Flavors of Empowerment: Special Needs High Schoolers Learn Culinary Skills

Beyond the confines of traditional education, the culinary program at Lillian Rashkis High School in Brooklyn, NY, reaches out to those who are often overlooked, empowering them with the life skills and the confidence to thrive in a world of pots, pans and unforgettable recipes. In Tali Friedman’s classroom, every dish tells a story, and every student is a culinary artist in the making. Friedman is a professional baker turned culinary teacher who works with students ages 14 to 22 years old ranging from emotionally disturbed to various degrees of autistic.

Friedman’s class is designed to teach students skills that will allow them to find a job in the future. Each day, the students run Lillian’s Bistro, selling breakfast and sometimes lunch, to staff or students at a reduced price.

“I have students where their parents don’t let them wipe the table or wash dishes. They’re washing dishes here and they’re folding laundry. Some of them are like starting to anticipate, ‘What do we need?’ If we’re making our cookies, do we need butter? They’re already at the fridge. [Previously,] I had students that weren’t standing up and you would ask them several times. So, taking initiative and self-esteem is really important,” said Friedman.

“The growth has been, for most of the students, really enormous. It really gives them a sense of pride.”

Tali Friedman, Culinary Arts Teacher at Lillian Rashkis High School

Despite the students’ personal growth, Friedman lacked equipment and resources and reached out to our Cambro Cares program for help. Cambro Cares provides products to support organizations that nourish and invest our communities.

One of Friedman’s most important requests was an Ultimate Sheet Pan Rack because they had been working without a cooking rack.

“It was really dangerous for students with high needs who sometimes don’t understand what’s hot or cold. We had things cooling all over the kitchen just on whatever surface I could find,” said Friedman. “Now, all of the hot foods are able to stay in one spot and it’s much easier to make sure the students who don’t know the difference between hot or cold, that no one’s touching that.”

Next, the students were in desperate need of restaurant grade containers. Previously, they were using throwaway plastic containers to hold their prepped and stored food.

“When I was opening up all of the Cambro containers, I was like, ‘This is a lot, I’m not going to need this much.’ And within no time, I was able to use all of them. They are all in use. We have found awesome use for all of it,” said Friedman.

The students regularly bake homemade muffins and cookies, which means they always have a lot of flour on hand. Cambro Ingredient Bins make it easy to access frequently used ingredients while keeping them safe from critters.

“I think [the Cambro products] really added a level of professionalism. The students are oftentimes underestimated on what their capabilities are and it changed it so that it now feels like a professional kitchen, and they rise to the occasion,” said Friedman.

Using their new equipment, Friedman is able to teach her students how to follow food safety protocols, where different types of food are stored and how to properly put food away so that it lasts longer.

In addition to teaching lessons at the school, Friedman worked with the students parttime at a food market called Sahadi’s in Brooklyn over the summer. Students were able to learn how to stock items and become more exposed to public atmospheres.

If you’d like to nominate an organization for our Cambro Cares program, please visit www.cambrocares.com.


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