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By Martin Ghirardotti and Diego García Tedesco

Where do you start when you want to create—or educate those who want to create—social and economic impact? We believe the place to begin such a venture is close to home, not some far off land. This allows you to leverage what you know and who you know, giving you a huge head start.

Cocina para Integrar is a project created for those who come from disadvantaged backgrounds or who have little or no resources to create a better future for themselves. The project’s main objectives are to generate a helping hand in the area of the Polo Gastronomic zone and local tourism, intervention of the labor market with stronger and more competitive skills, completion of secondary education, reduction of unemployment in the local area, and promotion of community development within San Isidro Bajo in Argentina.

The youth involved in this project range in age from 18 to 25. These youngsters reside within the neighboring area and are selected by the local church, which itself had an interest in improving local disadvantaged people through the gastronomical industry.

The project began last year with 12 girls, who were trained for three months. The training focus was divided between the technical issues in the gastronomical industry and personal development. The gastronomic part focused on basic dishes, culinary vocabulary, basic culinary techniques, confectionary, bakery, hygiene (Bromatology), table service, restaurant desserts, international cuisine, and an introduction to the world of wine.

The girls attend classes twice a week. The first three-hour session focuses either on gastronomic theory and practice or personal development. The second session focuses solely on practice.

The second cycle of this project will take place this year, for a period of five months. This cycle will include Events Management, Pastry II, Pastas and Sauces, Bakery II, Snacks and Finger Foods, Costs and Marketing, International Kitchen, Argentine Cooking, and Sushi. All the professionals and specialists who partake in this project are volunteers, and do this through the goodness of their hearts.

The personal development part of the project employs the skills of social psychologists, where the main focus is personal transformation through the kitchen. The concept is to lead or manage one’s own life project. One of the most important topics, which we focused on within the Social Psychology theme, is sexual education, as we have had a few underage pregnancies or young pregnancies within the last year.

Since the initiation of the project, it has grown from 12 to 25 girls. Although these girls come from the same neighborhood but don’t know each other, they have become united and work as a team. One of the principal goals is that the girls can say that they achieved something beneficial for their lives.

The project’s main objectives are: to generate a helping hand in the area of the Polo Gastronomic zone and local tourism; intervention of the labor market with stronger and more competitive skills; completion of secondary education; reduction of unemployment in the local area; development of the community; and promotion of community development within the community of San Isidro Bajo.

This project is managed by Diego García Tedesco, a local chef who has been in the gastronomy industry for 32 years. His team consists of Marcela Mammarella, in charge of administration, Johnny Giebert, Matias Ramirez, and Jose Maria Garcia Massun, who are in charge of teaching in the kitchen.

This venture is sustained economically by our company, Rent a Chef Catering, the above-mentioned collaborators, and, hopefully in the near future, some financial support from our local government.

We are planning to approach big nutritional companies to ask for financial support and growth.

Our initiative is very small. But, we believe that small things are very valuable, as they have the possibility to multiply, grow, and become a large robust structure. The main objective of informing people of this project is to possibly expand it to other parts of Latin America and other countries.

Luckily, we have been featured in some national magazine publications. Through these stories, the United States Embassy has come to know more about us and our project, Cocina para Intergrar. The Embassy of the United States has nominated the Project Leader, Diego Garcia Tedesco, to participate in the IVLP (International Visitor Leadership Program), which will be held in September.

The ongoing aim of this venture is to continue to strengthen our networks, to develop our participants' technical capabilities, and to build the spirit of entrepreneurship with the assistance of INICIA NGO (Non-Governmental Organization), so the participants can become leaders of their own projects in the near future.