« We want to empower them to do better and compete in the market »

To read on Fairfax County Times website:

Chantilly caterer and bakery rises to the occasion with new program

By Angela Woolsey   

compete

Employees at Wildflour Caterers in Chantilly practice cutting chicken and vegetables for soup as part of their chef-in-training program. Angela Woolsey/Fairfax County Times

Caitlin has spent the past five years of her life working at Wildflour Caterers, which runs out of a bakery and deli shop near Route 50 in Chantilly. She didn’t start learning to cook food for the catering business by herself until a couple of months ago, but in about two years, she could become a certified chef.

Like most of Wildflour’s other employees, Caitlin C. has a disability. The company refers to its employees by their first name and last initial to give them a sense of privacy.

“I always liked cooking, so I wanted to work in a bakery or something that deals with cooking,” Caitlin said, noting that she found Wildflour through a job site and hopes to be a professional chef someday.

Caitlin is one of six employees selected for Wildflour’s new chef-in-training program, which launched on Aug. 1 as general manager and executive chef Alberto Sangiorgio hopes to give his workers the skills and confidence they need to compete in the food service industry.

Started in 1994 by Jean Woods, a Fairfax High School special education teacher, and Jim Rogan, founder of Lorton electronics company E-Tron Systems Inc., Wildflour Caterers initially opened in the City of Fairfax as Wildflour Café and had three employees with disabilities.

Since moving to its current location in Chantilly, however, the company has grown quickly. In addition to adding an industrial kitchen and expanding the catering side of its business, Wildflour Caterers now has 47 handicapped people working in its kitchens and bakery.

All of the company’s disabled employees work from 8:30 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. every day and receive minimum wage along with health insurance. Wildflour also matches the money they put into retirement savings accounts up to $300.

Two of those employees – Frank S. and Charles C. – help out at the bakery counter at the front of the store, where customers can choose from a variety of sandwiches and pastries displayed in glass-encased shelves.

The rest of Wildflour’s disabled employees can be found behind closed doors in the large, open-space industrial kitchen that takes up the majority of the building’s floor space. They’re each given specific tasks to fulfill, though much of the actual cooking is still done by professional chefs.

About 30 employees work in a side room rolling, cutting and packaging the bone-shaped dog biscuits that the catering business produces and ships out to stores such as Whole Foods.

Grouped around a cluster of tables in the middle of the main kitchen, the six workers in the chef-in-training program, all of them selected by Sangiorgio for their attention to hygiene and eagerness to learn, have been instructed to cut up vegetables and trim the fat off of chicken to make soup.

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