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Wednesday, April 7, 2010 as of 11:14 AM ET

Business

David Lewkowict

Atlanta, GA

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Cooking up Jobs in Charlotte, N.C.

February 18, 2010 - 1:45 PM | by: David Lewkowict

For a man lovingly known as Chef Ron, the mission to teach the culinary arts is more than a passion, it’s a mission.  Ron Ahlert runs the Community Culinary School of Charlotte,  a nonproft school dedicated to training and finding jobs for what some have called the unemployable.

Chef Ron takes people with addictions or criminal records and trains them in all facets of the food business.

He wants them to learn and become not just self sufficient, but productive.

“They’re fighting hunger, they’re creating opportunities for themselves while they are learning,” Ahlert said. “Not only are they learning via book, but they’re learning via the visualizing. They get to taste, feel, and understand the success through their hands and eyes and mouths.”

Every second Thursday, Chef Ron runs the Bistro, a lunch at the Community Culinary School, where students put their newly learned skills to work at every part of the process, from prep to customer service.

Chef Ron doesn’t let up on the students; he demands excellence and makes sure they get it right, even for the non-paying customers at The Bistro.

“It’s 12 to 14 weeks of intensive culinary training. We go over everything from soups, stocks, and mother sauces to how to get a brand new resume to what not to say or what to say in a job interview,” Alhert said.

The 12-year-old program has changed recently according to Ahlert.

“No longer is it really, in a sense, the down and out, the hardened students. It’s folks with college backgrounds now who have just been in one career and have lost that career,” Ahlert said. “Not being able to afford a traditional institution, they use the Community Culinary School of Charlotte as a conduit to really investigate and explore the culinary arts.”

The downturn brought Mostafa Gaber to the school.  The former banker lost his job months ago and saw this as a second chance when he couldn’t make a living off of his small business.

“Cooking was always a favorite hobby, and I think after graduation I will pursue opportunities in the food industry, and maybe in food science and nutrition as well,” Gaber said.

More than 600  students have graduated the program.  In good times, Chef Ron says about 70 percent find full time jobs, lately the economy has brought that number down to about 30 percent.

“We used to have more jobs than I had alumni to fill them. Unfortunately, it’s taken a completely opposite direction. I have more alumni than jobs to fill. Although as of late, I’ve been getting some jobs in,” Ahlert said.

Encore Catering is the money-generating wing of the school and employs some of Chef Ron’s graduates. Although the graduates face tough competition in the food industry, Chef Ron says they do have something that other applicants may not.

“We have MBA’s lining up for $8-$10 an hour jobs. The difference is that the Community Culinary School of Charlotte graduates want to work. They are here because they’re ready to go, and they know this place will help them make a difference in their lives, their church lives, their community, and everything that they’re involved with,” Ahlert said.

For Chef Ron, the overall mission is clear.

“When you see somebody recreate their legacy, and then you start to see the immediate impact it has on their spouse, on their child, you know they’re going to take it to their family and their community, and then to some business,” Ahlert said. “It becomes just as addictive as other addictions.”

Read Jonathan Serrie’s On the Scene blog for more on this story.

Lauren Miller contributed to this blog.

FAST FACTS: Fox News Brainroom on Jobs in Culinary Industry

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