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Cooking Not Crime: Ex-Cons Hot in Cleveland


Cooking Not Crime: Ex-Cons Hot in Cleveland September 3, 2015
Urban PolicyCrime
OtherPrisoner ReentryPhilanthropy

It's a serious understatement to observe that, as a young man, Brandon Chrostowski did not seem likely to become a top French chef at restaurants in New York and Paris. Nor was he likely to lead a Cleveland organization helping those newly-released from prison to get positions in such restaurants. Prior to getting his first restaurant job—as a busboy—he had, age 19, held positions at a gas station, a bowling alley and a florist shop, among 22 odd jobs in his native Detroit. His career path, to the extent he had one, was, as he puts it, to be “either dead or in jail.” In fact, he'd already been arrested by federal marshals and faced a 10-year prison term. (The formal charge that stuck was “fleeing and eluding.”) It was a judge's decision to place him on one year's probation instead, which led him to that restaurant job—which, once he was taken under the wing of the owner, led him through a long series of unlikely steps—from learning how to poach and to braise, to his acceptance to the famed Culinary Institute of America—and on to New York and Paris.

The unlikely nature of his life's story led the man everyone at EDWINS Leadership & Restaurant Institute calls simply Brandon to come to an important conclusion: that, with the right sort of help and training, it would not be unlikely for others who'd been in trouble and lost their way to forge a career in the world of fine dining, food service, and hospitality—industries he knew are always looking for reliable, well-trained employees. As someone who'd had to take on such tasks as cleaning a kitchen stove with a Q-tip and scraping the ice off the alley in back of the restaurant, he believed that “if you work hard, you'll always be employable.”

It's a view of the world—and, specifically, of the opportunities for good pay and the chance for advancement that restaurant work offers even the most disadvantaged–that led Chrostowski to give up his life as a literal top chef to found EDWINS (an acronym for Education Wins, as well as a tribute to a mentor). Today, after its opening in 2013, it's both a school and one of Cleveland's top French restaurants, staffed by 25 ex-offenders, most of whom had never held restaurant jobs—or, in some cases, any legal job—previously.