D.C. Central Kitchen culinary students fire up new burgers

June 29, 2011

Stanley Richardson didn’t know whether he was ready. As a recovering drug addict released from jail in February, he was preparing to feed dozens of hungry burger lovers at a restaurant four months later.

The pressure to cook about 100 mini-burgers quickly and consistently in one-hour for a large crowd made him restless.

But eight weeks of training at D.C. Central Kitchen, a nonprofit culinary program founded in 1989, gave Richardson some skills to make the adjustment.

“I was a little nervous at first with all the people. But all the things they taught me fell into place, and I just started getting more comfortable with it,” he said.

By feeling at ease in his new surroundings, Richardson and eight students from the job training program participated in a burger cook-off at Harry’s Smokehouse in Arlington County on June 12.

The event featured three teams of chefs-in-training who created mini-burgers that were critiqued by four judges. A fifth vote was determined from ballots filed by attendees. The teams were vying for a chance to have their burger included on the restaurant’s menu.

Richardson and his teammates, Thomas Parker and Jessica Towers, created a mini-burger with garlic, ham, jalapeno cheddar cheese and roasted red peppers.

Students Henry Galloway, Katrina McCormick and William Poe created one filled with three cheeses, topped with bacon bits and Poe’s special barbecue sauce.

The final entry was created by the team of Desiree Bryant, Douglas Carter and Reginald Young. Their oven-baked mini-burger was infused with honey, spinach, amaretto and feta and Swiss cheeses.

“It’s all in how you put things together,” Carter said of his team’s unusual collection of ingredients.

Instead of a sole winner, the judges chose to incorporate different elements of each mini-burger to create a new burger that will appear on the menu as the D.C. Central Kitchen Burger.

Each student received a $100 gift certificate.

“Everything we do is a team” effort, said Poe, who became aware of the program once his pursuit of a baseball career was derailed by injuries. “I kind of like that everyone won as a team.”

Robert Egger, founder and president of D.C. Central Kitchen, said the organization aims to bring together business owners, potential employees from the program and customers as a way to contribute to the District’s treasury.

Before joining the program, more than half of the students were in jail or recovering from drug abuse, he said. The program averages about 80 graduates annually who collectively make about $2 million in salary per year, he said.

“What we’re trying to do is expose people to their own power,” Egger said. “Our job is to open the door.”

So people such as Richardson, 43, can walk through it.

“I’ve always had the intelligence. I just allowed my drug addiction to carry me somewhere else,” he said. “My mind is clear [now], and I see life in a different way.”

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