about transforming lives, particularly those of New Yorkers, and most notably, our honored veterans. Within the culinary haven of these walls, true culinary champions are emerging, proving that every meal served carries a story of redemption and renewal.
"Had no interest in culinary, always thought I'd be an office guy," said veteran Richard Ralph, now the Training and Quality Control manager at Project Renewal City Beet Kitchens. The Culinary Arts Program provided him with more than just culinary skills; it offered a second chance at life.
"I was looking for direction; I wanted to use my experience in the military, and I didn't really know where to start," said Ralph.
Ralph is a Brooklyn native who served in both the Marine Corps and Army National Guard.
His journey took a challenging turn post-military, leading to three years of incarceration. Fast forward to today, Ralph has graduated from the culinary program and is an integral part of the group's management team.
"I got to learn the skills, knife skills, kitchen work terminology, learning to cook in ways that I've never done before," said Ralph.
In the bustling kitchen, the dedicated crew caters to various organizations, from grand galas to shelters, offering everything from sit-down meals to boxed lunches. A staggering 90% of the staff there have emerged from the Culinary program. It’s a six-month training initiative open to formerly incarcerated individuals, homeless and, of course, veterans.
"People just need a chance in life,” said Barbara Hughes, the executive director of City Beat Kitchens.
Hughes says Project Renewal has been providing health homes and jobs for those facing barriers, all through the universal language of food. Hughes recognizes the unique qualities that veterans like Ralph bring to the table, stating, "You're not only finding people that are hard workers but people that want to build a career, that are good managers, they're good leaders, and we find that quality in veterans more than others that work for us."
As Richard Ralph continues on this new course of his life, he expresses pride in the person he has become, acknowledging the profound impact of the Culinary Arts Program. "With the military, I was able to provide a service to my community and being in the Project Renewal culinary program gave me that pride again where I can give back to the community, helping those that are less fortunate," said Ralph.
Project Renewal aims to expand its transformative work by 2024, ensuring that more individuals, like Richard Ralph, find redemption and renewed purpose through the art of cooking.