Growing culinary academy hosting fundraiser – Gilroy Dispatch

Growing culinary academy hosting fundraiser – Gilroy Dispatch

On a recent weekday afternoon, Andrew Briggs stood at the head of a table inside the kitchen at Rebekah Children’s Services, guiding a team of young cooks through a prepping period.
As the cooks chopped up carrots, zucchini and other vegetables, Briggs walked over to each individual, giving them tips on how to improve their techniques to make the process go smoothly. Hold the knife a little firmer, he advised one, moving on to the next cook to tell them to clear their station to prepare for the next vegetable.
Across the kitchen, Kishon Southy was helping another set of cooks, one of whom was carefully pouring oil into a pan as she prepared to sauté some mushrooms.
Both Briggs and Southy are alumni of Rebekah Children’s Services Culinary Academy who have taken on leadership roles, and are key to Executive Chef Carlos Pineda’s plans to grow the long-standing program.
“We’re at a point where we are trying to grow the program and help more youth at the same time,” said Pineda, who has led the academy since its founding in 2009. “Andrew and Kishon are amazing. I trust them.”
To support its work, the Gilroy-based culinary academy is hosting its sixth annual Pop a Cork fundraiser at MOHI Wines, 12775 Uvas Road in Morgan Hill, on May 12 from 6:30-9pm.
The program trains young people ages 15-25, many of whom come from a background of abuse, homelessness or other traumatic experiences, on the ins and outs of cooking and running a professional kitchen.
Upon completing the program, the students earn their Food Handlers card and have the opportunity to be placed in a paid apprenticeship program in the social-enterprise bakery Kneaded. The bakery caters a variety of events, and all proceeds are injected back into the Culinary Academy.
Nayeli Ceja Anguiano, fund development and community relations manager for Rebekah Children’s Services, said students attend the program at no cost, and are provided with all the necessary materials and equipment.
It costs the organization roughly $2,000 per student, with 1,750 having graduated since its inception, making community support through fundraisers such as Pop a Cork critical to its operations.
Ceja Anguiano said the fundraiser will feature food cooked by the students, giving attendees a taste of what the academy is all about.
Pop a Cork returns in person for the first time since 2019, after pandemic restrictions forced its cancellation in a traditional format over the past two years.
“Now that it’s back in person, we get to reconnect with the community,” she said. “There’s a lot of amazing people who support the Culinary Academy.”
Self-described best friends Griselda Castro and Isabel Olguin Santos, both Gilroy High School graduates who will be graduating soon from San Jose State University, joined the academy in February.
Castro said she joined the program not knowing much in the way of cooking, while Santos said she had some experience and wanted to sharpen her skills.
Both, however, view the academy as a way to grow their socialization skills and community-building mentality, as they plan on becoming social workers after graduating college.
“It’s a fun challenge,” Castro said. “There’s a fun aspect about it that can be really engaging.”
The positive atmosphere, Santos said, helps give students the tools they need to succeed in the program.
“It’s more than just a class, it’s more like a family,” she said.
Pineda, a Gilroy native, is the director of Hospitality and Culinary Services at Rebekah’s Children Services, and graduated from the Professional Culinary Institute in 2008 and worked as a chef in various locations in the region before joining Rebekah’s.
When the pandemic forced the academy’s temporary closure, Pineda said dozens of applications were already in the pipeline.
“Once the pandemic happened, our goal was to keep going,” he said.
So, the academy pivoted to a virtual format, featuring live cooking sessions that led children and their families step-by-step on various dishes. The series garnered views by more than 150,000 people across the state, according to Pineda.
The virtual classes allowed the academy to further extend its reach, and has had seven nearby school districts and other organizations participate.
Pineda said the need for the academy is greater than ever, helping students get back into a positive social routine after remaining at home for such a long period of time.
He added the academy not only teaches the students how to get a job, but also how to keep it, with a 98% job placement rate since it started.
The program also partnered with Santa Clara County Behavioral Health Services, teaching drug and alcohol prevention.
“Kneaded Bakery and Catering is stronger than ever, and it’s going to continue to grow,” Pineda said. “When people book us, we tell them that when they buy our food and eat our food, they are saving a life.
“Food creates community. Food can bring people together in a positive way. It creates a platform to talk and share positivity, light and love with the world.”
To purchase tickets to Pop a Cork, visit For information about Rebekah’s Culinary Academy, visit

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