NEW YORK DAILY NEWS
Thursday, November 26, 2015, 2:00 AM
(From r. to l.) Celebrity Chef David Burke, HELP USA Chairwoman Maria Cuomo Cole, HELP USA Culinary Arts student Joel Ferrer, and Head Chef Dan Maguire pose for a photo inside the kitchen of the Supportive Employment Center on Randalls-Ward Island.
For the city’s homeless, a good meal can be one of the hardest things to find.
But 200 homeless men living at the HELP USA Supportive Employment Center on Randalls Island enjoyed a massive Thanksgiving feast on Monday — after creating each dish themselves with lessons from a celebrity chef.
The pre-holiday meal — which featured turkey and cranberries, turnips with honey-glazed raisins and a savory kale and fennel salad — was designed by “Top Chef Masters” star David Burke.
“This is the first time for many that they’ve had the experience of real community and family as part of their residential life,” Maria Cuomo Cole, Chairperson of HELP USA since 1992, told the Daily News.
“During the holiday, all of our HELP USA residences will be serving meals, making people feel welcome and at home.”
Monday’s Thanksgiving fete was borne from the HELP USA Culinary Arts Program.
The nine-week course teaches the homeless students living on the island basic knife skills and cooking techniques, such as sautéing, baking and broiling, along with a deeper understanding of work culture.
Burke (r.), Cuomo Cole (c.) and Maguire (l.) had fun in the kitchen.
“A lot of these gentlemen and ladies in the program have to learn to work as part of a team,” said Head Chef Daniel Maguire, a former corporate executive chef with Marriott Hotels, who has also cooked for three United States presidents.
Celebrity chef and “Top Chef Masters” star David Burke is a passionate advocate of the culinary arts class.
Those enrolled in the HELP USA Culinary Arts Training Program will eventually have the opportunity to snag a coveted job in the food industry.
“He’ll go from the beginner tasks of prepping, peeling and carving, and depending on his skills and ambitions, move up. There are always openings because cooks come and go. But most likely, the path is upward,” said Burke to The News.
“Everybody here is either looking for employment, actively seeking employment or getting training of some kind,” said Maguire.
What is also unique about the HELP USA Culinary Arts Training Program at Randalls Island is the food used in class, which is planted and picked by tenants from the garden in the one acre next to the shelter.
Kale, fennel, cranberries, and turkey were just a few of the sumptuous food offerings on Chef Burke’s Thanksgiving lunch menu.
Bronx-native Alvin Hardy, 46, said that the Culinary Arts Program got him out of a cesspool of drug and alcohol abuse.
“You can’t just sit back and wait, and expect everybody to do something for you. You have to make an effort and try to do something for yourself,” Hardy said.
“I can sit up there and watch TV, the TV ain’t going nowhere. The TV don’t move, you gotta move. Be active.”
Guests enjoyed a nutritious and tasty kale, tomato, and fennel salad.
Taking action is something that Brooklyn native Rahsan Gillard,38, believes is vital to finding a more permanent home for himself and his two children.
A former paraprofessional, employed through the city’s Department of Education, Gillard’s ongoing search to find a reasonably priced apartment,in a safe neighborhood, has been very difficult.
“I found it a little bit hard to find an apartment in my price bracket. So I’ve been here and aspiring to get some housing assistance,” Gillard said.
Nelson Dijols (r.), a student in the HELP USA Culinary Arts program, prepares mashed potatoes for the Thanksgiving meal for the homeless in the kitchen of the Supportive Employment Center. Dijols had experience in food service prior to the program, but lacked the appropriate credentials to further his career. He said he hopes to help out his family in Florida once he obtains his license.
“(Landlords) have a lot of strong credit requirements and income requirements that I don’t meet, so I’m going to get some assistance with finding affordable housing.”
Joel Ferrer, 48, a student within HELP USA’s Culinary Arts Program, lived in a family shelter for a year and half before transferring to the shelter on Randalls Island.
He also thinks that one of the biggest problems homeless people face in the five boroughs are high rental prices that middle class workers can’t afford — especially those surviving on a minimum wage income.
Joel Ferrer, a student in the HELP USA Culinary Arts program, was offered a position to work with Chef David Burke.
“You’re making $ 10-an-hour, you’re gonna pay an apartment $ 1,300 (a month), it’s almost impossible,” Ferrer said.
“That’s one of the big problems we got. Some people make $ 8.75. How you gonna live with that kind of money in New York City paying that kind of rent? The cheapest you pay in New York for rent is one bedroom, $ 1000, $ 1100, that’s the cheapest.”
Along with a hearty Thanksgiving meal, job-readiness services, such as HELP USA’s Culinary Arts Training Program, are not only very active in New York City, but greatly needed for homeless people who are seeking job opportunities and a home to call their own.
“Being homeless is never good. You never know where you can end up,” Ferrer said.
“But it’s not the end of the world. I can tell you that. It’s a step back, but if you really want to do what you need to do, you can do it. You have to have the will.”