By Brooke Bordelon — Student, Culinary Arts ’17
Chefs are no strangers to the world of charity. In addition to filling hungry patrons’ bellies, superstar chefs use their clout to make the world a better place. Philanthropic organizations that help different groups — from struggling farmers and low-income families to at-risk youth — have flourished, largely due to the support of culinary heavyweights like Eric Ripert, José Andrés and Christina Tosi.
With her organization Emma’s Torch, ICE student Kerry Brodie (Culinary Arts, ’17) hopes to join the ranks of these culinary visionaries in the fight for a better tomorrow. Inspired by the words of the famous American poet and refugee advocate Emma Lazarus, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,” Kerry’s organization aims to empower refugees in the United States by training them in the culinary arts to gain employment in the culinary industry.
I recently chatted with Kerry to discuss her experiences as a culinary student at ICE and as the CEO of Emma’s Torch.
How did you first come up with the vision for Emma’s Torch?
I’ve always been intrigued by the idea that food and cooking are things that make us human. I’m the child of immigrants and most people I know are descendants of immigrants or of refugees. I’ve always wanted to do something that would engage immigrants and refugees in the food world to use this universal experience of cooking, eating and sharing meals to create social change.
How have the skills you’ve learned and connections you’ve made at ICE helped you launch Emma’s Torch?
ICE has been invaluable for connecting me with people in the food world and showing me what it means to be a culinary educator. I’ve learned so much from observing our teachers and talking to people in various departments at ICE about what’s important when it comes to training. The instructors have been very supportive in connecting me with chefs and showing me how to set up a kitchen. They’ve been so generous with their time — going above and beyond to show me that they value my vision and that they want to see it come to fruition.
Has any particular chef’s career been an inspiration to you?
On one hand, renowned chefs like José Andrés are inspirational. There are also so many chefs who we don’t hear as much about who quietly, in their own businesses and hiring practices, make differences in people’s lives. One of those chefs, Mary Cleaver, is on our advisory board. She was one of the first restaurant owners to say that we have to do good for the world through our businesses. What inspires me most though are the people you never hear about — the dishwashers, the prep cooks — who work tirelessly because they want to make a better life for themselves and their families, and believe that working hard to make beautiful experiences for people in restaurants is part of that American dream.
How do you balance school with your work for Emma’s Torch?
One of my favorite quotes from Dr. Seuss is, “You know you’re in love when you can’t fall asleep because reality is finally better than your dreams.” No matter how overwhelmed I feel sometimes with school and trying to get my business off the ground, I am so in love with the opportunities that both endeavors have given me. As much as I want to catch up on sleep on the weekends, it’s hard because I just want to keep working. Even at my most stressed out moments, I consider myself lucky to be doing what I love.
What has the response been like from students at ICE?
The response has been powerful and positive. So many of the students in my classes are willing to dedicate what very little free time they have to volunteering with Emma’s Torch. The outpouring of support — both moral support when I’m complaining in the locker room and students volunteering at events — has been humbling.
How do you think your experience at ICE has differed from other students?
I think everybody at ICE has a story. There’s got to be something that drove them to come to ICE and something that they’re aiming for in the long term. What I’m trying to get out of my education is different from someone who wants to work in a restaurant. Another thing that has set my experience apart is that I’ve been focused on how we are being taught, not just on what we are being taught. I’m going to do some teaching and recruit other people to teach culinary classes for Emma’s Torch, so I need to learn the building blocks of a well-rounded culinary curriculum.
How can people get involved with Emma’s Torch?
Very easily! They can email me at Kerry@emmastorch.org, or check out our website, emmastorch.org. We’re always looking for new volunteers and partners. We’re small but we’re flexible and eager to involve more people in our community.
Emma’s Torch will be throwing their launch party on December 18 at Brooklyn FoodWorks from 6-8 p.m. Those in attendance can meet the students and taste appetizers and desserts prepared by the first class of Emma’s Torch. All proceeds from the event will support refugee empowerment programs. To get tickets, visit https://www.eventbrite.com/e/emmas-torch-launch-party-tickets-29203974875.
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