Nonprofit launches culinary arts program for newly arrived migrants

The five-week job training course aims to help them obtain stable economic opportunities in the food industry.

Newly arrived migrants receive their cooking instructions in Hot Bread Kitchen’s class.

Newly arrived migrants receive their cooking instructions in Hot Bread Kitchen’s class. Courtesy of Hot Bread Kitchen and Wini Lao Photography

Hot Bread Kitchen, a nonprofit organization that has provided services and access to jobs in the food industry for women and gender-expansive people for 15 years, has launched its five-week culinary training program for new immigrants.

The Culinary Career Pathways for New New Yorkers program aims to provide culinary training and access to professional opportunities in the food industry. Members of the program receive a MetroCard and weekly stipend for their participation. Instructors of the culinary arts program include bilingual instructors and previous Hot Bread Kitchen participants, such as Kandy Williams, who has had a successful career in the food industry.

There’s tremendous opportunity in the food industry,” said Leslie Abbey, CEO of Hot Bread Kitchen. “In New York City, there’s a talent shortage in the food industry, and there are many, many jobs.”

Earlier this year, Gov. Kathy Hochul announced that 40,000 jobs were available to migrants, the top industry being in the food services industry.

“The members who come to do our program, they’re just really passionate about food. … Others just love cooking and want to make a career out of it, and … we’re the only organization running this kind of program specifically for migrants and asylum-seekers in this industry.”

About 180,000 migrants have arrived in New York City since April 2022, with about 65,000 still in the city’s care. With a plethora of opportunities in the food industry, Hot Bread Kitchen has partnered with organizations such as New Women New Yorkers, Jackson Heights Immigrant Center, Venezuelans and Immigrants Aid, and Mixteca Organization to offer a culinary arts workforce development program so migrants may be able to obtain an economically stable future.

According to Abbey, some challenges participants face are food insecurity, housing and child care. To combat this, alongside the job training program, the organization provides other services, such as child care, housing assistance, financial coaching, English language instruction and support to access public benefits. Hot Bread Kitchen also allows participants to cook their own food before they go home.

“Cooking has been my life since I was little,” said Sandra, who did not provide a last name and is a participant in Hot Bread Kitchen’s Culinary Career Pathways for New New Yorkers Program.

“Cooking is passion, innovation. I always love making different dishes. This kitchen isn’t 'MasterChef' in Colombia, but it gives me great inspiration. … I have learned a lot of things in the kitchen, there is always something new to learn. I’ve learned a lot about safety and the proper ways to do things in a work environment. I’ve learned how to work with my coworkers – caring for my coworkers and making sure we have no accidents.”

The first cohort had about 250 applicants and now has 16 members. Graduates of the program could land entry-level jobs in the industry and are paid about $18 per hour.

I feel so proud and privileged to be part of the solution for the migrants and asylum-seekers here in New York City, and that excitement has just grown since we’ve started the program. So everyone’s really juiced and really excited to be beginning cohort No. 2,” Abbey said.

The organization is currently gearing up for its second cohort and hopes to have two additional cohorts before the end of the year.