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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.

Four artists have been painting brightly colored murals in the 5,300-square-foot building, which will include a 2,700-square-food kitchen, kitchen lab and classroom, plus offices.

"There will be no white painted walls" in the facility's interior, Sommer Wadsworth said.

Instead, the walls will include art work — some in graffiti style — by the four artists expressing their vision of Triumph Kitchen and Louisiana culture. In addition, local businesses and supporters are sponsoring wall spaces designed with their company logos in a Louisiana theme. After one year, the space can be renewed or redesigned.

Chris Wadsworth said he knew the late George Rodrigue well and he was an influence in Wadsworth's life. Consequently, he made sure one wall has a mural in memory of Rodrigue and the George Rodrigue Foundation of the Arts, which worked in partnership with the Louisiana Restaurant Association Education Foundation to offer educational opportunities for Louisiana's youth. That mural is being painted by McKinley High School student Tevin Pugh, 15.

In addition to donations, the coffee shop and the wall space sponsorships, funds to support the school will be raised by selling pickles and preserves made by students; renting a conference room with a full audio-video set-up; catering; and leisure cooking classes.

Students must express an interest in the culinary or hospitality industry, Chris Wadsworth said. "We don't allow students with past violent crimes or sex offenses. They must be prescreened and drug tested. There will be random drug testing while at the school, and we won't tolerate drug or alcohol abuse."

Because many of its students will be without a support system and backing, Triump Kitchen's logo features phoenix wings and a fork on a shield.

"The phoenix wing means they can rise above their past and the fork will take them there," he said.


Information from: The Advocate,

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