When Jose Ramon Andres started as the chef of Spanish restaurant Jaleo back in 1993, he began working with a charity that had grand ambitions of alleviating poverty in Washington. But he soon quit, frustrated that the organization's emphasis was on raising money and quickly building a large organization, rather than on just helping people.
He then hooked up with a different group, D.C. Central Kitchen, which offers a culinary job training program for unemployed men and women.
The 35-year-old knows his way around a kitchen. He is executive chef of five restaurants, soon to be seven, all of them launched in the past 11 years, including Jaleo, the Middle Eastern Zaytinya, Latin American Cafe Atlantico, the avant-garde Minibar, and a new Mexican restaurant planned for Crystal City.
As a volunteer at D.C. Central Kitchen, and this year as its chairman, he has spent several hours a week for the past decade helping to teach disadvantaged people restaurant skills. The D.C. Central Kitchen's programs puts 25 people through a 12-week, all-day session taught by regular instructors and guest teachers, including Andres. D.C. Central Kitchen then tries to place the trainees at catering firms or restaurants. It has succeeded in placing 91 percent of its trainees, according to the group.
Andres said he often teaches the students his favorite recipes and gives them tours of his kitchen in the downtown location of Jaleo. He has hired a few graduates to work there. "Not all of them end up working in restaurants, but they learn how to do a job and the pride that comes from that," said Andres, eating green olives and slurping gazpacho one day last week during the lull between lunch and dinner.
"You can give somebody $10 in the street and not really help them that much," said Andres. "This is a way to help with what I know how to do."
-- Neil Irwin