August 3, 2021
Faces of Feeding Chittenden: Raven, a CKA Graduate

Raven was going through a bit of a rough patch when she first heard about Feeding Chittenden’s Community Kitchen Academy. Between working 12 hour shifts at a job she did not feel attached to, taking online community college classes, and cooking dinner for her family almost every night, she felt understandably burnt out. That was when she was advised by a mentor to “take on the things she really likes” as a way to improve her mental health and set her life on a new track. For Raven, that meant cooking. “I’ve always wanted to open a restaurant so bad,” she says– “ever since I was a little kid.”

Raven was not pushed towards culinary school during her childhood in the Philippines. Despite her passion in the kitchen, she felt pressured to pick a route where she was more likely to find financial stability. If she mentioned her dreams of culinary school and cooking professionally to adults in her life, they would often reply, “you don’t need to go to culinary school– you already know how to cook!”

Even after moving to the United States, Raven continued to “put aside” her dreams of cooking professionally. But after a few years of working grueling hours at a job where she “did not see herself” staying, Raven learned about CKA. Although she was employed at the time, and the CKA is a free program typically reserved for people seeking employment, she decided to take a chance and apply. It seemed like a good way to get into the industry she wanted to be in– she explains, “‘I didn’t have the money to pay for a specific culinary class… so I told Chef Jim, ‘if you guys are willing to take me as a business prospect, I will gladly work it out, even if my schedule would be really hard.’”

And at first, it Was really hard– between her night shifts, CCV classes, and CKA from 9-3 every week day, Raven was sometimes getting only a few hours of sleep a night. But she was determined to keep cooking, even when Chef Jim challenged her to take on difficult recipes. “whenever I’d go here at the end of my 12 hour shift, i didn’t feel like i was tired,” she says. “the atmosphere is different. it’s different when you’re not getting paid to do it, but you do it because you like it.

Raven eventually quit her night job, and she thinks she made the right decision: “I couldn’t ever give (that job) 100% because it’s not what I want to do. I had to choose whether I was going to go through the (CKA) program, earning what I really want, or continue to earn money but not be able to do what I really want. You have to make sacrifices to be able to do what you really want to do in the future.”

Through the Community Kitchen Academy, Raven did more than learn valuable culinary skills. Like other CKA students, she fed her community every time she learned a new recipe. Each day, the students make high-quality meals that they serve to Feeding Chittenden visitors and clients (as well as any person lucky enough to walk by the Good Food Truck on Fridays). “Just because it’s free doesn’t mean it’s not high quality,” Raven says. In CKA, “you’re not producing food for the sake of producing it. You’re producing it because you know it’s high quality. You have to serve good food, because you’re learning how to do it!”

For her final CKA project, Raven made an excellent Filipino rice bowl, which she served for free from the Good Food Truck. She loves cooking Filipino food, and her goal is to bring it to Burlington. “They don’t have much Filipino stuff in this area,” she says. “You have to drive all the way to St Johnsbury to try Filipino food. But I think the market is good for it here, because Vermont is very innovative, and really open to supporting local businesses.” Raven started CKA with ambition, and she came away with the skills and mentorship to try starting her own business. She’s working hard to bring tastes of her home country to Burlington, but she plans to add her own unique twist– Raven wants to make common baked goods like cookies, but “infuse them with Filipino flavors.” For now, she’s working on recipes with Chef Jim and testing them out on her family, but soon hopes to start selling her food to the public. We’re so glad Raven stuck with CKA– she proved herself to be a talented cook, and Chef Jim was absolutely right when he called her a “tough cookie with a bright future.” We can’t wait to see where her skills and determination take her!