Seersucker Hosts Fundraiser For Red Hook Initiative Teen Chef Program

The Smith Street restaurant drew a full house of local media mavens and power players Tuesday night to raise funds for a new culinary job-training program.

If you've ever eaten the haute-Southern cuisine served at Seersucker, you're already familiar with the restaurant's commitment to greenmarket-sourced produce. But at a private fundraiser held Tuesday night, the focus was on another key ingredient of neighborhood businesses. 

"Everyone who follows the food scene here in Brooklyn knows the buzzwords—organic, local, sustainable, etc.," said Kerry Diamond, co-owner of with chef Rob Newton. "For Rob and I, and the team at Seersucker, we think local means more than just the food on your plate and where you source it. It also means community. The Red Hook Initiative Teen Chef Program is a much needed initiative in South Brooklyn and I hope you'll all choose to get involved."

The Red Hook Initiative (RHI), located at 767 Hicks Street at West 9th Street, is a 10-year-old nonprofit providing training and employment opportunities to Red Hook residents. The Teen Chef Program, which will launch its inaugural session this summer, is their latest effort to introduce teens to different career paths.

"I think the important thing is to expose kids to things that they're interested in and see if it takes," said Brandon Holley, RHI member and editor in chief of Lucky magazine. "It might be math, it might be fashion, it might be food. For instance, there is this kid at RHI who is going to be working at Barbuto soon—he's obsessed with it. We tapped into a part of his brain that we didn't know existed! Thats exciting." 

The 2012 Teen Chef Program will function as a six-week long summer training session for 16- to 19-year-olds to learn about food, food preparation and basic cooking skills needed to work in a restaurant, such as chopping vegetables, and washing dishes. It will also provide a summer job for 10 local teens, who will work 10 hours a week and earn between $7.50 and $8.25 per hour.

"It's not culinary school, and we're not trying to be culinary school," said RHI founder and executive director Jill Eisenhard. "But it's a way to provide some basic skills. This way they'll be able to put down on their resume that they have worked in a restaurant, and then seek a job in that environment having some experience."

The event drew a full house of local media mavens and power players from co-founder of Visionaire magazine and Red Hook resident Cecilia Dean to editor in chief of Glamour magazine and Cobble Hill neighbor Cindi Leive to Robin Renzi of Me&Ro jewelry.

Guests feasted on family-style platters of fried chicken, mashed potatoes with gravy, baby buttermilk biscuits and pulled pork with corn bread, while writing donations for menu groceries, Metropasses, cooking instruments and other needs.

Classes will operate both inside the Red Hook Initiative center as well as off site in local restaurant kitchens. In the past, teens from RHI have worked in Kevin's and  on Van Brunt Street. 

At the end of summer, there will be a cookoff at the center, pairing local chefs with teens in the program and inviting friends and family to try the dishes. The date for the cookoff is Friday, August 17. It will be free and open to the public.

"It's one thing to be obsessed with the provenance of your vegetables," summed up Diamond. "It's another thing to be obsessed with the health of your neighborhood."

The organizers believe that the program could be especially impactful in drawing young men into the Red Hook Initiative center and away from the lure of gang culture.

"And now we have a room full of people who didn't previously know who we were, or that we even existed, who are willing to help," said Eisenhard, smiling. "That's incredible."

Anyone interested in making a donation toward the Teen Chef Program or partnering as a chef/instructor, should visit www.rhicenter.org


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