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Culinary school raking in dough

News-Times, News-Times
Published 1:00 am, Tuesday, May 6, 2008
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NEW MILFORD -- The Community Culinary School is young but growing strong.

In a difficult economy, director Dawn Hammacott is particularly pleased the all-donation program started last year has gained support from foundations and local residents so it can expand.

The culinary school raised $21,000 at a fundraising dinner and auction prepared and served by the student chefs for some 120 people in March.

A month later, the Connecticut Community Foundation in Waterbury opted to double its initial $10,000 grant, so the program can now employ Hammacott as a full-time director and chef Blythe Roberts as a full-time instructor.

The school now has eight students enrolled in the third week of a 12-week session. Eleven other men and women who graduated from two prior programs have jobs in institutional or restaurant kitchens. A fourth session is scheduled to begin in August.

"We are delighted and gratified by the CCF's continued support for the culinary school," said Peg Molina, director of New Milford Social Services. "With their help, we look forward to helping many more people gain the skills they need to move into good jobs."

In addition to teaching cooking and various other job skills, the culinary school operation -- through the additional financial support -- intends to build a community catering business. In its first year, the school did some special-event catering and provided meals to the town Social Services Department food pantry program.

"We're becoming an established program. We have a real sense of accomplishment here. It's very gratifying," Hammacott said.

The Connecticut Community Foundation was the first foundation to offer a grant to the program, which is modeled after the Community Kitchen program of the anti-hunger organization America's Second Harvest. Students are recruited by the New Milford Social Services Department, which runs the school in partnership with the United Way.

To date, the school has also received additional support from the Harcourt Foundation, the Meserve Foundation and Union Savings Bank. Each session costs about $30,000 to run.

"We're really pleased to see it take off," Connecticut Community Foundation program director Josh Carey said.

Carey said he is encouraged by the participants' success in finding culinary jobs and the partnerships the school is building with other agencies, including New Milford Hospital and the regional work force investment program. He hailed Molina and Hammacott for their enthusiasm and professionalism in developing the program.

Said Hammacott, "Without them taking that initial chance -- CCF being the first to step forward (with financial support) -- this program never would have happened. So we are very indebted to them."

Contact Nanci Hutson at nhutson@newstimes.com or at (860) 354-2274.