New England Culinary Arts Training – NECAT – opened its doors to Greater Boston in September 2013. An ambitious vision developed by Founder and Chairman, Maarten Hemsley, NECAT represents a nonprofit collaboration between public and private partners.
Maarten was inspired after meeting Bill Strickland, an innovator and heralded leader in the development of practical job-themed education and training for adults and youth. Strickland was responsible for the highly successful programs of Manchester Bidwell Corporation (MBC), a nationally-renowned career and cultural training center founded in Pittsburgh in 1968. Building on MBC’s track record, influence and “corporate firepower,” NECAT joined with MBC’s replication subsidiary, the National Center for Arts & Technology, to develop a Boston affiliate based on the practices and strategies that had already been proven in Pittsburgh and across the U.S. and overseas.
Over the course of NECAT’s short history, the organization has established strong leadership and a successful culinary training program model. Executive Director Joey Cuzzi has been at the helm since January 2016. She came to NECAT after a lengthy career in Public and Community Relations and as the Executive Director of the East Boston YMCA. Under Joey’s leadership, NECAT has become a stable, forward-looking organization with strong partnerships with area employers, non-profit organizations, state and city governments and funders.
In August 2018, Joey hired Chef Martha Leahy into the new position of Deputy Director, serving as NECAT’s culinary expert and program director. Martha’s career spans 25 years in the food services industry, including positions as an executive chef, research and development director and culinary trainer.
NECAT’s dedicated team works tirelessly to keep our program relevant to the changing needs of our participants and the industry. As the profile of our students shifted to an increasingly vulnerable population, we responded by adopting a trauma-informed care model to teaching and establishing case management for all students.
NECAT coordinates it Career Services Training with an Employer Advisory Council – a group that is committed to hiring and supporting NECAT graduates, paying competitive wages and is interested in contributing to our program’s design and delivery. The Council’s indispensable input ensures that our students are trained and prepared with the skills most valued by top employers.
NECAT’s Response to COVID
As the pandemic of 2020 quickly unfolded, NECAT responded immediately by providing essential support and continued virtual training to our community. We provided cash grants, food and grocery delivery, and assistance with enrolling in unemployment benefits. We have helped and will continue to help our students and graduates secure employment through this period of unprecedented uncertainty.
Though COVID wreaked havoc on the food services industry, a good number of our employer partners are resuming service and have begun hiring. We believe we’re an important part of their economic recovery effort — we’re the nexus between the industry and the workers, and we can help restaurants significantly reduce one major cost of reopening — and that’s the sourcing of qualified workers. Our employer partners are looking to us and our network of qualified graduates to step in and quickly help them get back on their feet. And these strong relationships are opening employment doors for participants whose employment was either disrupted or postponed due to the pandemic.
Despite the preponderance of news stories focused on restaurant closures and the pandemic’s negative effects on the food services industry, there are culinary jobs available for those who want to and are willing to work in food services. NECAT is very proud to be the first culinary training program to restart in Boston and we are 100% committed to helping those in our communities who have been the hardest hit by COVID-19.