ST. PETERSBURG — Local culinary stars and foodies packed into the Mahaffey Theater last Thursday for the black-tie masquerade ball entitled “A Chef’s Tale.” This fundraising event unveiled the opening of the new St. Petersburg Culinary Center (SPCC) at Childs Park Recreation Center.
SPCC is a not-for-profit organization created to provide at-risk youth and young adults with top-notch culinary training, thereby empowering them to build successful careers and lead rewarding lives.
The center has begun recruiting its inaugural class of 20 young people to be trained in the art of cooking. The program especially encourages young adults 16 years and up who are searching for a rewarding career as well as those who have had prior run ins with the criminal justice system.
Six prominent local chefs will be imparting their wisdom with the inaugural class: Ted Dorsey and Zach West (The Mill), Jason Esposito (Engine No. 9), Tyson Grant (Parkshore Grill), Tony Mangiafico (Gratzzi Italian Grille) and Jason Cline (Poké Rose). All six chefs were present and accounted for at the ball with three future SPCC students.
Local restaurateur Steve Westphal, who helped spearhead the SPCC project, said they are so excited to be involved in a curriculum that will help youths from at-risk areas find careers in the hospitality industry.
One student who’s ready to start cooking is Ray Lamont Kennedy III. Admitting that he didn’t take school too serious, he did, however, stayed out of trouble because of a special person in his life.
“I had my grandmother,” said Kennedy, revealing that she did time for killing someone in self-defense. “I looked at her humbling experience and that helped me.”
Director of Education and Community Engagement Leah McRae reflected on one of the key influences that was the impetus behind the development of SPCC.
“Let’s be clear, young people are the future of this great city, and if they have the skills and education to be thoughtful, productive, engaged citizens, then St. Pete will be a thriving city of opportunity where the sun shines on us all.”
Those young people are the same ones helping to re-energize and transform the city with their out-of-the-box thinking. Although the city may have a ways to go, the infectious, biting narratives underpinning the core of “A Chef’s Tale” is resonating from the mayor’s office to citizens on the streets.
“Everyone in this room has also noticed that something extraordinary is happening in St. Petersburg,” said McRae. “Right now, there is nowhere like it.”
She mentioned the booming tourism trade, the growing art and music scenes and how this once sleepy town is leading the way in craft brewers.
Several partygoers obviously believe in SPCC’s mission. Johnny H. Johnson, M.D. and his wife Melissa bid $3,600 on a five-star luxury vacation for two to Bellagio, Italy on Lake Como.
The other two hot items were custom in home dinners with Chef Dorsey from The Mill, and a wine tasting dinner with Chef Grant at Parkshore Grill. These three items alone raised over $7,000.
Kennedy and his classmates are and will be shining examples of what can happen when all differences are set aside and people from all walks of life come together for the common good.
Sponsors for the fundraising included The Mill, Parkshore Grill, Gratzzi, Engine No. 9, Poké Rose, Gloria West and the Gents, Concept Bait, Master Purveyors, Kahwa, the Shaw Design Group, HSN, City of St. Pete, B. Lively Images, Bar Harbor Seafood, Cheney Brothers, Smith & Associates Real Estate and Weyand Food Distributors.