Feast masters | Immigrants train for food industry in Project Feast’s kitchen in Tukwila

The kitchen basics class is Project Feast’s core program designed to help recent immigrants build a community through ethnic food and find a job in the food industry. The non-profit started in January 2013 and until about a year ago, its training kitchen was just south of downtown Seattle.

Susana Ramirez

Mom knew what she meant.

She took a pinch of this and a bunch of that – and the food always turned out perfectly.

But that doesn’t measure up in a commercial kitchen, where cooks follow a recipe to ensure the food consistently tastes the same day in and day out – and just as the chef, like Mom, intended.

Students in Project Feast’s six-week Commercial Kitchen Basics Program are learning how to hold true to Mom’s recipe by getting it in writing so they can share it with others – or serve it at their own cafe someday.

Go ahead and take a pinch of seasoning, for example, but immediately measure it. Then write down the amount. Repeat with all the ingredients learned at Mom’s (or Dad’s) side in the kitchen.

“I forced myself to measure everything,” Project Feast volunteer Archana Verma told the five students in the commercial kitchen at the Tukwila Community Center.

The kitchen basics class is Project Feast’s core program designed to help recent immigrants build a community through ethnic food and find a job in the food industry. The non-profit started in January 2013 and until about a year ago, its training kitchen was just south of downtown Seattle.

Talks began with the City of Tukwila, which reached out to Project Feast, to move its training program to the community center, which turned out to be a perfect fit for Project Feast.

The kitchen is “so amazing,” said Alanna McDonald, Project Feast’s program and events coordinator, and there’s office space to use.

“And we’re closer to the communities that we are trying to serve. It makes a lot more sense,” she said. For some, transportation to Sodo was “kind of difficult,” she said.

Project Feast also runs classes in local community centers. Besides the kitchen basics class, the organization offers the three-hour training to obtain a food-handler permit, which everyone needs to work in the food industry, and an apprentice program.

Graduates also staff the food-catering business that helps support its programs. Two Project Feast interns, Taghreed Ibrahim and LemLem Kidane, are preparing lunches the Duwamish Curve Cafe at the community center, offering sandwiches, soups and salads and often something special.

Project Feast’s programs are free to the participants. It receives financial support from United Way of King County, SVP Fast Pitch and the Women’s Funding Alliance. Donations are accepted, too.

The core program is the Commercial Kitchen Basics Program.

Most of Project Feast’s students arrive as “excellent home cooks,” McDonald said, but they need the skills expected in a commercial kitchen – such as using measuring cups rather than their memory. Safety is important in a busy kitchen, so they learn to hold a knife straight down when walking.

They learn to read and write a recipe and how to use kitchen equipment. They are learning the language of the kitchen.

Each student has a chance to share his or her culture’s cuisine with fellow students, and, at the same time, lead them through preparing the meal.

“I want to taste something your ancestors made,” said Chef Daniel “Buck” James, who was helping Malena Veliz select ingredients from her native Peru. He’s the chief instructor and mentor to the students.

Susana Ramirez of Kent is preparing Mole Verde, a traditional Mexican dish. As a child, she cooked with her mother and grandmother in Puebla, Mexico. She immigrated to the United States in 1999.

Ramirez is using her family’s recipe for Mole Verde.

“My grandma tell me how much, how long, how to do that. Everything,” she said.

Susana assigns tasks, from cutting green onions to washing the chicken, which she does. McDonald asks her how many cutting boards she’ll need. One for the vegetables. How many frying pans? One for the rice and one to fry the mole.

The students learned quickly that sometimes you need to adapt quickly in a commercial kitchen or while catering an affair. There wasn’t a key ingredient for Susana’s the Mole Verde in the kitchen – the Mole Verde sauce. McDonald seized upon that as a teachable moment.

“This is what happens in a professional situation. You need a solution,” McDonald said.

Do you change recipe or make something entirely different? An another option was to find the sauce. Smartphones were checked for the nearest stores that might carry the sauce. Someone suggested the store on Tukwila International Boulevard but couldn’t remember the name.

But Chef Buck, as he’s known, found the store: Saars Super Saver Foods had the sauce they needed.

The five students work together, asking Susana questions if they’re unsure of something. She brings it all together near the end of class with the plating – and everyone sits down for lunch.

The mole verde is good. “It’s spicy but not too spicy,” says Susana, who hopes to start her own business someday.

Victoria Cole was the first student to present her culture’s cuisine. She was born and raised in Sierra Leone, West Africa, and now lives in Des Moines.

She started cooking at age 11, in her family’s restaurant. After she graduates from Project Feast, she wants to cook for a restaurant, then maybe someday open her own restaurant, where she’ll serve her native country’s foods.

“That is my dream,” she says.

Victoria prepared Acheke, a traditional West African dish, with the class, served with tilapia and fried plantains. It’s main ingredient is garri, made from cassava tubers, that’s similar to cornmeal.

“The one I made in class was a special dish in my country,” she said. “For a month every household makes it.”

Working as a team, the five students prepared traditional dishes for their graduation on Nov. 5, attended by friends and family. Each introduced her own dish, telling its story and how it’s prepared.


Project Feast and Tukwila Community Center will host a Community Open House Friday, Nov. 21, highlighting Iraqi culture and cuisine.

The event is 5:30-7:30 p.m. at the community center, 12424 42nd Ave. S., Tukwila.

This is a chance to sample small bites of special Iraqi dishes and sip tea prepared by Project Feast graduates – and learn about the history, customs, music and traditional fashions of Iraq.

RSVP via email to hello@projectfeast.org.


The Food Handler Permit sessions meet twice a month with each session lasting three to four hours. This class is designed to help refugee and immigrant students understand the safe food handling and hygiene requirements that exist in Washington State and then prepare them to take the online test to receive their Food Handler Permit.

The Commercial Kitchen Basics Program is a six-week program to prepare participants for a job in the food industry, while also setting them up for success in other areas of life in the United States. Graduates can then apply for an apprenticeship.

The Apprenticeship Program gives for graduates of the Commercial Kitchen Basics Program the chance to work for Project Feast to get paid job experience. Each apprentice is matched with an assignment that is available in Project Feast’s food service, catering, or other programs.





Website: projectfeast.org

Facebook: www.facebook.com/projectfeast

Email: hello@projectfeast.org

Address: Project Feast

12424 42nd Ave. S.

Tukwila, WA 98168


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