Iowa City's Shelter House gets cooking

Under new leadership, program trains clients for food industry jobs

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IOWA CITY — A chance meeting led to Larry White working in the Shelter House kitchen. A program dedicated to giving Shelter House clients the skills and experience to secure a position in the food industry will help his future.

White will be one of four trainees enrolled in the revamped Culinary Stars program.

The program originally launched in 2011, but stalled for several months after its original head chef and sous chef left Shelter House. Chef Kurt Michael Friese, owner of Iowa City’s Devotay, took over as the new head chef in April.

“It’s based on the old ‘teach a man to fish’ concept,” Friese said. “The folks here need a helping hand, so we give them some training and experience in the food industry.”

Clients who participate in the program will undergo twelve weeks of classes and hands-on training to master skills in kitchen sanitation, safety and food production. Those who complete the program will receive their ServSafe certification.

ServSafe is a food and beverage safety training and certificate program administered by the National Restaurant Association.

White originally started the program under the previous chef in 2012, but didn’t finish. He plans to start over with Friese when he re-launches the program in June.

“I’ve been here long enough where I’m not going to leave without being trained,” White said. “It’s another skill I can fall back on.”

New curriculum

Friese is in the process of redesigning the curriculum, with an eye toward efficiency. His goal is approach the program the same as he does his restaurant, making sure enough checks and balances are in place that if he were to leave tomorrow, it would continue to operate in his absence.

He also plans to beef up participants’ hands-on training. In all, the program will include 90 hours of classroom time and 400 hours of practicum time.

“We’re not trying to be the next American Culinary Institute,” Friese said. “It’s basic, it’s fundamental,” he said. “It’s knife skills, it’s sanitation and it’s multitasking.”

Participants also will get a week’s worth of resume and job-interview preparation.

Culinary Start trainees make the food served to Shelter House guests. Friese estimates that the kitchen produces 50 breakfasts and 130 dinners daily. Program participants also assist with catering and contract meal delivery plans to local businesses and organizations, including the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics, MECCA substance abuse and behavioral health services, and Four Oaks Treatment Center.

The Culinary Starts Deli in the University Services Building also is part of the program.

“It’s a simple little place,” Friese said. “We serve sandwiches and wraps, soup and salad.”

The deli opened a year ago. Shelter House recently got the news that its contract had been renewed for another year.

To date, 10 Shelter House clients who have completed the program have secured full-time employment in the food industry.

Getting its start

This isn’t the first time Friese has worked with Shelter House. He was one of several area chefs Shelter House consulted for the kitchen design of the facility on Southgate Avenue, as well as the Culinary Starts program in its beginning stages. Wanting to see the program continue was one reason he applied for the position.

“I used to be a culinary teacher, so I’m drawing on that and 20 years of experience in the kitchen in redesigning and running this program,” he said.

Friese isn’t the only new face in the kitchen. Sous chef Candice Clifton started working at Shelter House part-time at the end of April, transitioning to full-time earlier this month. The plan, she said, is for her to oversee production while he finalizes the curriculum.

“I’ll be an assistant to Chef Kurt, but we’re still working on all of that,” Clifton said. “We work well together.”

Clifton, who previously worked at One Twenty Six, Hearth and Moonraker’s, said the kitchen at Shelter House is a different environment, but she welcomes the opportunity to mentor others.

“I love the fact that I can do what I love and also help others, as well,” she said. “I look forward to helping them get to where they want to be.”

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