Beyond the Kitchen: Coaching & Evaluation Skills for Front Line Staff

March 14, 2019

Culinary training positions within our program model are not for the faint of heart. On the surface it is a straightforward role: your goal is to prepare culinary students for the kitchen - how to hold a knife, work on a line, and filet a fish. However, this role takes on an entirely new face when your student population is learning how to thrive in a workplace and push past their personal barriers during the program. The role quickly overlaps with that of case manager, life skills coach, teacher, and mentor.

There's a lot more happening in our program's kitchens than meets the eye. Our kitchen's main task is to produce meals, but through that we teach timeliness, self confidence, how to persevere through adversity, and most importantly, how to work well with others.  These are important skills for anyone interested in becoming effective employee and team member. Learning these skills for one's self can be difficult; teaching this mix of skills is quite another task.

When a student faces personal struggles such as trust issues, past traumas, or a history of conflict with others, a simple knife skills lesson can turn into a significant challenge.

Many front line staff step into their positions with strong culinary backgrounds and a desire to use their knowledge to give back to the community. This is the ideal hire to teach the hard skills of our culinary programs and chefs/cooks typically learn how to teach soft skills on the job (or "on the fly" if we're embracing kitchen lingo). The ability to teach, evaluate, and work alongside social services staff does not develop overnight. This poses a real challenge for front line staff in the chef positions and those working collaboratively with them to create the best outcomes for our students.  When a student faces personal struggles such as trust issues, past traumas, or a history of conflict with others, a simple knife skills lesson can turn into a significant challenge.


This is where Catalyst Kitchens comes in. Our mission is to give needed support to culinary job training organizations to help students and staff thrive. The Train the Trainer Workshop is designed to help all types of front line staff transform their kitchens into a place of learning and soft skills development. We lead participants through the Coaching Champions program to break down the concept of what makes an effective teacher from step one to the finished product.  

Front line staff play a pivotal role in a student's success and are required to report out about a student's progress throughout the program's curriculum. It is important for programs and operations teams to be on the same page about a student's progress and move beyond generalizations or platitudes into concrete, actionable feedback that contributes to student improvement. This workshop covers how to properly evaluate students on a hard & soft skills basis so staff focus their time on identifying opportunities for student growth and celebrating student successes. This not only takes stress off staff and interdepartmental communications, it also improves student experience. We want to be sure that everyone is reinforcing the same lessons and language inside and out of the kitchen. 

Attendees participate in peer to peer learning, chef trainer Q & A sessions, and participate in Coaching Champions training to learn about proper teaching techniques. 

Catalyst Kitchens Model Member Community Kitchen Pittsburgh (CKP) hosted our last Train the Trainer Workshop in April. With a 91% job placement rate and 84% of students retaining employment 1 year after the program, clearly they are doing something right. CKP has slowly and deliberately grown their business over the years; from contract school meals, community meals for shelters and health clinics, catering operations, white label production, and an under construction, brand new restaurant opening in 2019! On the program side, they excel at building rigorous, well-documented systems that allow their staff and students to flourish.  Attendees had the chance to learn from, about, and alongside their talented staff.

Upcoming Train the Trainer Workshops in 2020:

     February 27th & 28th in Washington D.C., hosted by DC Central Kitchen 

    July 30th & 31st in Seattle, Washington, hosted by FareStart 

    October 15th & 16th in Phoenix, Arizona, hosted by UMOM New Day Centers

See our events calendar for more details and other upcoming events in 2020, including our largest convening, the 2020 National Summit.


Blog Category: 

Job Training

Justin Smith

Justin has worked for years merging food, gardening, and the culinary arts with services for vulnerable populations in both Chicago and Seattle. In his role as Program Development Manager, Justin draws on a wide range of experience with instruction, curriculum writing, program expansion, youth education, and over a decade of work in restaurants and hospitality.