Tread Lightly and Carry a Big Appetite

dining_lightfootAt Lightfoot Cafe and Catering, a celebrity chef and energetic teens bring something truly unique to your table

The banquet room was arranged typically for a fundraising dinner. We were welcomed first by a wine- tasting booth, beyond which a sea of white tablecloths set with sparkling water glasses encircled the dance floor. More tables were loaded with silent auction temptations. Upon closer inspection, I noticed subtle surprises. Pieces of twine tied herb stems to natural fiber unhemmed napkins. And there was nothing ordinary about the activity in the kitchen. For this was a presentation by Lightfoot Industries, a vocational training program for at-risk youth which will host three suppers in December at its new cafe.

Chef Jake Gondolfo, known nationally as a large and lovable finalist on Fox Channel’s Master Chef, added final touches to the meal, while Carmen Kubas demonstrated the passing of hors d’oeuvres to an energetic team of teenagers who hit the stage with trays in their hands. A bright-eyed young woman offered us thin slices of purple Peruvian potatoes with fresh cream and thyme. The cheese table held fruit, vegetables, dates, pistachios, smooth hummus with salty dried tomatoes and apple-cranberry-apricot chutney made by the students themselves.

An endless procession of platters from the kitchen bore the family-style dinner. A medley of roasted root vegetables was followed by sweet delicata squash stuffed with lima beans and greens, steaming scalloped

potatoes, roasted chicken, lamb chunks stewed in spices and finally, apple crumble.

Kubas, a Santa Cruz native, is the founder and CEO of Lightfoot Industries. With a master’s degree in education, and an extensive background in the food and beverage industry as well as working with at-risk youth, her vision for the endeavor is to provide entrepreneurial training in a sustainable restaurant program which models social, environmental, and fiscal responsibility.

In collaboration with Delta High as well as Food, What?! the program supplements accredited coursework. The students work on a farm during the freshman year and in the restaurant during the final three. Part of the for-profit proceeds fund the nonprofit program, and the students bank money throughout high school to apply to their next level of education. The young adults will have gained a strong work ethic, marketable job skills, and personal skills.

When I think of sustainable restaurant management, I envision an emphasis on local, organic and sustainable foods, and green cleaning, waste and water-use practices, which are indeed an integral part of Lightfoot’s program. Kubas says the restaurant industry attracts an emerging and relatively untrained workforce, so the concept of Sustainable Management includes skills and paths to advancement. The management style includes team leadership, democratizing ideas and decisions, and empowerment within the team.

Kubas emphasized that this is not a culinary school. The aims are to teach skills that are transferable to any aspiration from a real life laboratory of accomplishment as a team in the kitchen.

While there are only three more suppers this year, Lightfoot is available to cater your holiday parties. Imagine having Chef Jake and the competent kids light up your celebration!

Lightfoot Cafe, 1209 Soquel Ave., Santa Cruz (previously Backstage Lounge), 234-9482. Taking online reservations for supper Saturday, Dec. 4, Saturday, Dec, 11, and Sunday, Dec. 17. Visit lightfootind.com.

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