Chow Bella

Veggie Valet Debuts at Uptown Farmers Market in North Central Phoenix

The Uptown Farmers Market has a convenient new vendor: the Veggie Valet. The Valet is a project of the Careers through Culinary Arts Program (C-CAP, for short), which provides high school students with job training in the culinary industry.

See also: 7 CSA's (Community Supported Agriculture) in Metro Phoenix

The Veggie Valet is a pretty simple concept. Customers purchase fresh produce from any vendor at the market, then bring it to the C-CAP Students. They'll prepare it according to your specifications. Need those carrots julienned? Need that onion diced? Need that ginger minced? Cool. Just wander away and explore other Uptown vendors for a few minutes, and the students will have it prepped and bagged for you when you come back.

The system operates through donations, which are used to fund C-CAP's programs. The students (who use the kitchen at North Phoenix Baptist Church to do their slicing and dicing,) use the Valet service as an opportunity to practice their knife skills.

Nicole DeKruyter, culinary coordinator for C-CAP Arizona, broke down the program for us. High schools participate in the program as a way to teach students job skills. Most of the participating schools are located in low-income areas. In addition to teaching culinary basics, C-CAP offers students the opportunity to compete for scholarships. The goal, according to DeKruyter, is to "try to expose students to [the hospitality industry] as much as possible. We encourage them to go to a trade school or a community college and to get a degree with no debt."

Through C-CAP, students have the opportunity to "try on" different aspects of the culinary industry for fit. For instance, C-CAP works with local culinary schools to do a weeklong boot camp for students. Participants get to spend a week in culinary school to determine whether the atmosphere is the correct fit for them before they commit to attending.

If a student knows that they want to pursue a career as a chef, they are encouraged to participate in C-CAP's annual competitions. Only seniors are eligible to win, but DeKruyter encourages juniors to compete to gain experience. C-CAP awards a range of scholarships based on the results of these competitions. Basic $1,000 cash scholarships can be used at any school for any expense, but each year two top prizes ($100,000 scholarships) are also awarded. This award will fully cover a four year bachelor's degree at a top culinary school. The organization has scholarship arrangements worked out with a number of top culinary schools, including the Culinary Institute of America and Johnson and Wales University.

We decided to take the Veggie Valet for a spin. Thankfully, there's no shortage of amazing produce to choose from at the Uptown Market. We purchased sweet potatoes from TJ Farms in Wadell, and multi-colored carrots and "Cheddar" cauliflower from John's Amish Country (apparently all of the vegetables we wanted to eat that day were orange.) We then delivered them to the Veggie Valet for processing. DeKruyter and her students were attentive to our requests, and within minutes, we were handed Ziplock bags full of our freshly peeled, chopped, and ready-to-eat veggies. Ridiculously easy, right? We're not sure how supporting a good cause got so convenient and delicious, but it did.

Check it out for yourself, Saturdays only, from 9 am - 1 pm at the Uptown Farmers Market.

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Zaida Dedolph
Contact: Zaida Dedolph