Rima Barkett is helping aspiring chefs find a place to start.
Barkett, co-owner of BellaVista Rooftop & Events in Stockton, started the Stockton Community Kitchen in the beginning of January 2020.
The program focuses on giving under-resourced female cooks knowledge and training in a kitchen setting, called an incubator program, with the resources to guide participants with mentors for the next three to five years after class graduations.
“We look for them and teach them how to make money. It’s not enough to cook, [they] need to know accounting, costs of food, right marketing, pay taxes,” said Barkett. “Many people want to, but don’t know where to start.”
Three times a year, the program allows selected participants to use BellaVista’s commercial kitchen equipment, with bigger kitchen space and staff while also learning topics ranging from financial and marketing skills to become a restaurateur with guidance from other mentors as well.
The program came to Stockton from the inspiration of the Bay Area.
Barkett went to San Francisco to meet with the team of La Cocina, a similar program that mentors and trains cooks in a kitchen that helps over 30 entrepreneurial cooks at a time according to the website. Shortly after, Stockton Community Kitchen was established.
The local program emerged from Stockton’s pandemic uncertainty, so now the previous participants have been employed and aid in making food for families and individuals who have been affected by business shutdowns and the pandemic alongside BellaVista’s staff for the Community Kitchen.
Since March, the staff help deliver daily and cook food Monday through Friday to more than 300 families and people that are affected by the unemployment and the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I felt there was a need for it, just like many people, we try to fill it as best we can …without a job, fear of going outside, uncertainty, and many people had a hard time feeding their families,” said Barkett. “I started alongside with A Tavola Together Foundation.”
After month-to-month of financially investing into the program along with the restaurant shutdown, the Community Kitchen was awarded a grant from California’s government to assist the program financially until the end of the year.
“It’s not just me, I have the space and desire, but I couldn’t do it myself. All of my friends offered to deliver food. Family support, it takes everybody. It’s a community thing,” said Barkett.