Arlington, VA

Seven Arlington students graduated Friday from a culinary program that trains individuals who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless in the skills necessary to get a job in a commercial kitchen.

This was the sixth incarnation of the D.C. Central Kitchen’s Culinary Training Program, which meets locally at the Fairlington Community Center. The graduation ceremony was held in Rosslyn Friday afternoon and the Arlington students were joined by eight other students from the Central Union Mission, a homeless shelter in D.C.

One of the speakers at the ceremony was Napolean Boakye, a graduate of the fifth Arlington class. He first found out about the program while living in the Carpenter’s Shelter in Old Town Alexandria. As a result of the program, he was offered two jobs in the culinary field and he now works with the National Youth Escape Arena in Maryland.

“This job training sponsored by Arlington County positively influenced me and prepared me to change my way of thinking and my life,” said Boakye. “I said to myself, never again. I’m tired of failure. I’ve been there, done that, I’m moving on to success.”

Two students won the program’s Ron Swanson Life Skills Award: Bryce Churchman from the Arlington program and Gary Lucas from the D.C program.

Along with culinary classes, the students also receive self-empowerment classes and get to train outside of the classroom, with each student receiving a month-long internship. Some of the internship sites included the Key Bridge Marriott, Mess Hall in D.C. and Nando’s Peri-Peri.

The graduation rate for Arlington students ranges between 85 to 90 percent and graduates have an 90 percent job placement rate.

Photos by Jackie Friedman

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Sam Schenk Chess Champ (courtesy of Allison Rudoy)(Updated at 5:05 p.m.) A local student represented Arlington County well at a national chess competition last weekend.

Chess prodigy Sam Schenk tied for 10th place in his division at the National K-12 Scholastic Championship chess competition in Orlando, Fla. He competed against 127 other players in his grade group to earn the ranking.

The annual competition is hosted by the U.S. Chess Federation. It separates participants by grade, and players only compete against people their own age. The grand prize is finishing first in a grade group and claiming the title of national champion.

Though this was Schenk’s fourth trip to the national tournament, it’s his first time taking home a prize.

“This was a great year for him, and this was absolutely the best he’s ever done,” Schenk’s parent Allison Rudoy said.

The 13-year-old is an 8th grader at Williamsburg Middle School in North Arlington. Rudoy said her son’s been playing chess since he joined an after school chess club at Jamestown Elementary five years ago.

“He kind of got hooked,” she said. “When the club ended, he kept with it and started studying on his own, reading a lot and playing in local tournaments.”

Now, Schenk is a part of the Arlington Chess Club where he practices what he studies, mostly playing against adults. He was also recently named one of the U.S. Chess Federation’s top 13-year-old chess players in the nation.

“He devotes an enormous amount of time to the study of chess and plays as much as he can,” Rudoy added. “It’s his favorite thing, but it’s not his only thing.”

Schenk is also involved in sports, playing youth basketball on a county recreation team.

While Rudoy said Schenk is very passionate about chess and would likely love to take home the top prize in Orlando someday, he is still young and anything could be in his future.

“All I know for sure is as long as he’s still interested in chess, his family will keep supporting him,” she said.

Photo courtesy of Allison Rudoy

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To celebrate its one year anniversary in Shirlington, Ah Love Oil & Vinegar (4017B Campbell Avenue) is having a celebration this coming Saturday, June 9.

Owner Cary Kelly said the store’s short time in existence has gone well, and customer response has been overwhelming.

“The last year has been, in a word, unbelievable,” Kelly said.

She said there were skeptics who didn’t think the store would work out, both because of the slow economy and because the store was selling such unique, specific products. Kelly credits a couple of factors with the store’s success.

First, the location. Residents and workers in Shirlington have been welcoming and continue to patronize the store, she says. Secondly, Kelly thinks the product quality has won over doubters.

“I think what changes people from being skeptical to hopefully delighted is that they get to taste everything,” Kelly said. “You really taste a difference. Then people are like, ‘Okay I get it now.'”

Kelly got the idea for the store when she visited a similar business in North Carolina. Cooking, particularly Mediterranean foods, is her favorite hobby, so the idea of an oil and vinegar business seemed to make sense.

While unique at the time, the flavored oil trend is quickly spreading. Kelly said that when Ah Love opened a year ago, it was the only store of its kind in the area. Now, she can list five in the metro region.

During Saturday’s event, the shop will officially launch a new olive oil-based skin care line. Kelly said she has sensitive skin and couldn’t find olive oil skin products she liked, so she decided to have some made. The Ah Love All Over line will be made with California extra virgin olive oil.

“I think olive oil is one of nature’s greatest miracles,” said Kelly. “There’s nothing it doesn’t do for us as far as health, both inside and outside.”

Kelly said the business has been more successful than she could have anticipated, and the anniversary party is to thank customers for their support.

“My husband and I feel so grateful how we’ve been supported by this community,” Kelly said. “That’s the real reason for this party.”

The event on Saturday runs from noon to 9:30 p.m. All day, there will be tastings of food made with the oils and vinegars, and a cooking demonstration at 4:00 p.m. From noon until 4:00 p.m., there will also be a jewelry display. Customers will receive 15 percent off the store’s products, and there will be giveaways throughout the day.

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In a small, quiet office, in an old, nondescript building on Wilson Boulevard, you’ll find the people behind one of the hottest start-up restaurant chains in the country.

Locals may know Elevation Burger for their strip mall storefronts on Lee Highway in Arlington and Falls Church. But the restaurant industry knows Elevation Burger as  #56 on last year’s annual FastCasual.com Top 100 list of movers and shakers.

The nascent chain has seven restaurants open right now and expects to open more than 100 restaurants from LA to NYC to Kuwait by 2013. A Rosslyn location is also in the works, and a Ballston location may not be too far behind. The company hopes to open a few dozen stores in the D.C. area in coming years.

Elevation Burger was founded by Arlington resident Hans Hess, who also owns the EnviroCab taxi service. Hess and his wife April opened the first Elevation Burger in Falls Church in 2005. The company started franchising in 2008 with the help of Dan Rowe, who helped turn Five Guys Burgers (founded in Arlington, now based in Lorton) into a national chain.

Elevation is an ultra-environmentally-friendly twist on the burger-and-fries concept: the stores are constructed with sustainable materials, the french fry oil is donated for conversion to bio-diesel, trash is recycled and carbon offset credits are purchased.

The main thing separating Elevation from just about every other burger joint, however, is the beef. Elevation’s burgers are made with organic, grass-fed, free-range beef. The company argues — convincingly — that it makes for a better-tasting and lower-calorie burger when compared with the corn-fed, industrial beef used just about everywhere else.

“There are a lot of options out there for burgers… but we’re able to offer a product at a competitive price that’s not even comparable in terms of quality,” says Chris Lambert, a partner in the company.

Elevation Burger’s “Ingredients Matter” philosophy extends through the entire product line. The cheeseburgers are made with real cheddar. The fresh-cut french fries are made with olive oil, which packs an extra flavor punch. And the shakes and malts are so good, one store manager says, that they occasionally outsell fountain drinks.

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