Plenty # 4 — Railroad Street Youth Project’s Annual Culinary Arts Dinner

Chelsea Fosella (left) and Jennaya Jones practicing their skills during Railroad Street Youth Project's 2014–2015 Culinary Apprenticeship Program. Jennaya, in her seventh culinary apprenticeship with RSYP, is now an intern at Red Lion and hopes to attend the Culinary Institute of America next year; submitted photo.

Chelsea Fosella (left) and Jennaya Jones practicing their skills during Railroad Street Youth Project’s 2014–2015 Culinary Apprenticeship Program. Jennaya, in her seventh culinary apprenticeship with RSYP, is now an intern at Red Lion and hopes to attend the Culinary Institute of America next year; submitted photo.

GREAT BARRINGTON, Mass. — Youth empowerment organization, Railroad Street Youth Project , serving young people in southern Berkshire County, is getting ready for dinner. Its much-anticipated Annual Culinary Arts Celebration will take place on Monday, December 7th at 5:30 p.m. at Crissey Farm. This evening is the culminating event for the RSYP Apprenticeship Program (RAP), which offers work-based apprenticeship opportunities to young people in southern Berkshire County.

Chef-mentor Nate Wagner (left), of the Red Lion Inn demonstrates how to caramelize sugar on top of crème brûlée with a butane torch to Ryan Sherrick, participant in the Railroad Street Youth Project Culinary Arts Apprenticeship program; submitted photo.

Chef-mentor Nate Wagner (left), of the Red Lion Inn demonstrates how to caramelize sugar on top of crème brûlée with a butane torch to Ryan Sherrick, participant in the Railroad Street Youth Project Culinary Arts Apprenticeship program; submitted photo.

We spoke with Caitlin Hugel, Apprenticeships and Careers Coordinator and Sexual Health Education Faciliator about the program. She explained how the public can savor the results of the participants’ hard work at the annual Culinary Apprenticeship dinner.

We also got a chance to talk briefly with Devon VanDeusen, who is in his first year of the apprenticeship, but has already discovered both a talent and appreciation of cooking great food.

Lastly, we caught up with Chef Brian Alberg, long-time local food advocate and fixture at the Red Lion Inn, now generating a lot excitement for his latest project, Eat on North, the fine dining destination within the brand new Hotel on North in Pittsfield.

To people who work in social services, the phrase has meaning. The same is true for professionals in the systems of education or justice or health care.

At risk youth.

The exact definition will include varying details and examples, depending on whose kaleidoscope you look through. A police officer might not associate the phrase with the same young people that a school guidance counselor does.

If the phrase conjures up anything for the general public, the image of at risk youth might include groups of shadowy, slightly menacing ruffians at the margins of society destined to either grow out of it or end up in jail.

But a child psychologist could likely point to countless case files of children from affluent homes that fall squarely within the parameters of at risk youth.

That the phrase is inherently vague accounts for the distance between occupational interpretations. But that fuzziness is also a strength for a term that encompasses impacts on physical, emotional, and social development of children.

In answer to the question, “at risk of what,” the response depends on the environments and influences that surround any given child. Drug use. Gang violence. Sexual assault. Malnourishment. Academic abandonment.

What all of these factors have in common is their tendency to severe or damage the connections between young people and the elements of culture that sustain healthy development into adulthood.

The Railroad Street Youth Projectin Great Barrington, Massachusetts has been helping young people repair or rebuild those connections since about 1999. Through services available through the drop-in center, at-risk youth recover their future, in part, by discovering themselves.

Through Railroad Street’s Culinary Apprenticeship Program, young people reconfigure their realities through one of the most powerful connections to culture possible: Food.

Under the tutelage of some of the most well-known and and well-respected Chef’s on the East Coast, students learn the skills necessary to get started on their way to a successful culinary career in an award-winning kitchen.

As they do, they ingest the ingredients that go into healthy maturity: self-respect discipline, confidence, creativity, and perseverance.

At the conclusion of the term, students work with their mentor chefs to design, prepare, and present a gourmet tasting menu to showcase their skills to family, friends, and the community.

The story of the Culinary Apprenticeship program at Railroad Street is infused with tremendous levels of compassion, determination, and a willingness to trust in the alchemy of the kitchen to repair what was broken, and to shield the vulnerability of the students young spirits. In the voices of our guests on this episode is evidence of the plenty that can be reclaimed by following a recipe for humanity.

Daire Rooney, executive chef of Allium Restaurant + Bar in Great Barrington, with participants in the 2014–2015 RSYP Culinary Apprenticeship program; submitted photo.