Culinary student apprentices prepare for return of hospitality industry after laid off due to pandemic

CHICAGO (WLS) -- A culinary apprenticeship class kicked off in Chicago Monday in preparation for the eventual return of the city's hospitality industry.

Culinary students and others in the business are sharing their hopes for the hospitality industry in a post-pandemic world.

The gloom of last year still hangs over the city's hospitality industry, but the clouds may be lifting.

In the lower level of McCormick Place Lakeside Center, chefs and apprentices get cooking. They start with the foundation of so many recipes by making rich stock.

It was the first day of the Unite Here Chicago Hospitality Institute, also known as UH CHI, for short.

"For now, sort of ramping up for the reopening, the timing is right," said UH CHI Board of Trustees Chair, Karen Kent. "And frankly, it's a hopeful moment."

Fifteen apprentices were chosen for the free program, which condenses two-years of culinary training into eight weeks, then on the job training.

All of those who are participating had been laid off last year.

Alfredo Contreras is among those who were laid off - from both his jobs, and only recently restarted at one.

"I want to basically hone my skills here so I can go back to the restaurants I worked at and get better positions, better pay basically. Move up," he said.

Roderick Todd is suburban a father of two. He was also among those laid off from McCormick Place.

"I'm hopeful and honestly, I can't wait to get back to work. I miss feeding people. I miss seeing people happy from eating my food," Todd said.

Unite Here said only a quarter of their members are working.

The apprentices hope this program will help them as more demand at restaurants and catered events leads to opportunities in hospitality industry.
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