MIDLAND DIVISION’S CHEF JAMES ROBINSON TEACHING TOMORROW’S CHEFS
Chef James Robinson pictured above
Feeding The Salvation Army’s many hungry people is just the start of what TSA Chef James Robinson does. The 11-year chef of Salvation Army’s Midland Division, serving the St. Louis region, Robinson moonlights in a partnership with the Bloom Culinary Arts Training Program through Paraquad, an organization that helps disabled people and teaches aspiring chefs, ages 16 through 30, how to cook.
“I go in there and teach them how to prepare meals,” Robinson said of teaching the next food generation. “It’s all hands-on with them. A lot of people can’t do a lot of book things. It’s easy to teach them, show them by hand, show them the different processes.”
The Paraquad Bloom Culinary Arts Training, led by Chef Kelly Ross lays out a program for nutritional and food safety, an important foundation for how to become a well-rounded chef.
“It’s a great passion of mine, just to teach people how to cook on a daily basis, nutrition wise,” said Robinson, on a morning break from preparing lunches. “It’s showing them that the passion and smiles it takes to make a great meal, to make someone else smile. To see someone else bite into our food, going, ‘Oh my God, this is great.’ That’s what gives us the passion right there.”
Robinson, known as simply “Chef” at the corps, said of teaching, “The younger cooks are eager to learn. A lot of times, they get ahead of themselves. They want to come in as chief. You’ve got to slow them down a little bit and show them, ‘Hey, this is the process.’ It’s the steps. With cooking, a lot of people think you can come in there and do it all. But it’s not that. We have rules and bylaws about temperatures and things like that that are very important. Cooking is about what goes in your body. You have to make sure that everything is the proper temperature, cooked well, and put together right.”
Robinson was about 16 when he started as a chef. With a smile, Robinson, who has served as a district manager at Imo’s Pizza, military cook at Fort Jackson, and chef at St. Charles’ Ameristar casino, said he is reminded of himself at that age when looking at his students.
“I had a passion for it,” Robinson said.
Not that the workload for The Salvation Army’s food needs is light; about 5,000 meals are served to the region in a month, said Robinson, who has a team of four cooks.
“It’s a lot of coordinating,” Robinson said. “It’s made with a lot of love. No matter what it takes, no matter what to do. The team joins together, we put it out, we get it done. It’s what we do at Salvation Army – we get it done.”
Check out The Salvation Army's interview with Chef James below.