Here is a conversation with Peter “Pete” Bessent (PRIDE Site Chef) about his experiences so far working with the residents at the Center for Recovery and Wellness (CRW) and his hope to start a training kitchen in the future.
How did you first start working at the Center for Recovery and Wellness (CRW) and how long ago was that?
It’s been about three years give or take a couple months.
I first started working for Educational Alliance (EA) over at the Sirovich Center. I heard from a colleague at the time that there was a spot open here at CRW Eventually Ryna Dery (Assoc. Exec. Director of Operations & New Business) came over to give me an interview and next thing you know I’m here, and I’ve been here ever since. It’s been a struggle as far as the kitchen is concerned with the clients, but it’s all worth it at the end of the day.
What has been a struggle so far?
In general we got COVID…some of the clients, I guess they don’t know how to [deal] with their feelings. It’s just been an uphill battle for me in this kitchen period as far as where staff and clients are concerned. But as I said, you know, it’s worth it at the end of the day. This population is a population that I adore––I worked with this population prior to CRW. I just like to see people do good and progress in life and I wish every client here the best.
Yeah, absolutely. And that’s always incredible to see. When people progress in life, that’s truly amazing.
Oh yeah definitely, to me it brings joy. I worked for the DOE Fund before and I was the pastry chef there. A couple of the clients that was there at the time, I taught them so much, and it feels good to see at least one person who you worked with make it, you know? And are quite a few guys that I worked with that are doing wonderful right now. Hopefully, I would like to get this internship back in the kitchen and start teaching these clients the culinary needs of people.
Has the kitchen internship for the clients been on pause?
Yes it’s been on pause due to the COVID. Hopefully after all this is done we’ll be able to get them back doing the paid internship, and they enjoy themselves when they’re in the kitchen, when we are just doing our thing...
…My thing is I love pastries, and a lot of bacon…
Would you say that you’re more of a baker than a cook like in terms of where your passion lies?
I love every aspect in the kitchen whether it’s cooking or baking but my heart does lie in baking. My mother growing up, she made a lot of different kinds of cakes, different kinds of breads, and that’s what made me want to pursue working in the culinary field.
Do you have any favorite recipes for things that you like?
Oh yeah. I love baking scones, it’s one of my favorites, and eclairs are one of my favorites as well.
Earlier you had mentioned that it’s been an uphill battle in the kitchen but it’s been worth it, what are you referring to specifically?
As far COVID, it’s been hard for me with some of the clients. They like to complain a little bit––but they all right. It’s just the overall aspect of what I’m going through in the kitchen with the staff.
It’s certainly a tense situation with COVID. Also I can imagine in a residential program with all those different personalities together all the time, it’s bound to create some tension.
Yes, like I said these are my people, I’m able to relate to them, I’m able to understand them. We have deep conversations together and I think a lot of them are just misunderstood at times.
You had mentioned that looking forward you want to get the internship program back on track, is there anything else that you see as an upcoming goal?
Once everything is situated in the kitchen and I have good staff we’ll be able to get the clients back in. I really want to start a culinary teaching kitchen. The clients would be able to come into the kitchen and get their food handlers license, which we already do once they open up. But I would like to extend the stay for the clients and get the kitchen ACF (American Culinary Federation) approved so we could be an official teaching kitchen. It could be like a job or internship that they’ll be able to get after working in the kitchen.
How challenging a process is it to get to the point where you can offer that kitchen training and certification program for clients?
We would have to have good staff where everyone is compliant and knows what they’re doing. We would have an ACF chef come on site and see the type of work we’re doing as far as teaching the clients. Then it’s a process, we’ll just move forward and then hopefully will become an ACF approved training kitchen. It’s an uphill battle, so when it happens it happens, but that’s my gold. We could do little events like outdoor catering or farmers markets. When the clients are in the kitchen, we teach them how to bake, and then we’ll be able to sell these products that they make at a farmers market which could bring money into CRW as well.
Is there anything else you’d like to share as a closing thought?
I want to send a shout out to Ryna because she originally gave me the opportunity to work here. She didn’t have to but she did and it’s been a growing process for me, and I really appreciate her as a person for just giving me a shot.