GREENFIELD, Mass. (WWLP) – A non-profit organization in Greenfield has launched a pilot program for students to earn a food handlers license in Massachusetts.

The Stone Soup Café provides food to those in need at the All Souls Church in Greenfield. They recently started formalizing a curriculum for students who want to learn culinary arts. Funding for the program is provided by a grant awarded by the Baker-Polito Administration alongside 61 other grant recipients to build economic opportunities in areas experiencing high rates of incarceration, widespread poverty, and
underrepresented populations.

“The Culinary Institute has been my dream,” says Kirsten Levitt, Executive Director and Chef at Stone Soup Café, “and I have spread that dream around like peanut butter on a good piece of toast. I talk about it ad infinitum. We need to have a food training program that is accessible to Franklin County residents.”

The 12-week program includes experience interning at Stone Soup Café or a local restaurant learning the fundamentals of cooking and the safe handling and serving of food and beverages. Students who complete the program will earn a Food Handlers License, a ServSafe Certificate, as well as on the job skills.

“There is no other culinary program within 35 miles of Greenfield,” says Kirsten Levitt, “We have been training people of every age and stage in culinary practices for over ten years.” Board President Whitney Robbins continues this line of thought and says, “The Culinary Institute formalizes the job training, the culture building, and the world changing that we’ve been doing informally for years.”

They’re accepting applications now and the program will start in early May. This will also feature partnerships with local restaurants to give students real life training, including Mesa Verde and the People’s Pint.

“I’m jumping out of my skin. Seriously, I can’t believe it. I pinch myself almost every day. This is happening. People believed in our program. We do so many things for our community and now this is just one more,” said Levitt.

Chef Phillips shares, “I’m excited to help people learn and find their place in the culinary industry. There are so many great opportunities right now and culinary skills are in very high demand across the country. This program is about training specifically for these positions and then working to match graduates with local opportunities.”

Chef Shantie adds, “What really excites me, is that teaching gives me the opportunity to share the wealth of experience I have gained from working in the culinary field for over half my life. The culinary program allows us to teach knife skills and life skills. Our small class sizes and personalized classroom experience will leave our students better prepared to excel in whatever fields they find themselves in.”

The Culinary Institute is part of a larger vision on the horizon. “We’ve outgrown our current facility,” says Kirsten Levitt, “and we are looking to purchase a building in downtown Greenfield to create state-of-the-art classrooms and teaching kitchens, dining and event spaces, and community spaces as well. We know that the food service industry was devastated by Covid. We want to ensure that the industry is built back better. We need to bolster the restaurateurs and food production businesses in our community who are having a hard time finding skilled staff. And we will ensure that we are building a workforce for this industry in a way that has integrity and compassion.”