[TEXT OMITTED FROM SOURCE] The 17 members of the culinary arts program at the Lorton Reformatory are all convicted felons serving time for crimes such as robbery, murder, assault and battery, grand larceny and rape. At the end of the three-year course, when they receive a Certificate of Apprenticeship in Hotel, Restaurant and Cafeteria Food Preparation, they will have more than one reason to rejoice. Their graduation from the culinary arts program has been timed to coincide with their parole.
"They will go in as journeymen cooks with all the rights," said Ike Johnson of Fairfax, who initiated, developed and wrote the standards for the 4,728-hour course. "And I don't mean fast-food take out."
Four years ago Johnson, a graduate of Parsons College with a B.S. in education and biology, and a veteran of 40 years as a restaurant chef and cooking instructor, decided the program would be a nice way to do something good. After putting four children through college (all of whom followed in his footsteps in food service careers) he was about to retire. He went to prison officials with his idea and they approved.
Johnson's classroom is tucked away in the back of Lorton in an old aluminum warehouse. He shares the building with the bricklaying class.
One recent morning the assignment for the 17 white-clad students was to make a breakfast of scrambled eggs with cheese, biscuits, beef bologna and banana cream pie.
The cooking duties and dishwashing chores are rotated each day. So while Garland Hines prepared 36 scrambled eggs in a large cast-iron frying pan, David Washington made five pies -- from top to bottom.
"I liked cooking and this seemed like a way to do something good," Hines said as he stirred an oversized portion of eggs. Like all the students in the class, he considers himself lucky to be in the course. There were 274 applications for the program, which only has openings every three years. This group will be the second to "graduate."
The Lorton inmates who apply for the culinary arts program have to meet several requirements. First, their eligibility for parole must be compatible with the three-year program. Their case workers must recommend them for the course and they must pass a psychological evaluation and medical tests.
"I had to read their files before they started the course," said Johnson, who interviews each applicant. "I saw why they were here, but if I worried about it every day, I wouldn't be able to teach."
Johnson never calls his students by their last names alone; everyone is referred to as Mister. "I want to call them by their highest title," Johnson said. "It instills pride in them. I think a lot of them have lost their dignity. After all, that's what rehabilitation is all about."
Washington spent the morning working in the professionally equipped kitchen on five banana cream pies. He was anxious to finish before a visitor left.
"I thought it the course was a real positive avenue to get out and stay out," said Washington, placing the bananas on top of the pie. "I had done some light cooking before, but this is great. And Mr. Johnson has a great way of teaching, it's not just cooking. His approach is unique; there are other little areas of life that he helps us with, like establishing a value system."
For Washington, the pie-making process went something like this: First, they make enough dough for 20 eight-inch pie shells. "I make them use two pans for each shell," Johnson said. "They are supposed to lightly grease the inside of one pan and put the rolled dough in it. Then they are to medium-grease the bottom of a second pan and set it inside the other. They are baked until golden brown."
To make sure his students did everything right, he made them take the pie shells out of the pans and hold them up to show the class.
Fifteen of the shells are frozen for future use. Then the filling is prepared for the five remaining shells. A 24-ounce box of Van Dutch Dessert Powder Mix (which can also be used for cream puff and eclair filing) is prepared, with sliced bananas added to the top. On that goes Italian meringue.
Meanwhile, across the narrow kitchen, which is equipped with everything from stack ovens to a dishwasher, William Weaver-Bey prepared 6 dozen biscuits, and once again at least half of the biscuits were frozen.
The biscuits came out perfect, but this is not to say that every batch ever produced in the Lorton kitchen has been as good. "I made some once that I called diving board cakes," Weaver-Bey said. "They were that flat and that hard." And then there was the time when he was in a rush to put a cake in the bottom of the stack oven, and the top door fell on his head. "The cake came out right, but my head was hurting."
In addition to food preparation, the five hours of daily instruction include lessons on how to use various pieces of equipment, pastry and cake baking, meat cutting and table setting.
All the food that is prepared is served in the adjoining classroom, where students eat breakfast and lunch. They prefer not to eat any additional meals with the other inmates. "The food there just doesn't come close to what we can make here," said one student. "And besides, we'd get too fat."
Their hours in the kitchen will eventually pay off in the form of work on the outside. Johnson has set up a network of 63 area outlets that have pledged to give the men jobs.
One such outlet is the Capitol Hill Republican Club, where manager Ted Miller has six graduates from the first class of June 1980. One member of that class holds the position of sous (executive assistant) chef. "Former offenders were always scared to mention the fact that they had been in jail," Miller said. "Most were willing to just settle for a pot-washing job."
So now Miller lets prospective employes know that he is more than willing to hire ex-convicts. He also makes it a point to go to Lorton and talk with the students once or twice a year. The recidivism rate, according to Leroy Anderson, community relations officer for the D.C. Department of Corrections, has been zero for the cooking school compared to 45 percent overall at Lorton.
"At first we tried to keep our involvement out of the press because it is the Republican Club," said Miller, a member of the Club Managers Association. "I didn't think politics should be a part of it. Everyone says Republicans don't do anything. We just kept quiet and went about our business. Now they have hope beyond four gray walls and we all benefit by it." IKE JOHNSON'S BISCUITS (Makes 6 dozen
8 ounces sugar
1/2 ounce salt
5 ounces dry milk
8 ounces shortening, butter or margerine
4 cups cold water
1 pound cake flour
2 pounds, 4 ounces bread flour
3 ounces baking powder
2 eggs mixed with 1 cup milk, for egg wash
In a stainless steel dish pan place sugar, salt, dry milk and shortening. Blend with a wooden spoon to a soft paste. Add the cold water and stir with a wooden spoon. Sift together the cake flour, bread flour and baking powder. Add to the above mixture and mix by hand to a smooth dough. Turn the dough out of the mixing container onto a floured bench covered with a cloth and let rest 10 minutes. Roll the dough out to a 1/2-inch thickness with a rolling pin. Cut with a small biscuit cutter (2 to 2 1/2 inches) and place on a sheet pan covered with silicon paper, or lightly greased. Place fairly close together. Brush the top of each biscuit with egg wash. Let rest five minutes. Bake in a preheated oven at 425 degrees until golden brown.