Foodlink Career Fellowship graduate honored with national grant award - Foodlink Inc

Foodlink Career Fellowship graduate honored with national grant award

An alumnus of the Foodlink Career Fellowship, a local culinary apprenticeship program, earned national recognition this week with a $5,000 grant award from the Jacques Pépin Foundation.

Olvin Cortes, who graduated from the Fellowship in 2021 and is currently the banquet chef at the Strathallan Hotel & Spa, was honored Tuesday, June 18, with the foundation’s inaugural 2024 Carl Robert “Bob” Wesen Memorial Grant, given to a male graduate of a JPF-funded culinary training program.

“I’m speechless and overwhelmed with joy to receive this award,” Cortes said. “I am humbled and proud to represent the Foodlink Career Fellowship for this honor, and really want to put this gift to good use to help feed my neighbors in the Rochester community. I sincerely hope my story inspires others. Just when you think you are lost in the abyss, never stop looking for the light and see what you can achieve.”

The Jacques Pépin Foundation advances Jacques’ love of culinary arts and teaching through video recipe production and curriculum development, expanding education and training for all. It provides grants and other resources to Community Kitchen partners, including Foodlink, which launched its culinary training program in 2018.

The Wesen grant was created to honor the father of FPF’s executive director Rollie Wesen, who was “a man of exceptional kindness and integrity who loved to garden and grow food.”

“Olvin joined our apprenticeship with a passion for food inspired by family, and a natural ability to lead,” said Jes Scannell, Director of Career Empowerment Initiatives at Foodlink. “He overcame battles with addiction and the criminal justice system, and showed the strength, resolve and humility to make personal, life-altering changes while advancing his career in the culinary field. We’re so proud of Olvin for all that he has accomplished – and the bright future that lies ahead.”

The Foodlink Career Fellowship provides pathways to prosperity for individuals with barriers to employment. The year-long program includes a paid apprenticeship working in the Foodlink Community Kitchen and Foodlink Community Café. “Fellows” go through a rigorous curriculum that includes online and hands-on training and gain several industry-recognized certifications. The program culminates with an externship at a local employer, and assistance securing full-time employment in the regional food industry.

Cortes graduated and worked for two years at the Genesee Valley Club before moving to the Strathallan Hotel & Spa this past year. As part of the grant application process, Cortes said he would use the grant award to further his culinary dreams of opening his own restaurant someday and pay it forward by establishing an annual holiday meal tradition for those in need – similar to the one created by Rosa “Mother” Wims decades ago.

The Fellowship will launch its ninth class of aspiring chefs this fall. To date, more than 40 “Fellows” have graduated from the program and found employment with partners such as Wegmans, local colleges and universities and area restaurants.

Watch Olvin’s nomination video: 

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