On the Menu: A Second Chance
"This is going to be the most anticipated restaurant opening Cleveland's seen," says Brandon Chrostowski as he addresses his staff on Edwins Restaurant's opening night. That night, and the weeks leading up to it, come to life in Knife Skills, an Oscar-nominated documentary short by Thomas Lennon.
Like a good dessert, Edwins has more than one layer. It is both a world-class restaurant crafting French-inspired dishes, and a culinary and leadership institute devoted to second chances. Restaurant founder and CEO Chrostowski hires men and women with a single prerequisite: they've been incarcerated.
Knife Skills presents the good, the bad, the ugly … and the sweet taste of second chances. Last week, Prison Fellowship® and Sen. Rob Portman co-hosted a viewing of the 40-minute film in Washington, D.C.
TRIAL BY FIRE
Chrostowski's own history of drug use and getting clean served as a key motivation for the project. Knife Skills cuts back to the restaurant's early days of training, when 80 Edwins hopefuls traded their DOC-issued uniforms for fine suits and all-white chef's garb, becoming the culinary school's first class.
Edwins stands for "education wins." Under the guidance of a veteran French chef, staffers complete hands-on classes and written homework with plenty of French vernacular stirred in. Viewers feel the staff's anxiety paired with eagerness. These trainees have something to prove—and less than six weeks to do it.
Marley is one of the first 80 trainees hopeful for a shot in the fine dining industry; her fondest memories were always around the dinner table, and cooking with her mom. Those were the days before heroin took hold of her life. Before enrolling in the Edwins' program, Marley was incarcerated for receiving stolen goods and drug possession.
Another trainee, Dorian, also remembers the days leading up to his 11 years of incarceration for drug trafficking. "I didn't think about, at 14 and 15 and 16, that I would … be a drug dealer and be the scourge of society and bring down homes and happy families," he recalls, driving through his neighborhood. "Who plans to do something like that?"
Dorian, Marley, and others are shown facing the heat of the rigorous program together, with noses in quizzes one minute and gloved hands in delicacies the next. And they know exactly what’s at stake.
'THIS FAMILY WON'T BE BROKEN'
Even with determination and hard work, there's no perfect recipe for reentry success—especially with the added pressure of toting a criminal record wherever the trainees go. About 35 program participants were left by the time Edwins opened. At their graduation, there's a tangible sense of accomplishment and relief.
As Chrostowski congratulates the group with earnest pride, he also alludes to the ones who aren't sitting with them—the hopefuls who ended up in rehab, jail, or other jobs instead of completing the program.
"In the end, we still have their back," Chrostowski says as heads nod around the dining room. "We go to visit them, downtown, send them books. Either way they're part of a family. And this family won't be broken, I promise you that."
GOOD FOOD, BETTER FUTURES
To conclude the Prison Fellowship viewing event, Chrostowski, Lennon, Sen. Portman, and Edwins graduate Jeremy Mathews sat on a panel moderated by CNN commentator Shermichael Singleton. They discussed the struggles of returning citizens, the future of Edwins and similar programs, and the hope that lies on the horizon for people with a past.
Chrostowski doesn't sugarcoat the realities of reentry, but he's optimistic: "It's a good thing to have good French food. It's even better to have something to serve up change in someone's life."
Promotional photos for Knife Skills are available here.
Panel discussion photos by Prison Fellowship.
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