Metro’s Culinary Arts Program creates hope for future chefs

Seven years ago, Cliff Barsi, a chef for more than 35 years, had a dream of starting a culinary school to give back to the community. Today, that dream is a reality through Metropolitan Ministries’ Culinary Arts Program, where with your support, students learn kitchen skills to build a career.   

“To date, we’ve had 300 students graduate and become employed,” said Barsi.    

The program started from humble beginnings with five at-risk students who wanted to add new skills to their resumes. After graduating, the students found themselves employed with culinary arts skills that helped support their self-sufficiency goals.    

For Regina, a domestic violence survivor and mother of two, joining the program is a dream come true.    

Before arriving at Metro, Regina endured hardship and heartbreak. She had to flee her hometown after being assaulted in front of her children. The attack left her with a broken nose and spirit. With nowhere to turn, Regina had to live with her kids in a tent on the streets. In search of hope, she heard about Metro. She received safe shelter, wraparound care, and a case manager to help her achieve her goals. 

Shortly after getting settled in at Metro, Regina lost her job as a prep cook. She had her high school diploma but wanted to continue her education. Regina applied and was accepted to our Uplift U program, which offers residents various help, including job and life skills training–including the culinary arts program. 

“I’ve always loved to cook,” said Regina. “When I was younger, I told my mom I wanted to go to culinary school. But I never got the chance to go. Now, I’m back in my field, and it feels amazing.”   

Thanks to donors like you, more students like Regina can enroll in Metro’s Culinary Arts Program.  

The students move through the 16-week course, learning everything from necessary skills to advanced techniques that create any cuisine style.   

“Our goal was to teach the students knife skills and the ability to follow a recipe,” said Barsi. “They’re taught much more as we go along. The goal is to equip them so that they can get a job in any kitchen.”   

It is also home to our catering company, Inside The Box. Students get professional experience every time they’re in the kitchen, sharpening their skills through hands-on training.  

Today, classes can hold up to 15 students. Each class is taught by talented chefs who have made their life’s work in the kitchen. Our CAP students are under the leadership of Chef Peter Bates in Hillsborough, and Chef Clay Dempster, in Pinellas County.    

When reflecting on the impact Chef Clay makes with his students, one quote comes to mind. “For me, I think about Mark Twain and the quote, ‘The two most important days of your life are the day you are born, and the day you find out why.’ It’s all about seeing them grow.” 

Building skills and confidence in the kitchen is something Chef Peter Bates is passionate about.  

“I’m one of seven chefs in my family with 35 plus years of experience,” said Bates. “My experience is very similar to the students in that I didn’t go to traditional culinary school but have been able to have a fruitful and successful career. It shows my students that they can do it too. I measure my success by theirs.”  

Bates works with the budding chefs in the kitchen, giving them hands-on experience and traditional schooling. Students learn the in’s and outs of the business; they help cook for and serve at Metro events and gain experience as caterers for Inside The Box.   

“Steering them in the right direction is my goal. Helping them to grow confident enough to work in any kitchen is my goal,” said Bates.

“We work hard to get them placed with a job in a kitchen once they’re ready.”  

Some of the restaurants our CAP students have worked at include Oak and Ola, Mise en Place, Ulele, in addition to resorts and hotels.   

Three-hundred students have graduated from the program, gaining life-changing experience in the process.   

When reflecting on the success of his students, Barsi said he couldn’t be prouder. “It’s such a blessing to see how far our students have come and all they learn. We are there with them every step of the way.”  

Because of your support, more students are unlocking the doors to a successful culinary career that will help them break the cycle of poverty and homelessness. Learn more about the Culinary Arts Program here.