Chef Ron Alhert’s Hat Says “Yankee,” but His Actions Say “Charlottean”
The story below is the latest in our partnership with People of Charlotte, exploring the exceptional individuals who call the Queen City home.
Community Culinary School of Charlotte (CCSC) has been providing tuition-free culinary training to people in our community who are facing employment obstacles. Their mission is all about giving their students a second chance in life by helping them to become skilled and employed members of the community. This incredible, local nonprofit has been operating for more than 20 years and is currently training class #63.
In addition to changing lives for the better, CCSC has delicious, fresh, beautifully prepared food available to the public. They serve breakfast and lunch, and they have a popular catering business. Both the onsite restaurant and the catering services go to support the school. If you’re looking for a local worthy cause to support, CCSC might be exactly what you’re looking for. And, if you’re looking for a great meal, stop in. People of Charlotte spoke with CCSC’s Executive Director, Chef Ron Ahlert about his school and his mission.
Q. What is the mission of CCSC?[We are] a nonprofit organization that provides training and job placement assistance in the food service industry for adults who face barriers to long-term successful employment. We provide career tracks for adults who have been out of work due to such barriers as layoffs, lack of skills, incarceration, addiction, homelessness and veterans’ re-integration issues.
Q. Where are CCSC graduates working?
Our graduates work throughout the community in a variety of foodservice settings. Many start in food prep or as line cooks; some have worked their way up to become executive chefs and kitchen managers. We are always developing new relationships with area employers, while maintaining those we have had for many years.
Restaurants include: YAFO Kitchen, Mama Ricotta’s, Pasta & Provisions, Tandur Indian Kitchen, Maggiano’s, Cowfish, Cowbell, American Girl Café and The Common Market.
Other establishments include: Carolinas Medical Center, UNCC/Compass Group, Chef Charles Catering, Ritz Carlton Hotel, Marriott Hotel, Quail Hollow Country Club, Brookdale Senior Living, Plantation Estates, The Dove’s Nest, Florence Crittenton Services, Friendship Trays, and church kitchens.
Q. Tell us a little about your culinary background, and your path to CCSC.
I’ve been cooking since my teens and was formally educated in NYC and Paris. I moved to North Carolina 25 years ago — first working at a large hotel chain, then a food service corporation and as a private chef.
I found myself volunteering with CCSC, then came on as a full-time chef-instructor during Class 3. After 8 years, executive director Linda Vogler was looking for a change and I became the ED.
Since then, the School has grown and transitioned. Now there are four training chefs. Our methodology is well-established and recognized in the industry as a model program.
Encore Catering was established in 2001 as a means to generate revenue while offering training and experience to our students and alumni. Encore continues to operate in this capacity, while offering food and service that is high quality. We stay abreast of trends and focus on chef-driven food to provide customers in their homes or at community/corporate functions. Encore provides full-service catering for any type of venue. We have also expanded into providing our pastries to coffee shops in the area.
Q. You also help people with challenges outside of learning a marketable trade/skill, whenever needed.
CCSC’s process is holistic. We focus on our students’ emotional and mental health, along with their physical preparedness to work in the foodservice industry. Our goal is to provide culinary and life skills training, empowering adults to achieve self-sufficiency so they can feed and take care of their families.
Our counselor manages our RPS program – Relapse Prevention Services or Ready-Plan-Succeed. Having a certified substance abuse counselor on staff is a powerful tool that contributes to our students’ successful transitions. On a weekly basis, students have individual counseling sessions and meet as a group.
After graduation, alumni are encouraged to continue counseling for recovery or other life issues. Our counselor connects with Department of Social Services, Crisis Assistance, Charlotte Family Housing and Charlotte Rescue Mission, among others. We provide resources for our students’ varying needs like stable housing, transportation, medical services, childcare, legal aid referrals, or any life issues that arise.
Q. What are your expectations of students?
We track our students’ progress throughout their 14-week training sessions to achieve the following outcomes:
- To graduate with 320 training hours
- To pass their exam and receive their ServSafe Sanitation certification (administered by the National Restaurant Association)
- To be employed upon graduation with a job that pays $10/hour or more
We encourage our alumni to stay in contact and even to continue counseling. Our continuing goal is that they remain employed and maintain abstinence (where applicable) 6 months to one year after graduation.
Q. CCSC now offers cooking classes for the public. What made you decide to expand into this area?
We are consistently being asked to provide classes for the public. Holding such classes allows CCSC to showcase our chef-instructors’ talents and experience while responding to current trends. We started in the summer of 2018, offering 1 class each week in July. We received so much demand, that we are continuing on a regular basis, although not as frequently. Click here to enroll in classes at CCSC.
Allison Futterman is a freelance writer based in Charlotte, North Carolina. She can be reached at Aliwrites10@gmail.com.