Why NECAT? Why Now?

It’s now more than six months since the pandemic descended, throwing our lives into a troubling chaos. With no immediate remedy on the horizon, it can seem like an unlikely time to dive into a full-time, in-person job training program. Is it safe? Will even be jobs available on the other end?

But for current student, Sharday, there was no better time to start her training at NECAT than now. COVID had reduced her hours at her part-time job, providing the opportune moment to take her culinary skills and career to the next level.

“For me, there was no better time to enroll at NECAT,” says current student, Sharday.

“NECAT’s informational Zoom meeting made me feel comfortable that NECAT had all the social distancing practices in place to keep me safe. And I was excited to hear about the great relationships NECAT has in the food services industry.”

Sharday said that knowing that NECAT’s employer partners collaborate and advise on NECAT’s curriculum and are eager to hire NECAT graduates made her feel confident she was making the right move. “What I didn’t expect was that this program is so much more than just learning about cooking. I am achieving personal growth and professional development. I’ve always wanted cooking to be part of my future and this is giving me the skills and access to great jobs.”

For Lawren, being in NECAT’s program right now is a matter of survival. “I’m at Hope House in a recovery program, fighting for my life and my future. My sobriety is the most important personal issue I deal with every day,” he says. “I’m ready to reinvent myself and find a career that will bring me joy.” Lawren worked for years helping Alzheimer patients and has dealt with a lot of sorrow. “Happiness in my life came from cooking for my family, so now that I’m ready to face the world, I believe that a job as a professional cook is something I can really do well and for a long time… I’m ready and thankful that NECAT reopened.”

Conducting in-person training during a pandemic does not come without its challenges, but NECAT’s dedicated staff has been up to the task. “I know we are doing everything possible to ensure the safety of the staff and students,” says Chef Bob Krajewski. “What I didn’t account for was how different the teaching experience would be for me, as I’m an up-close and personal type of instructor. Teaching students with masks on and behind plastic shields, I realize how much I rely on the visual cues of facial expressions to gauge their understanding. Also, I miss the intimacy of working closely together during cooking demos, having them all huddled around me.”

Yet, this hasn’t deterred Chef Bob. “I’ve become creative with technology to enhance the demo experience for the students while ensuring appropriate physical boundaries. And, I now devote more time to having individual conversations with students. As the saying goes, there’s always a way to do it better. Just find it.”

A demo with Chef Bob at a safe distance.

Indeed, NECAT does not stop in finding a better way to do things. Since reopening in July, NECAT has prepared and graduated 28 unemployed adults for work in food services. And there are jobs in Boston – more coming online every week.  NECAT is an important link between the employers and the workers they need. We are helping restaurants significantly reduce one major cost of reopening – and that is the sourcing of qualified cooks, which is supporting the revival of the local economy and helping our students get back on their feet quickly. For NECAT, there’s no time like the present!