When this summer journey began I planned to interview chefs and bloggers about food, cooking and all that comes with it. My first chef interview led me to something much bigger.

Chef Chad Houser of Parigi Restaurant wanted a way to help the Dallas Youth Village and he found that way through a new and innovative culinary program. As he explained the concept to me, the famous Chinese Proverb came to mind, “Give a man a fish and he eats for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime”.

The concept of Cafe Momentum is to give the members of the Youth Village, non-violent criminal offenders ages 10-17, an opportunity to work in a restaurant and gain the experience, references and confidence to pursue a career after their time in the Youth Village.

Chad introduced me to Chris Quadri, Director of Opeartions and Development at Youth Village Resources of Dallas. Chris is responsible for developing programs such as the nutrition and culinary arts and horticulture at the Dallas Youth Village.

He invited me to see first-hand where the young men are growing several herbs, vegetables and organic farm raised Tilapia, and to meet the young men currently enrolled in the culinary program and watch as they prepare a meal of poached chicken with fried green tomatoes and mixed greens.

The tour began at the Hoop Houses which are home to several important items in the horticulture program.

Inside the hoop house are things like green tomatoes which the young men used in their dinner that evening.

They also had a crop of jalapeños which I was very jealous of!

And some delicious cucumbers.

The next hoop house was home to the impressive contraption containing the organic tilapia.

They place plants on the top two levels which filters in the fish water that is extremely nutritious for the vegetables growing up top. So cool!

They had just harvested the plants up top, but you get the idea!

Now lets check out those fish!

They also just harvested a huge crop of the first organically grown garlic in the area. It smelled so good!

The Italian girl in me wanted to just dive in and start making lasagna right then and there!

We next visited the crops growing outside.

It was a warm Texas day out there!  I give these boys props for all their hard work in that Dallas summer heat!

Many of their herbs and these beautiful squash blossoms are growing out here.

Chris timed it just right for us to meet up with the young men right as they were plating the dinner they had prepared during their culinary class.

From slicing the chicken, to plating the fried green tomatoes and mixed greens.

And to the other side of the kitchen where they were serving up the dessert.

The presentation was beautiful and the pride the young men put into the details was impressive.

In the two years since Cafe Momentum was first developed the participation by young men in the program has reduced the re-offense statistics from a state average of more than 50 percent, down to just 14 percent.

Over 156 young men have graduated from behind-the-bars culinary classes since the program began, and that number continues to grow monthly.

This program works and the statistics speak for themselves. Eighty percent of the young men have never had a legal means of income before entering the programs provided by the Youth Village Resources of Dallas.

After participation in one of the programs and within one year of release from the Dallas Youth Village, 73 percent are employed. Saving just one youth from becoming a chronic offender results in $1.7 million to $2.3 million in avoided lifetime costs to taxpayers and victims.

At this time Cafe Momentum holds monthly “Pop Up Dinners” at local Dallas restaurants sponsored by different chefs each month. The  goal is to soon open a permanent location where young men released from the Dallas Youth Village will be able to intern for a year building important relationships, learning valuable life skills and culinary expertise. Once operational, the restaurant will be able to self-sustain without any additional donations.

To join the cause visit www.cafemomentum.org and donate today!  You can also follow the organization on Facebook to learn more about their “Pop Up Dinners” and upcoming projects.

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