In mid-August, inmates transformed San Mateo Women’s Correctional Center’s kitchen into a bustling culinary scene reminiscent of Iron Chef.
In the timed cooking contest, four teams of former and current inmates, JobTrain students and celebrity chefs whipped up delectable dishes for a panel of judges, including Harker’s very own chef Danae McLaughlin.
To give back to the community and provide skills that can aid offenders after release, chef Elihu Kittell, who runs the kitchen at the jail, started the program in 2006 with chef Adam Weiner. Weiner works for JobTrain, a nonprofit educational and training institution that helps communities break out of poverty, crime and drugs by providing courses, job training and additional assistance for all ages.
McLaughlin, who has competed and received medals from the American Culinary Federation, initially became involved with JobTrain after meeting Weiner at a competition geared towards youth leadership and career development. Impressed by JobTrain’s mission and various programs, McLaughlin and Steve Martin, Harker’s executive chef, judged one of JobTrain’s competitions and then began hiring JobTrain students as interns in the Harker kitchen.
McLaughlin served as a kitchen judge and tasting judge, commenting on the teamwork and also on the salads, salmon, jambalaya and pecan pie placed before her. She also had the opportunity to chat with the inmates about her experiences as a woman in a kitchen and becoming a Certified Executive Chef.
McLaughlin joined a galaxy of public officials including judges Sheriff Greg Munks, Supervisor Adrienne Tissier and Assistant Sheriff Trisha Sanchez, in congratulating everyone for their effort and awarding Team No. 4 – Amilia Otis, Laura Engman and Captain Quinlan – for winning the competition.
“It was really a great feeling that I could actually be a role model for them!” McLaughlin said. “This event gave all these women something to look forward to and something to work towards. In the end, it was the look of accomplishment and empowerment that I saw on all their faces that was the best thing about being involved.”