LEWISTON, Maine — At The Green Ladle in Lewiston, one message is clear: you're never too old to improve a skill. That sentiment was obvious Tuesday afternoon, as adults in their twenties through sixties gathered around an island in the Lewiston Regional Technical Center's kitchen to learn.
These untraditional students are taking part in a four-week program to get the training they need to work in entry-level kitchen jobs at restaurants around the community. For the first time, this course is free for all taking part. Culinary instructor Danny Caron says it would normally cost each participant around 700 dollars, but now, proceeds from The Green Ladle's Community Serving Community Food Truck project (created during the pandemic) are helping to cover those expenses.
Caron says it's a way to address hunger by giving eager minds the knowledge they need to help restaurants in the area survive.
"We filled up the class," Caron remarked about the first session. "We actually have a waiting list for the next class."
Caron says in the two weeks the program has been running, six restaurants have already been recruiting students for work. Seeing the process actually work has been exciting to pastry instructor Rebecca Levesque who took high school classes at The Green Ladle. She has been teaching here for six years, returning after getting her bachelor's degree at the Culinary Institute of America. It's an opportunity for Levesque to give back to a place that gave her so much -- and potentially inspire others.
"Hopefully it's like that little starting point to get (the students) out working and helping our local restaurants," Levesque said.
Emily Ware, 28, of Auburn is one of those students.
"I've been a stay-at-home mom for the past six years, and so I've been out of the workforce," Ware explained, adding she had wanted to join a commercial kitchen but didn't have any experience. She saw a notice for The Green Ladle program online and decided to sign up.
"I didn't think it was possible to have a free class like this," Ware expressed.
For Mary Ann Brissette, 65, of Lewiston, cooking isn't as new of a skill. She once worked as a kitchen supervisor for Marriott but says she's now semi-retired and thinks there's room to grow.
"I've always liked to cook, and I just wanted to fine-tune my skills and cook for everybody," Brissette said, later adding, "It makes you more enthusiastic about cooking and what you do and how you do it."
Jennifer Tiner is the director of the Lewiston and Auburn adult education programs. She says they have been doing programs with The Green Ladle for years -- and after the pandemic disrupted life in 2020, it feels good to reconnect.
"It actually feels amazing to have our people back," Tiner expressed. "I mean, so much of education is that relationship-building and really getting to know your students personally."
The next session for this free program starts on November 9. If you're interested in learning more, you can call 207-777-3199, or click here. The Green Ladle is also offering ServeSafe classes for free. The will happen again on November 19.