by Paige Donner
When Life Kicks You To The Curb, Make Jumbalaya!
Recidivism, Incarceration & Cooking
The season five Kick-off of Paris GOOD food+wine is all about a very particular recipe for cooking Jumbalaya. And its principal inspiration is drawn from a cooking school here in Paris founded by Chef Thierry Marx, a two-Michelin starred celebrity chef who has never forgotten his humble roots.
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You’ve no doubt heard this saying at least once in your life, When life throws you lemons, make lemonade.
This is a French twist, seasoned with a dash of New Orleans, on that old axiom:
Recidivism, Incarceration, Vocational Training and Cooking make for a winning recipe of a hearty and enduring Jumbalaya.
65 MILLION ADULTS IN AMERICA HAVE A CRIMINAL RECORD
MORE THAN 650K INMATES ARE RELEASED FROM PRISON EVERY YEAR
TWO THIRDS WILL BE ARRESTED AGAIN
THIS CYCLE OF CATCH AND RELEASE COSTS THE US GOV’T $50 BILLION EACH YEAR
The story begins up in the 20th arrondissement of Paris, the northeastern most district of the city which, until about a decade ago, had always been a bit of a rough, fringe area. Nowadays it is fast becoming gentrified and is known mostly as the home to the famous Père Lachaise cemetery as well as the trendy and popular Mama Shelter Hotel and bar.
This is where Chef Thierry Marx grew up and in the still fairly rigid French social pecking order, this Horatio Alger story is a rather uncommon one.
Today, Chef Marx (pictured here above) is the executive chef of the Mandarin Oriental Hotel Paris as well as overseeing his own bakeries and other businesses, this school and also massive amounts of media appearances. He counts President Macron as one of his friends.
You might think that all this would come with a huge attitude. But au contraire, this chef happens to be one of the most big-hearted and humble you will ever meet. And it is quite simply through the generosity of his nature that this school was borne.
You see, not only is this a cooking school that trains you to work and helps place you in a respectable job after you finish your 11 weeks of training. It is a school specifically oriented towards people who have done time, are on probation or otherwise in some kind of rehabilitation whether it be a run-in with drugs or the law.
The premise of this school, then, is second chances.
And the economics play out, especially in the big picture.
If there is one element that contributes the most to recidivism, It is that once people leave prison they are often deemed unemployable. So even though they have paid their debt to society, they go on being punished. Not having gainful employment, or legal employment, is the number one factor that forces people back to crime or drugs.
Reducing the rate of recidivism means offering people gainful employment. It means offering people a second chance.
This school is all about that. Cuisine Mode d’Emplois charges no fees for the courses they provide. The training is intense. The discipline rigorous. The students are chosen 5 times per year and complete 2 months of hands-on training in the kitchens here or in the on-site bakery if they choose the boulangerie curriculum. For the final three weeks they’re placed as interns in any one of the partner businesses be that a bistro, a restaurant, a hotel, hospital, school, catering or events. At the end of the 11 weeks, Chef Marx’s team helps to place them in permanent or contract employment. After that it is up to them to fly.
In the United States, where we have quite aptly been called the incarceration nation, the only approximation to a model such as this one that I have seen so far is Chef Jeff’s Felon University. Certainly it is a bit of a misnomer because people don’t attend his school to learn to be felons but rather to rebuild their lives after doing time in prison. Chef Jeff Henderson is the first African-American chef to be the Executive Chef of a Las Vegas casino, namely the Belagio.
He learned how to cook while he was in prison.
So more than a show about cooking schools and celebrity chefs, this is a show about second chances, about giving people the tools to turn their lives around. It is about a life of dignity and respect, the means to which, for most of us, is gainful employment.
We’ll be hearing today from a guest chef from Louisiana, Chef Kevin Belton, also from the resident training chef at Chef Marx’s school, Chef Aurélien Haroutel. In addition to that we have the cultural affairs officer from the US Embassy here in Paris, Tom White, sharing his thoughts about the concept of this school and its relevancy to the reduction in the rates of recidivism; and last, but not least, we have the husband and wife couple, Veronique and Philippe Carrion who are Chef Marx’s right hands at the school and who, by the way, spend their summers on a Harley barreling across the United States, a land that they love.
I hope you enjoy this show and be sure to direct any questions or comments to us at our website Local Food And Wine and also please check out the links we’ve included in our show notes to Chef Marx’s Cuisine Mode d’Emplois and also to Chef Jeff’s Felon University.
I’m Paige Donner and I’m thrilled to have you with us on this season 5 of Paris GOODfood+wine.
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