LEWISTON, Maine — The Green Ladle is Lewiston Regional Technical Center’s culinary program - shaping students for careers in the hospitality industry. We’ve caught up with these students a number of times over the years as they competed at both the state and national level, and – this past Spring – rolled up their sleeves and served meals to their neighbors when the pandemic hit.
The pandemic has made the future of their industry a bit uncertain – but that is not slowing these kids down. They are taking their show on the road – literally – with the acquisition of a new food truck which will serve as both a teaching tool, and as an avenue to developing compassion. And under the leadership of Chef Dan Caron, they are ready to hit the road.
"We were handed our license yesterday so we are ready to roll," says Chef Dan Caron - who's got a pretty big smile on his face these days. "I am really excited. These are businesses that approached me and said ‘Chef, we want to help you do this.’ They got a whiff of it, and they’re like, ‘We want to help you raise money. We want to give you money so you can purchase these two items right here and serve food to the community.'"
For Chef Dan, it is always about community. For 23 years, he has nurtured the culinary studies at Lewiston Regional Technical Center, known as The Green Ladle. Sixty students in a two year program – all with an eye towards stepping out in to the hospitality and restaurant industry. That’s an industry navigating big changes these days – which is why adding a food truck to the curriculum seemed like the perfect next step.
The Green Ladle is goin' on the road
"Food trucks is the fastest growing industry in food service right now. What a way to teach the kids. We just gotta - We gotta make do. We gotta adjust to the times. And they’re excited about it as much as I am," says Chef Dan.
Chef sees this not only as a teaching tool, but as a vehicle for giving back to the community he loves so deeply. "I tell my students, if you’re staying in the culinary field, you’re gonna be serving the community. All the chefs I know, all my friends that are chefs and restaurant owners - we all give back to the community in some way. It’s just part of culinary."
The truck is going to be called ‘Community serving Community’. "We teach knife skills, we teach soups and sauces, we teach bakery skills but compassion is really hard – something to teach. And this summer, we taught compassion when we were delivering food to the area neighborhoods - so, it’s just part of the Green Ladle."
In order to make money, they hope to book the truck for weddings, festivals, and fairs. Profits raised will then be used to feed food insecure situations.
"We might even pull in to a neighborhood we know is struggling. Open up the food truck. Free food," says Chef.
Rob Callahan is the Director of the Lewiston Regional Technical Center. "I think Dan really captures the imagination of kids that are thinking about a career in the culinary arts and helps them understand the responsibility they have to bring that talent to bear and use that training not only to make a nice living for yourself but also to really serve the community in a very substantial way."
Students get hands-on skills in a fast-paced food truck kitchen – and on this day, practice putting their skills to use serving up pizza, sliders, mac and cheese – all the while masked, and navigating a small work space. They work seamlessly in tight quarters.
"Having that leadership that trickles down to every one … I guess it’s more of a culture and just knowing that we care and we want to make a difference, we want to be a part of the community and the students truly they follow right behind and they do," says Green Ladle Instructor Justine Burns.
"In my view, this is the role that every current technical school should have. That they should be thinking actively about how every program can have that kind of role in its community … this is our workforce of the future. But we really hope these kids leave us not only with the technical skills, but with that sense of the community they live in and their role in that," says Rob Callahan. "If you’re looking for what works, what’s right about education today? This is it."
Area businesses who helped to make this food truck a reality include Peter Geiger of The Farmer's Almanac, Androscoggin Bank, The Fontaine family, Levesque Organic Produce, Shaw's in Lewiston and Duchette Insurance. If you would like to learn more about The Green Ladle program, click here, or if you are interested in learning more about booking the "Community Serving Community" food truck, click here. The truck has been put away for the winter, but the students anticipate having it out on the road again in early March, and are already booking events in the Spring and Summer.