Baltimore native, Robert “Chef Stew” Stewart made his mark as a personal chef and caterer to various celebrities. He is also the winner of the television show, “Cutthroat Kitchen” on Food Network. While living in Las Vegas, Nevada, the entrepreneur’s culinary quest led him to prepare cuisine for corporate and entertainment A-list clients.
Now, Chef Stewart’s latest endeavor incorporates lending a helping hand to Baltimore youth and young adults who want to learn to cook and bake their way to better opportunities.
Tucked inside the old Samuel Morse Elementary School, located at 424 South Pulaski Street, a free culinary arts training program offering employment opportunities, and on-the-job training for Baltimoreans is in development.
Chef Stewart is the visionary and CEO of a new community organization called Transition Kitchen, which is counting down the final months of preparation for a projected September launch. Registration kits with a list of supplies that the students will need are being requested from anyone who is willing to donate items. Kits include everything from pens, pencils, highlighters and flash drives to cut gloves, slip resistant shoe covers, chef beanie style hats, digital thermometers, aprons and tote bags. Raising $12,000 through GoFundMe is Chef Stewart’s current goal to cover the cost of items for 120 students at a time.
“Although Transition Kitchen was an idea I planned to incorporate into my journey, once I obtained the funding to finance it completely, watching the (Freddie Gray) riots and the ruling from the Department of Justice, the Korryn Gaines incident, and a few other heartbreaking events, I decided literally to step away from my pursuit of a restaurant and utilize my resources to provide a solution for the city,” Chef Stewart said. “So, if you can help with anything on the [registration kit] list, we plan to train 75 students monthly or 825 yearly.”
Update at press time: "On yesterday, a major donor with roots in Baltimore, pledged $20,000 to Transition Kitchen. It was given to cover the costs associated with Transition Kitchen Student Registration Kits, and one month of operational costs," Chef Stew said. "We are extremely excited about our first major donation! Our strategy has been to ask for donations in increments that allows us to build relationships with sponsors and keep the community's trust. We will soon release our financial statement and overview of the Transition Kitchen Program expenses to launch a fundraising campaign that will cover year one. I believe that if we collectively build, collectively the City of Baltimore benefits."
Chef Stewart noted that the dedicated staff will not receive any financial compensation from the program, until they can begin training youth and show Transition Kitchen’s impact. A nonprofit organization called The Food Project is a partner.
“I know it’s said that charity begins at home and Charm City is my home, so I personally came back to see this thing take shape,” Chef Stewart said. “Transition Kitchen is designed for anyone [at least] 15 and a half, with a work permit, to ensure that the goal of lowering unemployment numbers would be honored. After all the stuff, I plan to implement in training is highlighting positions within the hospitality industry. It's also very important to learn how to cook, [know the] benefits of ingredients, healthy eating habits, and importance of food safety, even if you have no desire to work in the industry as a career choice.”
Chef Stewart’s early story is rooted in perseverance. His 33-year-old father’s funeral was held the day before his twelfth birthday.
Chef Stewart recalls watching his grandmother cook in the kitchen, then returned home while wanting to duplicate the short order cook’s dishes. The young boy began calling her on the phone to ask questions and he began cooking for his brother and mother. The future chef later enrolled in Eastern Vocational Technical High School’s Culinary Arts and Restaurant Management Program. After graduation, he worked at Sheraton Baltimore North Hotel as a banquet server. His beginning point is connected to his current efforts to help Baltimoreans.
Transition Kitchen is a community-based effort and a call to action for leaders and individuals to collectively contribute to an innovative program. Gail McGee, who has been a pastry chef since 1995, will serve as the pastry chef for Transition Kitchen. Chef Stew’s former school friend will teach youth and young adults how to make diverse signature items, while teaching entry-level skills. A sous chef will work with culinary students, when Chef Stew is not present. The program will also incorporate an afterschool component.
“Each class runs for 30 days, and every 30 days, the end of that month, we have a celebration for those students. And every month, we start a new set of students, so it will be culinary and the baking, so they can choose between the two,” McGee said. “At the end of the day, he [Chef Stew] is like pretty much showing them [Baltimore’s youth], ‘Hey, I was in your position, look where I am. I used my hands to get me out of this bad situation, and the culinary position can take you far.’”
Please visit: https://www.gofundme.com/registration-kits to donate to the GoFundMe campaign. Email email@example.com for more information about the program. Please note if there is an interest in the culinary or pastry portion.