Tag Archives: The Bread Project

The Bread Project: Cooking up a future for people in need

In the kitchen with The Bread Project students. Photo: Courtesy of the Bread Project
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Pat Van Valkenburgh is the kind of person that The Bread Project hopes to help. A stay-at-home mom who home-schooled her two children until they attended Berkeley High School, Van Valkenburgh desperately needed a job when her construction worker husband became unemployed. Since she enjoyed cooking, she thought the nonprofit’s nine-week café training program, which focuses on basic kitchen, food service, and barista skills, was a good fit and would help her find a job in the restaurant industry.

Van Valkenburgh didn’t have to look far for work: she was snapped up by the organization to manage the café it runs out of the Berkeley Adult School, where the program for low-income job seekers, started by Susan Phillips and Lucie Buchbinder in 2000, has been housed since 2003.

The part-time gig has made all the difference during tough economic times; Van Valkenburgh’s family has held on to their home and health insurance. (Both her kids, who attended the Academic Choice School at BHS, currently study at local community colleges and intend to transfer to UC.) … Continue reading »

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La Cocina helps launch Mexican food business

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The story of how Dilsa Lugo launched Berkeley catering company Los Cilantros starts in Cuernavaca in the Mexican state of Morelos where she grew up.

Her family had a vegetable garden outside of town, where her father grew corn, beans, chilies, lemons, mangoes and more.

Her mother, who had nine kids to feed, cooked fresh tortillas on an open fire every day.

Lugo’s family farmed and cooked together out of economic necessity and enjoyed the flavors of a homegrown harvest and the pleasures of the table. As a child, she liked to help in the garden and the kitchen.

In college, where she studied horticulture, she became schooled in the dangers of pesticides to farm workers, consumers, and the environment.

Before leaving Mexico seven years ago, she ran a successful greenhouse business selling plants, including poinsettias and marigolds, for festive occasions.

She landed in Berkeley with her husband, embraced the organic food movement, and lamented the lack of authentic Mexican eateries that offered organic food. So she began to make her own.

Her tamales, tacos, and tortillas proved a big hit with her husband’s co-workers in construction.

Maybe, she thought, she could start a food business here. But first Lugo attended the Berkeley Adult School, where she took English classes. There she learned about a program for aspiring cooks looking to land employment in the food industry called The Bread Project.

While participating in that program, she heard about and subsequently received support from La Cocina, a nonprofit commercial kitchen and food business incubator in San Francisco that helps low-income female food entrepreneurs formalize and grow their own businesses.

Lugo toyed with the idea of starting a Mexican bakery but opted, instead, to run her own catering company which she dubbed Los Cilantros in honor of the pungent herb that flavors much of Mexican cuisine.

The 36-year-old lives in West Berkeley with her family, including a school-age son and a brand-new baby. We spoke at her home a couple of weeks ago.Continue reading »

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Berkeley Bites: Kara Hammond, Elmwood Café

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A decade ago, and fresh out of North Carolina, Kara Hammond landed a gig at Café Fanny, a tiny slip of a place in North Berkeley opened 25 years ago by, oh, a certain famous local chef.

Hammond, who had run a homespun bakery in Greensboro, wanted to get some kitchen experience in the Bay Area. Someone she knew knew someone who had a contact at Café Fanny; she called up and scored a job, just like that. Hammond … Continue reading »

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