Future Chefs

Website: https://futurechefs.net/

Mission: Future Chefs addresses the skills gap faced by many urban teens by preparing them for quality early employment and post-secondary opportunities in the culinary field, and teaching transferable skills to set them up for a successful working life. We offer programming to students in a sequence of three phases, each designed for a different age group, deepening and broadening our students’ culinary skills, and supporting them in developing their social/emotional skills. A cornerstone of our program is engaging teens in paid work, which prepares our students for success in real life conditions.

Teens from low-income families living in urban areas and youth of color face significant obstacles to obtaining meaningful, sustaining work, resulting in reduced capacity to support themselves, their families, and to contribute economically to their community. Successful work experiences as a teen is highly indicative of connection to school and of job success later on. However, youth of color face high rates of unemployment as compared to white teens. Future Chefs addresses this problem by offering (1) a combination of work-based learning and attention to soft-skills, and (2) meaningful relationships between caring adults and our teens.


How does your organization strive toward the attributes associated with Relevance?

Future Chefs’ programming has evolved over the last ten years to adapt to what we learn about how our model can be most effective.  The program now includes significant paid work-based learning, and we are creating a suite of social enterprises to provide authentic work experience for our students. The combination of work-based learning and development of soft-skills that Future Chefs offers has been proven to be effective in improving success in employment, and we have embraced this evolution of thinking.  

Students are involved in setting the learning targets for each class, which brings in their perspective, and gives them an active role in their learning.

Future Chefs works with other youth-serving organizations around the city to identify teens who would most benefit from our program.


How does your organization strive toward the attributes associated with Impact?

Future Chefs tracks data on students’ success in the program by measuring their improvement in both hard/culinary and soft job skills.  The culinary skills that we measure have been identified by our restaurant partners and chef educators and the soft skills are from Child Trends youth development research that identifies those skills necessary for health adolescent development. These are the skills that will help them succeed in employment, which is the primary goal of our program.  

In the last two years we have created an Outcomes Manager position, and worked with a Salesforce consultant to streamline and operationalize our data collection and analysis.  We are currently using data to track our participants’ progress in real time, making adjustments in their short term goals during their work with us. Data is also used to assess overall success, improvement in skills in all phases of the program, whether students have created a workable plan for after high school, and how they succeed in their work-based learning.


How does your organization strive toward the attributes associated with Sustainability?

Future Chefs has excellent ongoing relationships with a variety of funders, who continue to support and invest in our work because of the compelling nature of what we do, and the success that is apparent in our students. We are currently developing a business plan for several different social enterprises to give our youth even more opportunities to learn while engaged in authentic paid work, while generating revenue to offset the cost of those programs. This will also diversify our income streams.

Future Chefs has the support of several generous individual donors.  We would like to see this circle of major donors grow, and this is an area where there is room to expand our fundraising strategy.  In the last year we have added to our development team, and are currently working with a fundraising consultant on a moderate-sized growth and capital campaign.  Part of this campaign will be to create relationships with new individual funders and retain them for the long-term.

Future Chefs consistently closes its fiscal year with a positive balance sheet.  The support of our fiscal sponsor (described below), ensures that our finances are managed with the utmost professionalism


How does your organization strive toward the attributes associated with Excellence in Management and Operations?

Future Chefs is fiscally sponsored by Third Sector New England, which provides a host of back-end services such as HR, legal, risk management, and financial oversight and support.  All these services give Future Chefs the benefit of support, advice, professional knowledge, and a structure that an organization of our small size would not otherwise have.

Our Executive Director/Founder is Toni Elka, who is routinely identified as a model and effective nonprofit leader.  In 2011, the Root Cause Social Innovation Forum named Future Chefs the “Innovator for Education and Employment for Vulnerable Youth.” In 2013, Ms. Elka was the first nonprofit Executive Director to be named a Boston Neighborhood Fellow by The Philanthropic Initiative at the Boston Foundation. Also in 2013 BostInno identified Future Chefs as one of “Fifty on Fire.”

Diversity, Equity and Inclusion are important to our organization, and we ensure that we recruit our program alumni to participate in our operations.  Currently we have alumni working as paid instructors, program assistants and volunteers who support our day-to-day programing.


Future Chefs engages with young professionals who are alumni of our program, and who are new to Future Chefs.  Graduates of our program hold a variety of professional positions both in the culinary industry, and in the professional sector at large.  We instill the principle of “giving back” in all our youth, and encourage our graduates to sit on our board, provide mentoring to our younger students, and help us create and direct the content of our programs.  Our engaged alumni are one of the strengths of the Future Chefs program.

Future Chefs also runs an engagement called Food Is My First Language, where we invite affinity groups of young professionals to cook and share a meal together in the Future Chefs space.  This includes facilitated conversation to explore the issues of race, privilege, connection and the role of Future Chefs in addressing these issues.