Metropolitan Ministries culinary program helps aspiring cooks get jobs

Jessica Flores works as a line cook in one of Downtown Tampa's upscale restaurants, Bizou Brasserie.

TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — Jessica Flores never dreamed of being a cook when she was a little girl. Now as an adult, she’s working as a line cook in one of Downtown Tampa’s upscale restaurants, Bizou Brasserie.

Flores got her start thanks to the Inside The Box Culinary Program at Metropolitan Ministries.

“I was a stay at home mom and I just gave birth to one of my kids and we faced an unexpected situation,” Flores said. “I was blessed to get the opportunity to work here, very blessed.”

The culinary program helps people with no cooking experience eventually get a job. Cliff Barsi, the Sr. Director of Food Services & Social Enterprise at Metropolitan Ministries, tells News Channel 8 students go through four months of training at one of two Inside the Box Cafes. The cafes are in Downtown Tampa and Westshore. Some customers don’t even realize the restaurants are teaching facilities behind the scenes.

“The main thing the chef teaches them is knife skills,” Barsi said. “Restaurants all want someone who can use a knife and do it quickly and the only way to learn is practice.”Students move on to what’s called an “externship” and then eventually have something on their resume to use to find a job. Barsi says graduates of the program work at Bizou, Boca, and even Mise en Place.

Students move on to what’s called an “externship” and then eventually have something on their resume to use to find a job. Barsi says graduates of the program work at Bizou, Boca, and even Mise en Place.”These students are coming from lifestyles where no one says they’re worth anything,” Barsi said. “This is the first time they’re being told how well they’re doing. You see when they start and where they finish in just four months and what can happen.”

“These students are coming from lifestyles where no one says they’re worth anything,” Barsi said. “This is the first time they’re being told how well they’re doing. You see when they start and where they finish in just four months and what can happen.”Brian Lairby is the Executive Chef at Bizou and Flores’ boss. He works closely with Metropolitan Ministries and helps place students in his kitchen.

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Brian Lairby is the Executive Chef at Bizou and Flores’ boss. He works closely with Metropolitan Ministries and helps place students in his kitchen.”Their background can be a motivating factor, they want to learn,” Lairby said. “They want to learn, but they may not even have had an option because of family or circumstances.We need to help people. That’s what it’s all about.”

“Their background can be a motivating factor, they want to learn,” Lairby said. “They want to learn but they may not even have had an option because of family or circumstances.We need to help people. That’s what it’s all about.”Flores hopes to move up from her line cook position and eventually run her own kitchen.

Flores hopes to move up from her line cook position and eventually run her own kitchen.

“I love my job,” Flores said. “When I wake up in the morning I’m not like ‘ugh I have to go to work,” Flores said. “I wake up happy and know it’s providing for my family at the same time.”

Learn more about the Inside the Box Culinary Program.

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