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Former Google Chef Now Serving Up Help For Oakland's Needy

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    NEWSLETTERS

    In spite of what you may think, Chef Peter Callis says working at Oakland's Society of Saint Vincent de Paul isn't all that different from running Google's largest cafe. (Published Wednesday, Mar 5, 2014)

    As far as the clientele goes, it's hard to imagine two more different groups than the ones Chef Peter Callis has cooked for at his last two jobs.

    Up until a few months ago, Peter was the executive sous chef at Charlie's Cafe, the largest restaurant on Google's Mountain View campus. Peter now, though, runs the kitchen for the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul of Alameda County, feeding 800 of Oakland's neediest five days a week.

    From fueling the movers and shakers of Silicon Valley, to feeding  the down and out of Oakland's streets, might seem like a dramatic change. Peter, however,doesn't see it that way.

    He sees the two jobs as more alike than different.

    Until a few months ago, Chef Peter Callis was an executive sous chef at Google. He now runs the Society Saint Vincent de Paul's Kitchen of Champions program.

    "No money exchanged between the people I cook for," Peter says. "It's large batch cooking, you try to make it as nutritious as possible, and it's the same people you see day to day."

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    Still, there is another part of Peter's new job that is very different than his last: Peter is not just giving people a meal, he's giving others a future. Peter is in charge of the society's Kitchen of Champions program. Every 12 weeks a new group of trainees come into the kitchen. They come from every imaginable background (some with criminal pasts or drug dependencies). 

    Peter oversees a kitchen that feeds 800 meals a day to Oakland's neediest.

    The trainees spend the next three months learning not just culinary skills, but responsible work habits. The food the help create is used to feed the hundreds of people who rely on Saint Vincent de Paul for at least one hot meal every day.

    Peter says while feeding the hungry is gratifying, it's the work he's doing with Kitchen of Champions that is truly meaningful.

    "It's where I get most of my satisfaction," Peter says.

    Nic Ming agrees. "The work is so richly rewarding," says Nic, a recent graduate of Kitchen of Champions who now works as the group's Professional Development Coordinator.

    Nic Ming, a recent Kitchen of Champions graduate, is now the program's  Professional Development Coordinator.

    It is part of Nic's job to get placement for Kitchen of Champion trainees once they have completed the program. She says last year they were able to find jobs for 80 percent of the graduates. It is quite an accomplishment, seeing as most trainees come to them without any skills necessary to find a job.

    "Being able to work with people to transform their circumstances," Nic says, "that’s just super awesome. I love it."