Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.) was treated to a special meal when he visited La Cocina, a bilingual culinary school for the unemployed or underemployed: crickets.
Beyer visited the Hispanic-oriented culinary school in the basement of Mount Olivet Church (1500 N. Glebe Road) near Ballston yesterday, where he learned more about the school’s mission and heard from a couple of the six current students.
“This is very exciting,” Beyer told the students.
For his visit, the students, under Chef Instructor Alberto Vega, prepared a green salad with honey-crusted crickets and gluten-free chocolate chip and cricket cookies.
Crickets add protein into the people’s diets, La Cocina Executive Director Patricia Funegra said during a presentation. Crickets are also a sustainable food and La Cocina is working to encourage healthy and sustainable food into modern diets, Funegra said.
“We have to start thinking about that [sustainable food] in a very serious way,” Funegra said.
La Cocina is both a school and a food assistance program. The students prepare meals and then deliver them to residents of local affordable housing communities in a partnership with Arlington Partnership for Affordable Housing.
All meals prepared are made with healthy foods, in hopes of fighting obesity, which plagues the Hispanic community, Funegra said. Meals contain 50 percent fruit and vegetables and 50 percent lean proteins, according to La Cocina’s website.
Yesterday, the students prepared a salad and spaghetti and turkey meatballs for the residents. Beyer helped the students by ladling the meatballs. He then joined them in handing out the meals to families.
La Cocina has seen a lot of success with its program, Funegra said. The last class had 100 percent completion and job placement. The current class is the school’s third.
“To have 100 percent completion is something to be proud of,” she said.
The school teaches bilingual culinary skills, sanitation practices, English needed for culinary work and life, and employment skills, such as working in a team. The school does not charge tuition and provides all the materials for the students, including a travel stipend, Funegra said.
Students come from the entire D.C. area, with some coming as far as Germantown, Maryland.
The school is working to build a kitchen incubator program, which could help former students and other members of the Hispanic community start new culinary businesses, such as food trucks or restaurants, Funegra said. It is in the early stages, but she expects to have the program ready by next summer.
“That’d be a great transition for your students from the school to the incubator,” Beyer said.
The school has a partnership with Whole Foods for a one month internship for students and many are hired by the grocery chain following the internship. By completing the program, students have the opportunity to make $13 an hour, a higher wage than they could make without the program.
For Alexandra Garcia, a La Cocina student originally from Guatemala, the culinary school gaves her the ability to make a better living than she could before coming to the United States.
“I used to work as a secretary [in Guatemala], so this [working with food] is a whole new thing for me,” she said to Beyer.
Beyer is not the only Congressional member to visit the school. Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) visited the school in April.