New York Times: A Culinary School for Refugees

Our founder Kerry and Emma's Torch are featured in the New York Times as a philanthropic organization in New York to watch. 

‘What you’re doing is awesome, how can I help?’ There is so much good will to help others.

New York Today: A Culinary School for Refugees

New York Today

By JONATHAN WOLFE DEC. 11, 2017

As the founder of Emma’s Torch, a pop-up restaurant and culinary school for refugees in Red Hook, Brooklyn, Kerry Brodie recently oversaw the graduation of her first batch of students.

The eight immigrants-turned-chefs from Afghanistan, Burkina Faso, Guinea, Honduras, Mexico, Nepal, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia spent two months taking classes in knife skills, spice profiling and kitchen vocabulary — and spent their weekends serving brunch at the pop-up restaurant. Two weeks after the last student graduated, all but one have full-time jobs in restaurants across the city.

“I never thought I’d be an entrepreneur,” Ms. Brodie, 27, told us on a recent morning in her apartment in Park Slope, Brooklyn. “I just had this crazy idea that no one else was doing. I kept waiting for someone else to do it, until two years ago when my husband asked me, ‘What are you waiting for?’”

We sat down with Ms. Brodie for a conversation as part of our series about the people and inspirations behind local philanthropies.

For Ms. Brodie, food and service run in the family. Her grandmother published a well-known book of recipes in South Africa in the 1960s, which raised funds for the Union of Jewish Women. Her father taught her how to drive while shuttling leftover food from local restaurants to shelters. And Ms. Brodie would often spend Sunday afternoons giving cooking lessons to her friends and then taking extra meals to shelters to eat with the residents.

After college, she would often volunteer at a homeless shelter before heading off to work at the Human Rights Campaign in Washington.

“I was really struck by this idea of us just handing over the food and thought, ‘What would it look like to do this differently?’ And then I would go to my office and work with refugees and asylees and think, ‘Huh, we can do something different, right now.’”

Ms. Brodie had no background in the food industry aside from a summer spent scooping ice cream as a teenager, so she enrolled at the Institute of Culinary Education in Lower Manhattan. She also attended a food business boot camp in Harlem and began picking up shifts at restaurants.

After discussing the idea with friends, meeting with philanthropists and sending “millions of emails,” she set up her classroom cafe in June. Nearly half of her students received job offers before they had completed the program.

“Which is a great position to be in,” she said. “Suddenly you’re going from having no choices to having choices, and being asked, ‘How do you put down roots here?’ Which is a new conversation for a lot of our students.”

After the successful run in Red Hook, Ms. Brodie is planning to open a larger culinary school and restaurant in Downtown Brooklyn in February.

In building her philanthropy, Ms. Brodie, who is from Maryland, said she’s “fallen in love with New York. I have yet to meet anyone here who hasn’t been like, ‘What you’re doing is awesome, how can I help?’ There is so much good will to help others.”

Shortly before the interview, Ms. Brodie received a text message from a student who had been offered a job. “You changed my life and I will never forget this,” the text read.

“How lucky am I that I get these types of messages on my phone?” she said. “I’ve never been this happy or fulfilled in my entire life.”