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Helping People become Independent

Chef Opens Doors for Adults to Learn Cooking and Life-Skills

By Rae van Seenus on Feb 21, 2020 at 04:16 PM in UCP WORK, Inc. Blog

Job Coach Helps Cultivate Work Development Program for Individuals with Disabilities

With nearly 30 years of experience working with people with developmental disabilities in varying programs throughout Santa Barbara, Dan Weisman, current Job Coach with UCP WORK, Inc., also knows his way around the kitchen.  Food-safety certified and self-taught Chef, he is responsible for the work development, instruction, and operations of the agency’s weekly Cooking Class for adults with disabilities, part of the Santa Barbara Applied Abilities Program.  There, Chef Dan, as he’s called by his students, coordinates and teaches menu preparation, time management, food-handling and kitchen safety skills, to a group of twelve people every Wednesday from 9:00AM - 2:00PM.    

Support Staff and Joy Thompson

With support from UCP WORK, Inc. leadership, Dan helped find a large shared-use commercial kitchen space in Santa Barbara, leased by the City’s Department of Parks & Recreation, and conveniently located at the agency’s downtown day program at the Westside Community Center.  Dan had previously worked as the City’s Culinary Manager alongside other community caterers, making it a perfect fit for him to continue to educate students with the important tasks of preparing a complete cooked meal.  The kitchen came with plenty of refrigerated and dry storage space, large dishwasher, and all the commercial-sized cooking utensils and equipment for Dan’s students to learn and thrive.  “The participants learn by doing tasks themselves, without our staff doing it for them.  This is a fast paced environment and I’m very proud of how many have learned to regulate the noise level and stay focused.” 

Chef Opens Doors for Adults to Learn Cooking and Life-Skills:
Helps Cultivate Work Development Program for Individuals with Disabilities

Stop into a cooking class any Wednesday and you’ll find people busy working at varying prep stations.  One group cleans vegetables, sets the table, and washes dishes, while another group may peel, chop or grate ingredients.  For safety purposes, Dan provides his students with adapted chopping utensils, such as grippable dough cutters and apple corers.  It is clear that everyone in the Cooking Class has a role and is included, despite individual skill-level, strength or speed.  “My students are learning real marketable skills to get jobs in the community,” states Dan, “For example, Kyle has strong technical skills to fix dishwashers and figures out how to unclog drains, while Eddie has great food prep skills, especially cooking meats.”  

Job Coach with Elias

In preparation for the upcoming class, a group of students and another job coach visit PATH every Tuesday and pickup a portion of the organization’s surplus of goods, which are typically items of fresh produce and meats that are contributed by local grocers.  “We never know exactly what we’re going to get,” says Dan, "so it’s fun to change menus on the spot, like those cooking shows with the mystery box of ingredients!” Other shelf-stable items, like canned foods, spices, and baking supplies, are then supplemented at the grocery store on Tuesday afternoons, stored in the kitchen’s pantry, and ready for class the next day. 

Cooking Class with Eddie

Chef Dan shares that he takes great pride in how far the Santa Barbara Cooking Program has come from when he started ten years ago, explaining, “We had a cooking class in our old workshop location, but using electric cooking equipment.  Being in a commercial kitchen environment is a much better opportunity for learning real work skills.” 

Cooking Class with Joy Thompson

Looking into the future, Dan hopes to see the UCP WORK, Inc. Cooking Program evolve into making sellable products, such as specialty jarred foods or delivering boxed lunches to neighboring downtown offices.  Additionally, “I would like to make something to sell and use for an agency fundraiser.” 

Learn more about our work development programs at the Santa Barbara Applied Abilities Program or come Volunteer with us. 

Cooking Class with Kyle Allan