When you hear the word “cake,” the first thing you probably think of is some form of celebration, like a birthday or a wedding. However, to children in the Southern Los Angeles area, the word is a symbol of opportunity and learning.
To these children, CAKE stands for Culinary Arts Kids Eat. Founded in 2012 by Melisa Nicola, Lisbeth Caiaffa, and Linda Newman Zechowy, the program was started to supply youth in underserved Los Angeles communities with the most basic needs, including food, water, education, and health. When the youth’s lack of basic needs is combined with the dangerous communities they live in, they suffer and become a part of the poverty and violence they are facing everyday.
The CAKE program wanted to change that cycle. According to their website, CAKE “enriches, engages and educates students on life skills through practical knowledge and hands on experience in the culinary arts and the restaurant hospitality industry.” In order to achieve this mission, the program has crafted a variety of learning experiences, located at Santee Educational Complex (Santee), a Los Angeles Unified School in South Los Angeles.
The first learning experience run by CAKE is the school based curriculum. This three year program combines culinary techniques and critical thinking skills within an integrated front-of-the-house curriculum. This program also allows students a chance to participate in national competitions as well as the opportunity to learn from professionals in areas such a culinary arts and nutrition.
Another experience is the After School with CAKE program. After School with CAKE is a 12 week after school experience offered three days a week. The youth involved in this program learn about topics such as culinary arts, health and wellness, and nutrition in order “to empower students to be ambassadors of health to their peers, family and community.” On the third day of the weekly program, Wednesdays, the program is opened up to parents for a program called After Work with CAKE. This portion brings parents and children together to create healthy meals while also getting to participate in practices like meditation and yoga.
CAKE also offers a summer program, where the group “partners with a nationally recognized health organization to employ, train and help participants develop gardening, entrepreneurial, and healthy life skills” for six weeks. The summer program was launched in 2013 when CAKE partnered with the American Heart Association and The California Endowment. It allows youth to develop skills in gardening and entrepreneurship through the process of farming and selling their produce. Students can also internship with CAKE’s corporate sponsors in hotel and restaurant venues to further their learning.