Celebrated chef David Burke carefully drizzled fresh cranberry sauce and maple syrup over bread-stuffing waffles after pulling a turkey from the oven at a Wards Island homeless shelter.
Residents of the facility, also students in the shelter’s cooking school, marveled at Burke’s culinary skills — watching intently Monday as he sliced into bread dough covering the steaming turkey.
“Look at the meat. It is falling off the bone like a roast. This is beautiful and succulent,” said Burke, on site to train shelter residents and volunteers on the “finer, creative techniques of cooking.”
The students in the shelter’s culinary arts program will use cooking lessons from Burke when they prepare a Thanksgiving meal for other residents at the 200-bed shelter, sandwiched between Harlem and Queens and operated by the Manhattan-based nonprofit, HELP USA.
Through HELP USA, the shelter offers job training to residents and assists their efforts to find permanent housing. The organization also operates an urban farm on Wards Island with the fruits and vegetables harvested and sold to restaurants including several operated by Burke.
The chef, who opened a restaurant in September inside President-elect Donald Trump’s Washington hotel, said passing his knowledge and expertise on to those using the shelter is a way to “help out and teach my craft and share my knowledge. . . . Give your neighbor a hand instead of pointing fingers.”
Burke said he has hired several shelter residents at his Manhattan restaurants after they completed HELP USA’s eight-week culinary arts program.
“I have had dishwashers who have seen the bottom who are now chefs,” Burke said. “Some who have come from foreign countries and could not afford cooking schools. . . . We take those who are loyal, dedicated and appreciate the opportunity.”
Keisha Martin, 40, of Brooklyn, said she has been training and living at the shelter while working at a New Jersey banquet hall. She found herself homeless after putting her life on hold to care for her grandmother who has since passed away, Martin said.
“She had nobody and she did not want to be in an elderly home,” Martin said. “Financially, it took a toll but I was able to keep my job.’’
Homeless since January, Martin is working to get permanent housing and will receive her culinary license next month.
“It’s a great experience because I love to make people’s mouths happy,” Martin said.
Five years ago, Darryl Manso lived in the shelter and took its culinary classes. Monday, Manso, now Help USA’s assistant director of culinary arts, said he likes to remind those in the program he is living proof they shouldn’t give up their dreams, despite their circumstances.
“If I can do it, so can you,” Manso said. “I tell my students if you want to do the work, I’ll walk you through it but it takes work, a lot of work.’’