WNPR

Actor Kevin Bacon Puts Spotlight on Hartford Non-Profit

Nov 5, 2015

"It's a small kitchen with a very big idea."
Kevin Bacon

Actor Kevin Bacon, who's currently performing in “Rear Window” at Hartford Stage, took time on Wednesday to bring awareness to a culinary job training program in Hartford's community.

The Hollywood star visited The Kitchen at Billings Forge to learn about a 12-week culinary training program that prepares low-income residents for jobs in the culinary field.

Bacon spoke with several job trainees and got to see them perform their roles in the kitchen. He was impressed.

"It's a small kitchen with a very big idea," Bacon said. "Taking something like this and it just shows what things like cooking and food could do in a positive way in people's lives."

The culinary training program supplies food for their cafés at The Kitchen and the Hartford Public Library. It’s also a full-service catering business that delivers breakfast and lunch throughout downtown Hartford.

One trainee, Sue Ann Meyer, has been with the program for ten weeks. She's excited to have an interview Thursday for a culinary position at a local hotel.

"I'm thinking about what I have to say, thinking about what I'm going to wear, make sure I'm ready when I go," Meyer said.

Kevin Bacon spoke with culinary trainees at The Kitchen at Billings Forge in Hartford, Connecticut.
Credit Stephanie Riefe / WNPR

Rebeca VanGuilder is a line cook and has worked at The Kitchen for over a year. She helps the program's new students, teaching them how to cut food and other basic cooking skills, where to put things away, and food sanitation techniques.

VanGuilder has seen their growth first-hand.

"When they first come in, a lot of them are nervous, very shy," she said. "To see them come here and turn their life around is outstanding. I've been cooking my entire life, but I've never been in a situation where I'm helping somebody with their life. Just to know that I'm helping somebody, it's great, it's outstanding."

The Kitchen at Billings Forge in Hartford, Connecticut.
Credit Daniel Gallegos / danielgallegosartpologist.wordpress.com

The program also prepares students to take a certification test that demonstrates they can handle food safely. This certification makes the trainees more employable.

Cary Wheaton, executive director of Billings Forge Community Works, said that since 2009, 86 percent of the 60 students who participated in the program have completed it and found jobs in the culinary field.

"What the trainees do is art. I think being in cooking is a fantastic art."
Kevin Bacon

Bacon's charitable activities bring awareness to organizations such as The Kitchen's culinary program. His charity, Six Degrees.org. which calls itself "social networking with a social conscience," connects celebrities with local charities. Bacon encourages them to use their star power to "give a local business a social media shout-out" or to take time out of their day to drop-in on a cause.

He also invited community groups to reach out to Six Degrees as a resource.

"Part of what we do at Six Degrees is, if you happen to be in a town working, playing with a band, if you’re in sports, we can connect you, find people that are doing interesting, good stuff in the community, giving back, helping people out," Bacon said.

"And when I see something like this going on, this is so inspiring. And you know, food is so important, and so are opportunities to come back and work and learn a skill, all that kind of stuff. This is fantastic," he said.

Although Bacon is an artist on-screen, he acknowledged during the visit that artistry takes other forms.

"What the trainees do is art," he said. "I think being in cooking is a fantastic art. I love food, I love to cook. I wish I was an artist in the kitchen, but I’m definitely not. I’m a hack."

Leyda Quast is an intern at WNPR.