CULINARY TRAINING PROGRAM FEEDS A PASSION
From the moment Patricia Melo first walked into Basta Restaurant in Cranston’s Pawtuxet Village, she knew she had been given an opportunity and she was determined to hold on to it. The environment was exciting, and a little intimidating for someone just starting out. Wait staff dressed in black with crisp white linen aprons bustled through their tasks. Red leather booths, a massive white marble bar, warm wooden tables and exposed brick walls glowed with fire light from the domed brick oven in the dining room. The sounds and smells from the kitchen underscored the seriousness of the food they served and of the chance that was at stake.
“I’ve always wanted to cook – ever since I was a child in my mother’s house, I tried to help her. She made Moro de Habichuelas and I would add things,” said Melo. “I tried to experiment and sometimes it would come out good – and sometimes it wouldn’t. I never imagined working my way to a place like this. The people here have really helped me grow into the position.”
Melo is a graduate of the culinary program at Genesis Center in Providence and was hired at Basta during her internship placement at the restaurant. She celebrated her one year anniversary at the restaurant on December 1st.
“Genesis Center helped me get here,” said Melo. “I had taken an ESOL course when I first arrived, but I still struggled. The program at Genesis helps you with math and English too; whatever you need.”
Genesis Center uses the Bridges to Career Opportunities (BCO) methodology developed and funded by Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC). The program provides industry-specific contextualized instruction in math and English, as well as instruction in financial literacy and wrap-around services to help participants succeed. LISC supports the program in 40 communities nationwide with the goal of finding employment for 10,000 job seekers over the next three years.
“In the beginning, I found it was hard to understand recipes because for me, my English isn’t perfect. But they show you a lot of things, and teach you the math you need for changing recipes and figuring menus.”
Genesis Center conducts three 13-week sessions through out the year where students work hands-on to gain knife skills, prepare recipes and gain a ServSafe Certification. All participants can earn an opportunity to complete an internship with a local culinary partner and participate in all support services offered at the Center.
“I loved the program so much that I recommended it to three of my friends. One has started and the other two are getting the paperwork together,” she said. “If you’re on SNAP, you have the option to go through the program for free – and that was a huge help for me.”
Melo participated in the course through SNAP Employment & Training, a program of the Department of Human Services (DHS) administered by LISC in Rhode Island. SNAP E&T provides education, training and job placement services for SNAP recipients. Patricia moved to Rhode Island from the Dominican Republic with her son, now 12 years old, to be closer to her aunt and cousins and was on SNAP for more than a year while she worked part time at a child care facility.
“We needed to get on better footing. When I was talking about the program with my son, he was very supportive and said I should do it,” said Melo. Genesis Center also offers training programs leading to entry-level careers in health care including pharmacy technician, medical assistant, direct support, Alzheimer’s care and others.
“Genesis Center was a lifeline for me, and the first time I met Chef Tino I was very nervous — but if you come to work and do what you’re supposed to do, it’s fine,” says Melo.
Basta Executive Chef Antonio “Tino” Franco is an award winning, no-nonsense chef who strives for perfection. He started out washing dishes at age 14, by 19 years-old he was sous chef, and by age 20, he was running a kitchen. He moved to Basta in 2013 after several years working on Federal Hill, including as Executive Chef at Pane E Vino, one of the area’s iconic restaurants.
“Patricia was nervous in the beginning, and intimidated by the process. When interns get here, there is a whole lot of activity and Patricia caught on very quickly. She understood that it was important to follow the process. If people do the work,and the food is the focus, then they do well. If you don’t follow the process, it can rapidly turn into chaos,” says Chef Tino. “It’s a fragile operation – you can fail very quickly.”
Melo started out doing the prep work during the day so that the kitchen would be ready for that night’s dinner service, but quickly moved up to being responsible for making all of the homemade pasta for the restaurant. Recently, Melo has even worked on the line in addition to her pasta duties.
“We generally have someone start in prep – you have to crawl before you can walk. But we moved Patricia up fairly quickly. We had imported two large,expensive, antique pasta machines from Italy, had them refurbished and have entrusted Patricia to make all of our pasta from scratch,” said Chef Tino. “It’s a pivotal job in a restaurant like ours. We are known for our homemade pasta.”
Chef Tino opened a second, more casual location this past week in Cranston – called Bettola, and the demand for fresh pasta has doubled.
“She does a great job and has earned our trust,” says Chef Tino. “We all care very deeply about the food we create. Caring and pride in your work is so important– so often there are people who just want a job – here it has to go beyond that.”
Chef Tino has been mentoring culinary students for four years. Basta routinely works with interns from Genesis Center, Amos House and other culinary arts training programs in Providence and has trained as many as six interns in a year. The chef does it to repay a debt of appreciation.
“Someone gave me a chance in the beginning,” said Chef Tino. “I had dropped out of high school at 15 and started working in a kitchen as a dishwasher. I had an awesome chef who took me under his wing and encouraged me to learn as much as I could. He gave me books and taught me techniques. He had a huge influence on my life. I am paying it forward because I know how important it was for me,” says Chef Tino. “Everyone needs a chance.”