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Inmates complete country's first prison-based culinary arts program

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Posted at 1:57 PM, Oct 12, 2022
and last updated 2022-10-13 17:09:03-04

CONNEAUT, Ohio (WEWS) — A special graduation ceremony was held for a group of men who put in the work at the Lake Erie Correctional Institution in Ohio.

Four men completed the first prison-based culinary arts program in the country.

“I’ve got passion for cooking. I’ve got an extreme passion for cooking,” said Flor Arroyo. “When I heard this [program] was coming on, I applied because I wanted to learn more. There’s nothing wrong with learning more knowledge, getting more knowledge.”

As part of the highly-selective program, inmates that have demonstrated a passion for cooking while also maintaining a clean disciplinary record undergo nine months of instruction from a certified chef. The first two months of instruction are classroom-based as the student inmates learn the chemistry of food, flavor combinations and other cooking fundamentals.

“I should have started (learning about culinary arts) a long time ago. It’s amazing how far I got and how much I’ve learned in this program,” Arroyo said.

After demonstrating their knowledge of the fundamentals, the inmates are then taught vital cooking techniques and knife skills before moving on to advanced recipes.

Although the culinary arts program is the first of its kind, it is the latest program to be offered at the institution that has been designed to provide inmates with the skills necessary to gain employment upon being released. Other programs that make up the facility’s education department include GED classes and certifications in the fields of building maintenance, electronics repair and drywall installation.

It also provides the appropriate venue to reward and recognize the inmates for the good decisions they have made while at the facility.

“Sometimes you make bad choices but what is your next choice? You have made the choice to further your education — to do something better with your life. I commend you for that,” said Douglas Fender, the warden of Lake Erie Correctional Institution. “It’s about that reform and what are we doing to help you. But that choice starts with you.”

Upon completing the class, the inmates in the culinary arts program undergo the nerve-racking final exam, which includes an in-person demonstration of the skills they have developed as well as a written test. If successful, the inmates earn crucial certifications that are recognized by the American Culinary Federation, American Federation of Chefs and the National Restaurant Association. The accreditation as a fundamental cook is an important first step in receiving a full accreditation as a chef.

This story was originally reported by Jordan Vandenberge on news5cleveland.com.