- Associated Press - Sunday, March 9, 2014

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) - Some people might question Chris and Sommer Wadsworth’s definition of slowing down.

He was working 80 hours, six days a week when he left his position as executive chef at Restaurant IPO last August. They sold the food truck Sommer Wadsworth, formerly a special education teacher, had been manning. They also have a line of seasoning and he had been catering.

The couple, who have a combined six children ages 2 to 12, went to work on a new project - founding and opening a not-for-profit culinary training facility designed to give culinary and hospitality training to at-risk youth and underprivileged teens.

Chris Wadsworth, 36, was one of “Padma’s Picks” on the Web series that previewed Top Chef New Orleans and was a 2013 “Chef to Watch” according to Louisiana Cookin’ magazine. Proceeds from the Chefs to Watch program support Café Reconcile, which gives inner-city New Orleans youths culinary training.

“In 2013 I had just gotten nominated for Chefs to Watch. Things were spiraling out of control. I wanted a break,” he said. “Café Reconcile in New Orleans was an eye-opener. It was something I could do.”

So, the couple began looking for locations in Baton Rouge to open a similar educational venue. They found it in a 106-year-old building in downtown Baton Rouge.

They also found sponsors and got donated restaurant equipment to begin Triumph Kitchen, which will provide a 12-week in-house training program for students ages 16-22 plus a two-week job placement program.

“It will cost us $2,500 per student for the three months, but there is no cost to the kids,” Chris Wadsworth said.

The school will help young people acquire a working knowledge about the restaurant industry and the skills needed to get a job, the Wadsworths said. “Our goal is to get kids long-term goals and set them up with future mentors,” Chris Wadsworth said. Their plan is to serve 15-20 students every 14 weeks.

The students will man a coffee bar, which will offer beignets and coffee from 7 a.m. to 11 a.m. Monday through Friday. There will be no set prices; customers will be asked to donate what they can to the program.

The school has gotten strong support from the local restaurant community, they said. Its Board of Advisors includes John Snow, with Taco do Paco food truck; Tommy Talley, of TommysTV; Molly McWhorter, of 2 Hundred Oaks Brand Management; Charles Pierce with Me and My Big Mouth Radio Show; and Jay Ducote, of Baton Rouge’s “Bite and Booze Radio Show.

Sommer Wadsworth, 31, who is president of Triumph Kitchen, will be the school’s “life coach.”

A school brochure says, “Many students grew up in homes where they didn’t learn some of the basic life skills we often take for granted.”

Sommer Wadsworth will focus on bridging that gap, teaching students how to create a household budget, shop and plan for healthful meals, write and build a ré sumé, and interview for a job.

Chris Wadsworth will take care of the culinary side, dining room training and steps of service. He will have help from sous chef Paige Lucas, a graduate of Louisiana Culinary Institute, plus guest speakers and mentors.

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