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Skills for a new life

By Tiffany Lane
The Enquirer-Journal
Mar 28, 2009

E-J staff photo by Rick Crider

Chef Ron Ahlert reviews the order of placement of ingredients to create an appealing tortilla wrap. Ahlert, executive director of the Community Culinary School of Charlotte, was at Anson Correctional Center to give cooking demonstrations to inmates.
Anson Correctional Center inmate Franklin Meaders is serving thyme.

"I've always loved cooking and baking," said Meaders, a former bus driver who occasionally cooks for other inmates. Friday, he and a handful of others sat in on a demonstration by chef Ron Ahlert, executive director of the Community Culinary School of Charlotte.

"I believe these tutorials give the inmate a sense of hope," Ahlert said. "Local business will benefit from the skills learned and demeanor of the individual."

According to its Web site, the culinary school seeks to educate those who experience employment barriers and helps students find jobs at restaurants, hospital cafés, assisted living centers and country clubs.

It was Ahlert's fourth visit to the minimum-security prison at the request of John Dabbs, a food services instructor for South Piedmont Community College.

"These guys ... not only have to perform in a lab environment," Dabbs said, "they must also take the curriculum end of it (and) pass exams." Interested inmates are taught about food preparation, kitchen safety and sanitation, as well as menu design, building design and food-borne illnesses.

Once Dabbs recommends students for Ahlert's school, Ahlert decides whether to bring them on. Those he chooses complete a 12- to 14-week training program, paid for by helping with Meals on Wheels or other food distribution agencies. The school is a nonprofit organization.

"It's something that I would love to do once I'm released," Meaders said. After seeing the first demonstration, he said, "I really felt that that's where my destiny was." He also hopes the certificate he'll earn from Dabbs' class will help him find a job upon release.

Until then, Meaders said he's learned all about utensil safety, hygiene and refrigeration temperatures.

What about cooking temperatures?

Piece of cake, Meaders said. "Eggs are cooked at 145 degrees, poultry ... at 165 and beef at 155 degrees," he said, adding that he can also rattle off what meats taste good with what.

"I feel the inmates need to know a sense of normalcy and support from the "outside,'" said Ahlert, who emphasizes hospitality, company loyalty and respect among peers as much as cooking techniques.

To learn more about the school, visit www.communityculinary.org.

? 2009 by The Enquirer Journal. All rights reserved.