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Chef John Besh creating culinary leaders with ‘Chefs Move! Scholarship’

Written by  IntheNOLA.com
It may be that a conversation between New Orleanians is not complete without mentioning food in some way or another. And this ‘conversation’ will not stray away from that fact.
 
New Orleans is more than well known for its food…and not only the gumbo and po-boys, but also its fine dining for those particularly well-versed palates. You got your Commander’s Palace and Mr. B’s as well as your Galatoire’s and Arnaud’s cooking up “truffled creole cream cheese gnocchi” and “speckled trout amandine.” And who can we thank for these dishes, but none other than the incredibly talented chefs who enjoy filling our bellies.

But, who exactly are these chefs? How do they get these positions at these fine dining restaurants? And what may be one of the blaring questions…why does there seem to be a lack of diversity in the higher up positions in these restaurants?
Chef John Besh creating culinary leaders with ‘Chefs Move! Scholarship’ | IntheNOLA.com 
Well, local New Orleanian and famous chef John Besh had the same question…where is the diversity? But he didn’t only have a question; he also had a solution to it. Teaming up with co-founder Jessica Bride, Chef Besh and Bride created the Chefs Move! Scholarship. “The mission of Chefs Move! is to diversify kitchen leadership by providing minority applicants the opportunity to train up and become leaders in restaurant kitchens and in their communities.” Two young New Orleanian chefs will receive the opportunity of a lifetime: a yearlong fully-paid scholarship, one in Culinary Arts and one in Pastry Arts, to attend the International Culinary Center in New York followed by a two month internship with the Besh Restaurant Group.
 
“It’s incredibly humbling and such an honor to be providing this opportunity to the youth of New Orleans,” said Chef Besh. “What I hope to do is use the resources that God has given me and pass them on to somebody else that realizes they are valued. If we start to value people in the city, the youth, education, and community service, then we will pull ourselves out of the situation we were given – bad economics, inner city youth without much hope, failing schools, etc. The Creator didn’t just give me talent so that I could serve fancy food to people. He gave me talent to make a difference in people’s lives for the better.”
 
Chef John Besh creating culinary leaders with ‘Chefs Move! Scholarship’ | IntheNOLA.comIn its third year, the 
Chefs Move! Scholarship has given three New Orleanians a chance to have their wildest dreams come true. In 2011, Syrena Johnson became the first recipient of the scholarship. After finishing her nine months of study in New York City, Syrena returned to New Orleans and is completing her internship at one of Chef Besh’s restaurants, Domenica. Last year saw two winners, Calvin Virgil and Chris Okorie, who are currently in the midst of their studies in New York City.
 
When speaking about the three winners, Chef Besh just beams! “We can learn something from each and every human. For example, Syrena has tenacity! She was brought up very different than I was and has had to exhibit so much tenacity. Forget about culinary school, I’m talking about on the street to survive. To see her transform that energy into something very positive is a humbling experience for me. To see this young lady claw her way through and make the most of every situation taught me a lot about tenacity and perseverance. It’s not all about how smart you are, how well spoken or well read you are, because what it comes down to is that there is so much we can overcome as humans if we remain persistent.”
 
“With Chris, it’s interesting because he always has a smile on his face even though you think he should be overwhelmed. He overcomes so much with a smile and his joie de vivre. That is something that so many New Orleanians possess; that even in the worst of times, we can still smile and see the best in one another. Seeing Chris always smile humbled me. Wouldn’t it be great if we could all take that approach, just laugh and find the humor in things.”

“Calvin is so intense and willing to seize any opportunity. He understands how important this is and it’s amazing to see the way that he grasps these opportunities. I think he truly lives for the day. He leaves it all out there on the field every day and that intensity is one thing I find inspiring.”
 Chef John Besh creating culinary leaders with ‘Chefs Move! Scholarship’ | IntheNOLA.com
Chef Besh is looking forward to providing this awesome opportunity to two more young New Orleanians and recognizing what their success means for the New Orleans restaurant community as a whole. “The amazing thing is now, chefs throughout the community are saying, ‘I know that when these graduates come back, they’re working for you, but would you mind sending them to our kitchen, too? We could use the next person with this background.’ We want to make sure that our graduates are well prepared and we can put them in any kitchen where they can grow and reach their full potential.”
 
Chef John Besh creating culinary leaders with ‘Chefs Move! Scholarship’ | IntheNOLA.comLocals chefs Lisa White of Domenica and Jeff Mattia of American Sector will be serving as mentors to this year’s scholarship recipients. “It’s a very big honor to be able to help someone and to have Chef Besh appoint me to a position where I can actually do that on a grander scale is amazing,” Chef White said. “I’m looking forward to making that connection and being able to be there when they need someone.”

Chef Mattia added, “For Chef Besh to think that I have enough qualifications to train or mentor someone is awesome. To teach and develop another young individual is why we’re here. It’s not about finding new employees for John Besh; it’s about us setting the culinary field up for the next generation.”
 
Chef John Besh creating culinary leaders with ‘Chefs Move! Scholarship’ | IntheNOLA.comThe graduates will also have the help of Emery Whalen, Executive Director of the John Besh Foundation. “I’m blessed to have Emery as a full-time mentor day in and day out,” said Chef Besh. “They hit the Emery button and she is always there, tracking their progress and being that soundboard that they can always turn to.”
 
Recipients of the Chefs Move! Scholarship get all they need to ensure success. Let’s take a look: full uition, chef uniforms, kitchen equipment, accommodations, round-trip airfare, digital camera and lessons, $250 grocery card, $100 subway card, digital camera and lessons, laptop computer and training, media (including social media) training, job placement assistance while in New York, an 8-week paid internship within the Besh Restaurant Group upon completion of the culinary program, job placement assistance while in New York, and a year-long mentorship from Chef White or Chef Mattia.
 

Chef John Besh creating culinary leaders with ‘Chefs Move! Scholarship’ | IntheNOLA.comNot surprisingly, Chef Besh’s decision to include “minority” as part of the scholarship has been a little controversial. “I caught a lot of flack about the minority component in this,” he said. “But plain and simple, New Orleans is a city of all sorts of races and ethnicities, which makes our city special. So if this makes us special, then why is it that very few minorities, in particular African Americans, aren’t enjoying the success at management levels? It really comes down to education.”

He continued, “When I look through the ranks of the hundreds of employees, I quickly see that many come from backgrounds just like mine and look a lot like me. This isn’t a bad thing; however, we’re also missing out on an opportunity to include everybody in our community of success. If you want to progress in the ranks of management, you have to have the college education to go with it and it’s a ton of money to acquire one of these educations. So again, why don’t more New Orleanians and in particular, why don’t more minority New Orleanians enjoy success in this? And that’s what I’m here to try to change. This scholarship has to be one that we continue to provide for and that we’re stewards of. That’s what I want my life’s work to be about, not just fancy recipes, but actually helping my community and her people.”

Chef Besh is truly committed to uplifting our community and providing our young people with an avenue to become successful members of society. “If we continue to get the right people to New York and invest in them, it’s going to pay incredible dividends to the entire community.”

 

He concluded, “The other day, I was walking home from Woldenberg Park. It’s late and dark and I get stopped by this guy who says, ‘Hey, are you Chef Besh?’ And I say, ‘Yeah.’ And he says, ‘I met your friend Syrena and I’m telling you right now, I’m going to win that scholarship next year and be the next great chef and on and on.’ That’s it, if we just help one person find hope, we’re already making a difference.”
 
For more information about the Chefs Move! Scholarship and to apply, please visit the website. Applications are due by April 30!
Last modified on Friday, 01 February 2013
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