Life Skills, Knife Skills: Lessons from the Future Chefs Kitchen

In January 2022 Isenberg Projects launched the Make it Happen Residency, inviting changemaker individuals and organizations throughout the Northeast to apply. Ultimately, we chose to work with Future Chefs, a non profit out of school time program for high school-aged youths focused on using training in the kitchen as a springboard for teaching skills that can be applied in all areas of life. In addition to a grant, Future Chefs received 50+ hours of pro-bono consulting services from IP. Urban Planning + Design Coordinator, Temishi Onnekikami, reflects on researching Roxbury, building community partnerships, and working with our first-ever non-profit resident. 

The Heart of Our Work

Here at Isenberg Project, we work at every scale: from creating recommendations for multi-story, acres large properties to producing an art series at a micro park for neighborhood residents to enjoy. Whatever we’re doing, we look at the research and production process holistically so each system we plan for supports the other. At the heart of our work are the partners we bring into projects; vendors, artists, local organizations whose work activates our plans and enter into a mutually beneficial relationship between our studio and our clients. 

In working with Future Chefs, we found ourselves in the unique position in which the assigned role of client and partner became fluid between our two organizations, both of us getting the chance to learn something new from the other. Working with our first Make it Happen Resident reinforced some of our favorite things about creating with, collaborating with, and ensuring shared value for our partners: digging deep to tap into existing neighborhood resources, creating nimble plans that reflect organizational capacity, and acting as advisors and co-creators to our partners’ ultimate vision.

Shaping the vision

Future Chefs found themselves in a unique position in late 2021. During the quiet days of the pandemic, the organization had moved from their former home in the South End, to a highly visible, ground floor level, street-facing facility at Roxbury’s Blue Hill Avenue. But there was a problem– while they had a beautiful new space, no one in the neighborhood knew who they were. Introducing the organization to the neighborhood, engaging the community as co-creators of their new space, and ensuring financial sustainability through community and donor support was top of mind, and the Future Chefs team needed a plan to get there.

The first step in our collaboration was to plan out how to achieve Future Chefs goals, knowing that their location had changed and their staffing capacity had shifted with the loss of former programming partners and opportunities due to pandemic restrictions. Our team knew that there would be a few important steps to forging new connections; leaving them with a toolkit of strategies and resources as well as a roadmap of how to reach the audiences they wanted to engage with, would aid them in this.

After sussing out priorities and goals we landed on four phases of knowledge gathering and sharing:

  • An interactive charette
  • A neighborhood scan
  • An internal marketing analysis
  • Generation of event concepts that could be executed in the long and short term future

For the purpose of this blog, we’ll hone in on the neighborhood scan, a process we use to uncover the organizations, assets, resources, strengths, and gaps that characterize a place (and as a bonus gives us a lot of cool events to put on our personal calendars).

Spotlight: Neighborhood Scan

Getting Future Chefs familiar with their new neighborhood would be essential as they began to make connections with Blue Hill and the wider Roxbury community. As experts in digging deep to find what makes neighborhoods great, the IP team tapped into our network of community partners based in Roxbury and Dorchester to get the neighborhood and organizational pulse and compiled a tailored list of happenings and organizations that Future Chef’s could channel.

From our scan several themes emerged:

The Community

Community organizations pursue environmental, economic, and spatial justice (Commonwealth Kitchen, The American City Coalition, Alternatives for Community & Environment), and have a history of Youth leadership and employment (Roxbury Youth Programs, The Strand)

THE Arts

Arts organizations emphasize “By us, for us” arts and cultural programming that reflect the diversity of Roxbury — particularly spotlighting Black artists and hyperlocal neighborhood artists (Transformative Culture Project, Black Market Nubian Square). They also provide spaces for making and creating that focus on mentorship and networking and tie into economic development, leadership, and paid opportunities (especially for youth/emerging artists)

FOOD AND BEVERAGE

Offerings that emphasize access to fresh and healthy food (Urban Farming Institute, Dudley Grows) while also enhancing music, arts, and culture through their organization  (Dudley Cafe)

UNIQUE PROGRAMMING

(Roxbury Holiday & Parade), free programming that centers children and families, and adult workforce development

It was clear from this process that Roxbury had a host of diverse, culturally relevant, and creative organizations that were born in part out of the recognition of the lack of services and entities in Roxbury that exist in other neighborhoods as well as a celebration of the people who make the neighborhood what it is. Documenting and consolidating these neighborhood characteristics for Future Chefs would allow their team to start doing what they do best: building and sustaining relationships across the city to provide opportunity to their youths.

On Partners and Partnership

To us, creating a great partnership relies on a few tenants: capacity, mission alignment, and communication. A mutually beneficial partnership creates value for all stakeholders involved– in the case of a non-profit like Future Chefs, partnerships needed to accommodate the time and effort of the staff and youths, which included compensation for the continued capacity building of the organization overall. Partnerships had to be mission-aligned, and ultimately provide an enriching experience for the youths they serve. We kept that in mind as we pitched potential partners to Future Chefs, knowing that championing existing internal and neighborhood assets and emphasizing the importance of sustainability of both internal resources and budget when entering into any partnership would be paramount.

DIY advertising on Future Chefs street facing windows, featuring our Community Impact Manager, Jenn, very excited to eat her lunch from the Future Chefs pop-up

MAKING IT HAPPEN

At the conclusion of the residency, we had created a set of guides and tools that would aid Future Chefs as they continued to establish themselves in their new neighborhood. It’s been a joy watching them grow over these past few months, planning student-led pop-ups (with absolutely delicious food might we add), participating in Roxbury Open Streets, Roxbury Restaurant Week, and more. Through this process we found ways to translate our skills to the nonprofit world, tailoring our services to meet Future Chefs unique needs and challenges. We’re still learning from our Make it Happen residency, constantly iterating upon our work to provide value and insight to the organizations we work with and the communities they are based in. As it is, “making it happen” is an ongoing journey for us, Future Chefs, and our partners alike, constantly trying, testing, and perfecting our “recipes” of operating to make the perfect dish.

Temishi Onnekikami Headshot
Temishi Signature

TEMISHI ONNEKIKAMI
Urban Planning + Design Coordinator