Culinary Institute works to build skills and community

by Courtney Price

UNC co-editor

the Durham VOICE

In two weeks, they’ll be catering their own graduation banquet, and their friends and family won’t have to lift a finger.


Marcus Daye, left, a student at Milestones Culinary Institute, cuts up a cucumber for a salad.  In the background, Chef Gladwin Jarvis shows other students how to remove the seeds from the cucumbers. (Photo by Courtney Price)

They are students at the Milestones Culinary Institute in Durham, where they have spent the last 10 weeks learning basic skills in cooking, kitchen safety and sanitation.   At graduation, the students prepare a full meal for their friends and families.

The institute provides training for people interested in cooking who either have no job or who want to have a better job.  Students who complete the 12-week course receive Servsafe Certification, which is recognized by the National Restaurant Association, said James Davis, founder of the institute.

The class is taught by chef Gladwin Jarvis, who has managed several restaurants in Texas, Virginia and North Carolina.  He opened up a catering business, La Tropicale Catering, in Durham, but said he wanted to do more than just cater.

“It’s my passion to transfer my knowledge of food service to a younger generation,” Jarvis said.

The class meets from 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday.  It begins with about an hour of classroom work, and then the students go downstairs into the kitchen.

Jarvis makes the class playful and instructive.  He makes associations and gives explanations to help students learn rather than simply memorize the material.

The course teaches the basics of cooking.  Weekly topics include information on utensils, vegetables, sauces, baking and sanitation and safety.

Tayrone Toomer, 41, is one of the students in the class.  Toomer said he likes working with Jarvis.

“He knows his stuff,” Toomer said.  “He has a lot of passion.”

Some students join the class because they have an interest in cooking, while others just want the skills.

Toomer says he is not interested in cooking as a career, but is taking the class to gain skill to help him get a better job for now.

Another student, Marquis Barrett, 27, said he grew up around cooking and used to cook with his brothers.

“I love to watch people enjoying what they eat, especially when it’s something I made,” Barrett said.

Barrett said he has learned about reading recipes, using ingredients and spices to bring out flavors and knife skills.

Marcus Daye, 20, said he wants to become a sous-chef—the chef who is second in authority in a kitchen.  He said the class has been very good.

Daye said, “There’s lots of stuff to learn to help you find a better job.”

Helping students find a better job is a big goal for the institute.

“We’re getting individuals trained for the workforce,” Davis said.  “They become self-sufficient, and at the end they become taxpaying and successful citizens in the community.”

The last week of class is devoted to career preparation, and according to the institute’s pamphlet, the school does a follow-up with graduates after six months to ensure they are achieving their goals.

Before he founded the institute, Davis worked in catering banquets at meetings and conferences.  He realized he could use this experience to improve the lives of other people.

“I wanted to do something to add and to include the community,” Davis said.

The school costs about $1,500 per student, which covers the instruction, books, materials, uniforms, lab materials and the certification exam, Davis said.

“I’d guess about 99 percent of our students don’t pay themselves, they’re paid through different agencies.”

Davis also said the institute relies on referrals from other organizations.  The school partners with agencies such as the Durham Housing Authority, Vocational Rehabilitation and the City of Durham Ex-offenders Program to help provide job training. The next class session begins Oct. 12.

Davis said he wants to stress the importance of donations because the institute is nonprofit.

“We have to depend on agencies, but we’re trying to get out into the actual community to help sponsor individuals in culinary for scholarships,” he said.