Jewish Food Experience: Teach Them To Fish

"Teach Them to Fish" is a profile about Kerry and Emma's Torch. Many thanks to Merav Levkowitz and the Jewish Food Experience for the feature!

How we can use food to build bridges and create communities?

Teach Them to Fish

by Merav Levkowitz

June 18, 2017

It’s been a busy couple of weeks for Kerry Brodie. She met Jeff Bezos, won the Princeton Entrepreneurship Network Competition (prize: $10,000), opened a café (that was packed to the gills on its opening weekend) and became registered as a nonprofit on Amazon Smile. Oh, and she celebrated her birthday. But what’s all of that after a year of 5 am (or earlier) wake-up calls to spend the mornings at culinary school and the afternoons working at restaurant internships and simultaneously creating and building a nonprofit?

Brodie, who, full disclosure, is a friend of mine, is the founder and executive director of Emma’s Torch, a New York-based organization that trains refugees to be culinary professionals and arms them with the tools to find work at restaurants and food businesses, where skilled line cooks are always in demand. The organization is named for Emma Lazarus, whose words “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free” are inscribed on the base of the Statue of Liberty.

Brodie grew up in a food-loving family in Potomac. Her parents and grandparents came to the DC area from South Africa, and her grandmother, previously a caterer, taught her the essentials of cooking and hosting. “I come from a family that’s always in the kitchen, always thinking about how to accommodate everyone and make them feel welcome,” she says.

She attended Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School and then Princeton. After graduating, she worked in media at the Embassy of Israel and the Human Rights Campaign, while also getting a master’s in government from Johns Hopkins University.

“I was working in public policy, but in my free time I was volunteering at a homeless shelter and preparing meals for women with HIV. I kept thinking, ‘How we can use food to build bridges and create communities?’ and I kept asking why there wasn’t an organization creating culinary workforce opportunities for refugees. One day my husband turned that question on me and asked, ‘What would it take for you to create an organization like that?’” A year ago, she enrolled at the Institute of Culinary Education and began laying the foundation for Emma’s Torch.

Emma’s Torch works with four organizations—HIAS, Catholic Charities Community Services, Church World Service and International Rescue Committee—to identify and interview refugees for its two programs. In both, students are paid because “I really want students to be able to focus on and take advantage of the program.”

The first program is a five-week apprenticeship that trains two students at a time, giving them 150 to 200 hours of culinary training and licensing, as well as ESL classes and interview prep. The second is a once-a-week, 12-week ESL training for eight to 12 students that focuses on kitchen English and aims to build vocabulary and confidence in students so that they can go on to work in a kitchen.

On June 10, Emma’s Torch opened its Classroom Café, a six-month pop-up at Home/Made Brooklyn in Red Hook. Open for coffee and pastries during the week and brunch on weekends, the café, as its name hints, gives Emma’s Torch students valuable on-the-job training and a chance to practice their English. The weekly menu changes based on what the students are learning. Opening-week diners, for example, enjoyed hash browns that used the students’ dicing skills.

Besides the great feedback on the food, Brodie is thrilled that just six months after launching the first Emma’s Torch program, she has a café and a great training space.

“I had a theory that you could fill a restaurant with refugees. People who come to the Classroom Café don’t know that our kitchen is staffed by refugees until they look at the back of the menu. We’re proving that we can have a room full of people from different walks of life sharing a meal in a respectful way,” says Brodie.

- See more at: http://jewishfoodexperience.com/teach-them-to-fish/#sthash.upgtROfP.dpuf

Kerry Featured by Jewish Women International

Emma's Torch and our founder Kerry have just been featured in this profile on Jewish Women International. We'll take being called "inspirational" any day!

The idea is simple: Give someone a fish and you’ve fed them for a day. Teach refugees to cook a fish, and you’ve given them a marketable skill.
— Jewish Women International

Meet the Inspiring Kerry Brodie

Changing careers can be scary, but when 26-year-old Kerry Brodie saw a need, she decided to do something about it. A lifelong food enthusiast, the former communications professional decided to marry her passion for cooking with her desire to help refugees, asylees, and survivors of human trafficking. She founded the New York-based nonprofit Emma’s Torch, which provides culinary training to refugees and helps them find meaningful careers in the food industry. Emma’s Torch launched in December with a pilot program and will welcome its first full class of students in June. Kerrie credits the women she met in the JWI Young Women’s Leadership Network with giving her the encouragement she needed to make the leap first to go to culinary school and then to create Emma’s Torch.

The idea is simple: Give someone a fish and you’ve fed them for a day. Teach refugees to cook a fish, and you’ve given them a marketable skill. 

by Lauren Landau

 

Emma's Torch Founder and CEO Kerry Brodie teaches a student how to cook during the nonprofit's pilot program in December 2016.

What inspired you to take on this mission and found Emma’s Torch?  

I worked in public policy and have always been very passionate about social justice issues. I spent my free time working on food related causes, like volunteering at a homeless shelter or teaching cooking classes to my peers where we’d prepare meals for a shelter for women living with HIV. For years, I’d talk about how someone should use the culinary world to empower refugees. Finally my husband said to me, “Why don’t we stop asking why someone else isn’t doing this and take the initiative?” I quietly and deliberately started laying the groundwork for Emma’s Torch, putting feelers out and seeing what existed. And now 18 months later, we have this organization that’s functional and equal parts exciting and terrifying. 

The logic behind barring refugees seems to stem from a safety concern. I’m curious, who are the people you serve and why are they coming here? 

To me, a lot of the xenophobia is antithetical to our identity as Americans. We’re a nation founded by people who were seeking a better life and this idea that when we come together and bridge differences, we can build something truly beautiful. That’s the America that I believe in. 

Many of the refugees I meet with are fleeing situations that might not make the news. For example, LGBT people fleeing for their lives don’t make the headlines every day, but they’re coming from all over the world. The people that I’ve met can only be described as inspiring. They are hard-working and dedicated to building a better life for themselves, but more importantly a better life for their children. I feel really honored to work with them. 

How do you expect Emma’s Torch students would react to those who don’t welcome refugees?

Telling our students, “You’re welcome and we want you here and what you bring to the table matters,” was amazing. I didn’t expect it to have that type of impact. Telling people “Hey, the food that you make, the arepas that your grandmother taught you how to make in Venezuela, we want to eat them,” makes somebody’s face light up. This type of experience is why I get out of bed in the morning. I can only imagine how hateful the rhetoric that people are hearing now sounds to them. I hope that the voices saying that refugees matter, that they are welcome, and that they make our country great are helping to uplift the community that we serve. 

What can we do to help?

I’ve gotten a ton of people reaching out and asking “How can we help, what can we do?” That’s the America that I know and love. It’s just an incredible tapestry of people coming together. I think that’s the silver lining to a lot of the darker stuff. 

Financial support is very important, but so is raising awareness about the importance of the refugee community to our culinary landscape, about the work we’re doing and the need to give people a chance at employment. I’m hoping that people will help spread the word about what we’re doing. That’s how we make more connections with the restaurant industry. That’s the way that we help people find employment, and that’s the way that we keep going. 

How, if at all, does your Jewish identity play into this work? 

I get asked a lot if we are a Jewish organization. And the answer is very Jewish: we are and we aren’t. Part of being a Jewish woman is recognizing the importance of the Jewish women who came before us, and Emma Lazarus—the namesake of Emma’s Torch—is one of those unsung heroes. Her words are on the base of the Statue of Liberty and many people don’t know who she is or the fact that she was a pioneer leading the fight for the rights of refugees. Building on that legacy is a huge part of my own personal Jewish identity, but also the way I see Judaism functioning in the world at large. I attend synagogue and I love being Jewish. For me, fighting for the other, fighting to make our communities more inclusive, is an essential part of being Jewish. I’ve never felt as connected to my Jewish identity as when doing this work. 

The act of leaving behind my career and making the leap to go to culinary school, a lot of that was in part because of my involvement with the Young Women’s Leadership Network and JWI. The inspiring women that were doing the events and the women on the JWI and YWLN boards were the first people I spoke to about this idea. They were the people who heard the pitch, and they continue to be my biggest supporters. I feel really grateful to be part of that larger community. 

With Passover coming up, have you thought at all about that story and how it might relate to your work? 

I think on the one hand it is very obvious - we think about the Seder and we say repeatedly that "We were strangers in a strange land." In that sense the work of Emma's Torch relates directly to welcoming in the stranger. 

But I think there is a more subtle connection. The plague of darkness is described in the Bible as being so dark that people could not see each other. The plague is most painful not simply because of the lack of light, but the lack of human connection. Sometimes, it can feel as though the refugee crisis, and indeed many world conflicts, are so dark and so devastating that we cannot see our common humanity. The hope of Emma's Torch is that we can create the light in that darkness. That we can help people see one another not as strangers, but as new members of our community. 

Getting Glamourous!

Emma's Torch and our founder Kerry Brodie have been featured in a profile in Glamour Magazine. Take a read and let us know what you think!

Brodie... is looking to change this narrative and provide refugees and asylees with the skills and training they need to successfully be part of the culinary field.
— Maggie Mallon, Glamour

How One Woman Is Using Food to Help Refugees Assimilate to American Life

BY MAGGIE MALLON

FEBRUARY 15, 2017 8:30 AM

On a snowy December Sunday, in a sleek, expansive training kitchen in midtown Manhattan, Kerry Brodie, 26, is leading her second-ever cooking class. As she prepares the lesson plan, the novelty of the situation isn't lost on her: Brodie is not actually an instructor, nor has she yet received her culinary degree. Instead, she’s currently a student at the Institute of Culinary Education, a major life change for her after nearly five years in politics and policy.

Aside from her studies, she has one other major project on her plate. She’s the founder and executive director of Emma’s Torch, a New York–based nonprofit dedicated to providing refugees with culinary skills, ESL tutoring, and interview training to prepare them for jobs in the food industry. And on this Sunday she’s managing the second six-hour class in an 18-hour pilot program meant to serve as a guide for the launch of the Emma’s Torch full instructional program, scheduled to take off in the late spring or early summer of 2017.

For the second class, Brodie was slated to receive some additional instructional help from chef Mandy Maxwell, a woman whose résumé boasts stints at prestigious New York restaurants like Per Se and Eleven Madison Park, as well as projects with Food and Wine magazine and the Food Network. But in an unexpected turn of events, Maxwell is out sick, and today it is up to Brodie to lead the way.

At the counter stand Brodie's students, a trio of refugees and asylum seekers who have connected with Brodie through the International Rescue Committee and have each overcome their own unimaginable challenges to find sanctuary in the United States.

One of them is Vallerie Fall, 32, who came to the United States from Senegal as a refugee in 2015. After her mother came to America when she was young, Fall spent most of her life in the West African country with her two sisters and brother. Describing her life in Senegal as “very good,” she attended university and even owned her own restaurant back home. She always longed to be reunited with her mother, but just eight months after Fall and her family began building a life together in the United States, her mother passed away. Now married and the mother of a year-old son, Fall was able to find work making strainers at a housewares factory in the Bronx, but merging her own culinary experience from her life in Senegal with the restaurant world of New York City has long been her dream—one that she’s hoping to realize through Emma’s Torch.

Next to her is Cisse Tiguira, an asylee from Côte d’Ivoire who traveled to the United States when she was just a teenager. Like Fall, she was separated from her parents at a young age. After her mother and father left their war-torn home country for a better life in the United States, Tiguira was able to join them three years later. Cooking was always an important part of her family life; Tiguira spent hours preparing meals with her grandmother and has carried this tradition into her her own family life. Now 23, married, and the mother to two young children, Tiguira has found work as a dishwasher for the Landmarc restaurant and doing food delivery for Eat Offbeat since she first arrived in the United States in 2008. Her true hope, however, is to be a chef and find full-time work in a kitchen.

Rounding out the triumvirate is Elio Torres, an asylee from Venezuela. At 52, he’s significantly older than his classmates. He first came to the United States in 1996. Torres was able to apply for asylum in 2004, and received permanent residency on the same day he was accepted to the Emma's Torch program. As a young man, Torres was a professional ballet dancer, but faced persecution from the Venezuelan government because of his sexual orientation. After an injury ended his dance career, he came to the United States to, as he says, “survive, improve [his] life, and be free.” Though he has no prior culinary experience, Torres has gone above and beyond in terms of enthusiasm and dedication to learning—according to Brodie, he came to his Emma's Torch interview an hour and a half early and sat in the lobby watching YouTube videos on knife skills. Like Fall and Tiguira, he hopes to find steady employment in the culinary field.

But for now the students are focusing on mastering the basics so they can enter the fast-paced world of New York restaurants. Though everyone in the kitchen is from different corners of the globe, they're currently united in one common goal: chopping enough onions, carrots, and celery into quarter-inch pieces to prepare mirepoix. This vegetable mixture is the staple of any kitchen—it’s the base for sauces, stews, and soups across myriad cuisines—and on this Sunday afternoon the group is working together to prepare the dish.

Drawing a colossal hotel pan from a shelf, Brodie and the students fill the nearly two-foot-wide container with the diced veggies and begin to sauté and season as the mixture melts into the olive oil. It’s their own micro melting pot in the most literal sense of the term—and the significance of this activity is not lost on the organization that the students are a part of. After all, Emma’s Torch derives its name from the very poet whose words are engraved on a plaque within the base of the Statue of Liberty: Emma Lazarus. And it was her sonnet “The New Colossus” that contains those storied words, “Give me your tired, your poor, / Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free…”

Though today is all about the essentials, in a week's time, Fall, Tiguira, and Torres will be taking on a new role in the kitchen. No longer students, they'll be the chefs catering the Emma's Torch launch party at Brooklyn Foodworks. Amid the preholiday revery, Fall, Tiguira, and Torres are all awarded their official training certificates for successful completion of the instruction program. By all accounts, the event is a tremendous success and a promising kickoff to the forthcoming launch of Emma's Torch full program—one that is intended to help dozens, if not hundreds, of refugees and asylum seekers become acclimated to their new home. As December draws to a close and the new year begins, 2017 seems like a year of opportunity not only for Brodie but for the first cohort of students and the future participants to come.

But just weeks later, mere days after being inaugurated as President, Donald Trump would temporarily suspend the entire U.S. refugee program and defer the hopes of thousands of people trying to attain their own American dream.

Putting down roots

For Brodie, joining culinary training with refugee resettlement seemed like a natural combination. To her, if there is one thing that can unite people from all walks of life, it's a shared love of food.

"I grew up cooking with my family—it’s one of my favorite things in the world—and I come from a family of immigrants," Brodie says. "I began thinking and realized that someone should find a way to help refugees through food. I discussed this with my husband, and he said, 'What would it look like for that somebody to be you?' I began researching what it would take to bridge the food world and refugee resettlement, and that led me to this journey that I'm on today."

But despite this culinary commonality, the United States has a long, tepid history with refugees—one that shows little sign of resolution despite a worldwide increase in the number of men, women, and children looking for a safe haven. According to the U.N. Refugee Agency, 65.3 million people were forcibly displaced from their homes in 2015 alone. Among them, 21.3 million were refugees.

How the United States becomes part of the international humanitarian relief, and how many refugees are accepted into the country, varies from year to year. Data from the nonpartisan Pew Research Center reveals that between 1990 and 1995, approximately 112,000 refugees were welcomed into the United States annually, with many of them traveling to the country from the former Soviet Union. Following the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, however, that number dropped to below 27,000. In recent years, it has been increasing—by September 2016, just under 85,000 refugees entered the United States, and the former Obama administration had planned to accept 110,000 refugees in 2017—but the total still has yet to reach the peak numbers of the mid 1990s.

Though 12,600 men, women, and children who had been displaced by the ongoing Syrian Civil War entered the country in 2016, the acceptance of these people into the United States was met with mixed feelings. A majority of Americans did not feel that the country had a responsibility to offer aid and opposed accepting them. According to Pew, 54 percent of registered voters said the United States was under no obligation to help displaced Syrians.

Reluctance to accept refugees into the country, however, is nothing new. In the 1950s a majority of Americans disapproved of permitting Hungarian refugees into the United States, many of whom were fleeing a communist regime. In the 1970s similar disapproval was extended to refugees from Southeast Asia. In the 1980s it was Cubans.

Public opinion, however, has not deterred members of the global community from seeking solace in the United States—and becoming a member of American society comes with its own set of challenges. Aside from facing a vigorous vetting process to enter the country, refugees encounter numerous challenges once they do arrive on U.S. soil. Oftentimes, skills and work experience that built a career in their home country do not translate to a corresponding job in the United States. As refugees and immigrants struggle to find work, it is not uncommon for employers to exploit workers with long hours, compensation well below the minimum wage, and placement in dangerous, undesirable conditions.

"I think it's very convenient for so many people to forget that at one point somany of us were refugees," Brodie says. "I'm Jewish, and the only reason I’m here today is because my grandparents were able to flee the Nazis in Lithuania. So many people have stories that rely on the fact that we’re a country of immigrants, of refugees, of asylees. Being American and the thing that makes us who we are is our ability to absorb those people."

“We fail ourselves and we fail our ideals when we don’t do that,” she continues. “I get actively angry when I hear the rhetoric that implies that we’re letting in people we don’t even know. We’re letting in people who have gone through the most intensive and rigorous vetting process that the world has ever seen. Even when they get here, we’re not necessarily giving them the tools that they need to thrive. If we’re proud to be American, we should be proud to absorb people."

Brodie, however, is looking to change this narrative and provide refugees and asylees with the skills and training they need to successfully be part of the culinary field. As an increasing number of culinary school students lean toward less conventional postgrad opportunities—like starting food trucks or launching artisanal pop-up shops—more traditional restaurants have a greater need for kitchen support. This is where Emma's Torch comes in. Building on the success of the 18-hour pilot program, the organization is preparing a full curriculum to be offered later this year. In each course, 10 students will complete 100 hours of culinary instruction and a month of on-the-job training. Professional instructors and volunteer chefs will provide students with the education they need to succeed in a New York City restaurant kitchen, and ESL training will be offered to help students overcome any possible language barrier. They'll be given training to obtain their food handlers' license and assistance with developing their résumés. The entire program is free, and students will receive a $15-per-hour financial incentive to be part of it.

"There’s a void in the culinary industry right now that these refugees are filling," says Francesca Furchtgott, marketing director of Emma's Torch. "Some restaurants pay people under the table, but [many] are not willing to do that and need legal workers. They need people who are reliable, dependable, and have legal work authorization. They need a pipeline to people who are able to fill these jobs."

Though the organization only officially launched in December, Emma's Torch has already attracted support from some major organizations, including financial support from the Ben & Jerry’s Foundation (yes, the Ben & Jerry's, as in the ice cream giant). Brodie has also partnered with some of the largest resettlement groups in the world—namely, Church World Service, Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, Catholic Charities Community Services, and the International Rescue Committee—to identify and welcome refugees and asylees into the training program. And as the launch of the full course draws closer, Brodie is looking to secure additional partnerships with some of the biggest names in the New York restaurant world.

What comes next

Though President Trump's executive order called for a temporary suspension of the United States’ entire refugee program—with the ultimate intention to cut the number of people accepted in the country in half and give preference to Christian refugees—a federal appeals court decision delivered on February 9, 2017, blocked this measure, as well as a motion that barred travel from seven Muslim-majority nations. While this was a temporary bright spot, the legal battle is not over. Several days after the ruling, one of the President's senior advisers cited it as evidence that the judiciary branch has "taken far too much power" and become a "supreme branch of government." Though the administration does not have plans to immediately appeal the decision to the Supreme Court, there is talk of a new executive order that will address the President's immigration concerns and circumvent the current block.

Despite the current uncertainty, Brodie has not been deterred in her mission. In early Feburary 2017 she completed her training at the Institute of Culinary Education and was given the Wüsthof Award for Leadership. As she continues planning the first full instruction program, Brodie is also working to help her first cohort of students find jobs. Tiguira now has a part-time position with Saffron Fix, a meal-preparation company similar to Blue Apron that specializes in Indian food. A caseworker helped Torres get a job as a porter in an Indian restaurant, but he is eager to find a kitchen role, and Brodie and Emma's Torch are looking to provide him with additional on-the-job training. In late December 2016, Fall had an interview with a prestigious New York City restaurant and was even welcomed to do a "trail," which, in the food industry, is essentially an employment trial that gives a candidate the opportunity to showcase their culinary skills—and is something that is typically reserved for only the most promising job candidates.

Fall, unfortunately, was not offered a full-time position with the restaurant, but she and Brodie are actively pursuing other opportunities. Though they may face struggles, this first cohort of students, as well as the entire Emma's Torch team, will not be deterred in their pursuit of the American dream by any far-reaching executive orders that seek to trample the very values that so many across the United States hold dear.

"Cooking is one of the universal characteristics of being human. So many of us have memories of cooking with our mothers and grandmothers, be they in small towns across the United States, New York City, Baghdad, or Aleppo," Brodie said shortly after President Trump signed his executive order. "Our hope is that Emma's Torch can help serve as a reminder of our common humanity. We believe that the experience of cooking and sharing meals can help build bridges between cultures. Our mission is to empower refugees but also to use food to demonstrate the incredible value that refugees bring to their new communities. American food has always been comprised of a mix of flavors and culinary traditions. In every generation, waves of immigrants and refugees have helped add another layer to the American palate. We look forward to continuing that tradition."

Emma's Torch Featured in Business Insider and Economics 21!

Check out this great story about Emma's Torch and how refugees fill important roles in the food industry in New York. It started on Economics 21, part of the Manhattan Institute for Public Policy, and got picked up by a number of publications including Business Insider

Today, Brodie and Emma’s Torch carry Lazarus’s legacy forward by empowering refugees today and making good on Lady Liberty’s promise.

Emma's Torch Lights the Way for New Immigrants

Dillon Tauzin

DECEMBER 14, 2016

A new non-profit in New York City called Emma’s Torch is lighting the way for refugees to become chefs in the United States.

Emma’s Torch works with groups like the International Rescue Committee and Church World Service to identify refugees and asylees. The organization then provides them with culinary training and job placement services. Founder Kerry Brodie is building partnerships with restaurants in New York, creating an employment pipeline to connect those restaurants and her students.

Other inspiring organizations like Hot Bread Kitchen in New York City and Cafe Reconcile in New Orleans have successfully jump-started culinary careers for low-income and immigrant families. Emma’s Torch, however, is unique in targeting its services to refugees.

Economists such as UC Davis economist Giovanni Peri have shown that immigrants complement the skills of the U.S. workforce, raising the wages of native-born Americans. Peri said in an email, “The presence of immigrants who bring to the U.S. labor markets a variety of skills enlarges the opportunities of firms to grow and of other Americans to find employment. In a complex economy such as the United States different types of workers enrich local opportunities.”

Immigrants start many businesses, creating value in the economy. According to Krishnendu Ray’s recent book The Ethnic Restaurateur, immigrants account for 69% of New York City restaurant owners. By connecting immigrants with skills and job opportunities, Emma’s Torch is able to make the refugee absorption process smoother and more gainful for immigrants and employers alike.

The hospitality industry has a reputation for being fickle, but according to the New York Department of Labor, it is one of the biggest sources of employment in New York City. It is slated to grow by 30 percent over the next 15 years—twice as fast as the city’s overall economy.

The transition from a high-demand job market to a low-demand one has not been seamless, however. Chefs used to hire line cooks straight out of culinary school, but now graduates are going into other more visible—and potentially better paid—ventures. Emma’s Torch serves both sides of this labor market by training refugees, and then connecting these newly skilled workers with restaurants in need of chefs.

For refugees driven to the seek opportunity in America, finding employment can be disorienting and overwhelming. The minds behind Emma’s Torch understand that “a job is important for more than just a paycheck.” Fulfilling work provides the chance to practice new language skills, develop relationships, and find a feeling of independence. By tapping into New York City’s bustling culinary and hospitality industry, Emma’s Torch allows refugees to celebrate their cultural heritage and cuisine in their work.

A child of immigrants herself, Kerry Brodie founded Emma’s Torch to empower immigrants and ease their transitions into new communities. Brodie grew up cooking with her mother and grandmother. Today, she is in culinary school, and she plans to use her training to teach immigrants marketable skills. Brodie said, “Emma’s Torch was a way to use my love of cooking in order to try and change lives.”

Emma’s Torch has already begun to accomplish that in the refugee community. At a recent information session for a three-student pilot program, fifteen people showed up, all of whom wanted to invite their friends and family to apply to the program as well. The pilot program is still ongoing, but Brodie has already placed two refugees in restaurant jobs.

With Emma’s Torch, Brodie dreams of “making the American Dream more attainable for those in need.” The namesake of her non-profit can be found at the base of Statue of Liberty. Engraved there are the words of poet and activist Emma Lazarus: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” Lazarus was a tireless advocate for refugees in the 19th century. Her emphasis on vocational training led struggling Jewish immigrants to self-sufficiency.

Today, Brodie and Emma’s Torch carry Lazarus’s legacy forward by empowering refugees today and making good on Lady Liberty’s promise.

Emma's Torch Featured on ICE Blog!

Check out this in-depth interview with Kerry, our founder, on the Institute of Culinary Education blog. To give you a taste, here's one of our favorite quotes from the interview:

What inspires me most though are the people you never hear about — the dishwashers, the prep cooks — who work tirelessly because they want to make a better life for themselves and their families, and believe that working hard to make beautiful experiences for people in restaurants is part of that American dream.

THIS ICE STUDENT IS EMPOWERING REFUGEES THROUGH FOOD

30. November 2016 · 

By Brooke Bordelon

Chefs are no strangers to the world of charity. In addition to filling hungry patrons’ bellies, superstar chefs use their clout to make the world a better place. Philanthropic organizations that help different groups — from struggling farmers and low-income families to at-risk youth — have flourished, largely due to the support of culinary heavyweights like Eric Ripert, José Andrés and Christina Tosi.

With her organization Emma’s Torch, ICE student Kerry Brodie (Culinary Arts, ’17) hopes to join the ranks of these culinary visionaries in the fight for a better tomorrow. Inspired by the words of the famous American poet and refugee advocate Emma Lazarus, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,” Kerry’s organization aims to empower refugees in the United States by training them in the culinary arts to gain employment in the culinary industry.

 

I recently chatted with Kerry to discuss her experiences as a culinary student at ICE and as the CEO of Emma’s Torch.

How did you first come up with the vision for Emma’s Torch?

I’ve always been intrigued by the idea that food and cooking are things that make us human. I’m the child of immigrants and most people I know are descendants of immigrants or of refugees. I’ve always wanted to do something that would engage immigrants and refugees in the food world to use this universal experience of cooking, eating and sharing meals to create social change.

How have the skills you’ve learned and connections you’ve made at ICE helped you launch Emma’s Torch?

ICE has been invaluable for connecting me with people in the food world and showing me what it means to be a culinary educator. I’ve learned so much from observing our teachers and talking to people in various departments at ICE about what’s important when it comes to training. The instructors have been very supportive in connecting me with chefs and showing me how to set up a kitchen. They’ve been so generous with their time — going above and beyond to show me that they value my vision and that they want to see it come to fruition.

Has any particular chef’s career been an inspiration to you?

On one hand, renowned chefs like José Andrés are inspirational. There are also so many chefs who we don’t hear as much about who quietly, in their own businesses and hiring practices, make differences in people’s lives. One of those chefs, Mary Cleaver, is on our advisory board. She was one of the first restaurant owners to say that we have to do good for the world through our businesses. What inspires me most though are the people you never hear about — the dishwashers, the prep cooks — who work tirelessly because they want to make a better life for themselves and their families, and believe that working hard to make beautiful experiences for people in restaurants is part of that American dream. 

How do you balance school with your work for Emma’s Torch? 

One of my favorite quotes from Dr. Seuss is, “You know you’re in love when you can’t fall asleep because reality is finally better than your dreams.” No matter how overwhelmed I feel sometimes with school and trying to get my business off the ground, I am so in love with the opportunities that both endeavors have given me. As much as I want to catch up on sleep on the weekends, it’s hard because I just want to keep working. Even at my most stressed out moments, I consider myself lucky to be doing what I love.

What has the response been like from students at ICE? 

The response has been powerful and positive. So many of the students in my classes are willing to dedicate what very little free time they have to volunteering with Emma’s Torch. The outpouring of support — both moral support when I’m complaining in the locker room and students volunteering at events — has been humbling.

How do you think your experience at ICE has differed from other students?

I think everybody at ICE has a story. There’s got to be something that drove them to come to ICE and something that they’re aiming for in the long term. What I’m trying to get out of my education is different from someone who wants to work in a restaurant. Another thing that has set my experience apart is that I’ve been focused on how we are being taught, not just on what we are being taught. I’m going to do some teaching and recruit other people to teach culinary classes for Emma’s Torch, so I need to learn the building blocks of a well-rounded culinary curriculum.

How can people get involved with Emma’s Torch?

Very easily! They can email me at Kerry@emmastorch.org, or check out our website, emmastorch.org. We’re always looking for new volunteers and partners. We’re small but we’re flexible and eager to involve more people in our community.