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Kids in The Kitchen: Local Business Helps At-Risk Youth Learn Culinary Skills

WEST DES MOINES, Iowa -- Mackenzie Carder is busy prepping for another meal service at The Hall, but she doesn't come from a culinary school, she comes from the state's foster care program.

“I did live in multiple shelters, just because sometimes that happens. Then once I aged out of the foster care system, it was really hard for me because I was on my own, but I did have the support of many friends and family members that I know from the foster care system,” said Carder.

That helped land her in The Kitchen, a two-year culinary internship of sorts that starts out at $12 an hour. The food truck chefs who normally make up the menu for The Hall now move inside to a brand-new kitchen, under the condition they help teach the kids, who in turn help them cook. The program is the brainchild of manager Nick Kuhn.

“Our role is to take them on after they just left the shelter or it could be after foster care and give them that job, give them some skills and keep them out of that shelter,” said Kuhn.

That financial independence makes a big difference for people like Carder.

“The simple fact that I'm really starting to be like an adult, like I wake up in the morning, I have a 9 to 5 job, and I'm actually adulting...it feels great dude, I'm like ‘yes!’” said Carder.

But it's not just financial independence, it's also culinary independence. Carder and her peers have developed their own German menu called “Kids in the Hall. When an item is ordered from that menu, the proceeds go back into the program. For Carder, seeing that order come through means something more.

“I felt so prideful, because I was like 'somebody wants to order from my menu, somebody wants to eat the things I'm making,' and it feels great. Yeah, they might not know me back here in the kitchen, but it's just like Christmas when somebody orders from you,” she said.

Seeing that pride and confidence develop in people like Carder also means something more to Kuhn.

“It's the reason we get up every morning. Yeah, it's pretty cool,” he said.

By the end of the two-year program, the kids will be making $15 an hour. Afterwards, The Hall will help them find work in professional kitchens around the metro if they choose to continue in the culinary arts. As for Carder, she wants to become a professional pastry chef and open her own place called Kennie's.

The Kitchen will also allow aspiring business owners to use their facilities for a fee. Kuhn hopes it becomes a restaurant incubator for the metro.

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