Local chef Carlos Pineda demonstrated cooking recipes at last weekend’s San Benito Olive Festival.
Hundreds of people attended the fourth annual event at the San Benito County Historical Park in Tres Pinos to sample olives, olive oil and other local goods.
“The experience was great!” Pineda said, whose main dish was oysters. “We had a great crowd there. We were able to showcase what our program does, where it takes disadvantaged youth and puts them in an industry where they can better themselves.”
Pineda, who won the Gilroy Garlic Festival Garlic Showdown hosted by celebrity Giada De Laurentiis this summer, oversees a nonprofit culinary academy run by Rebekah Children’s Services in Gilroy.
The culinary academy started in 2009 as a mentorship program for disadvantaged youth ages 16 to 25 affected by probation, drugs and alcohol, truancy, homelessness, teen pregnancy, or mental health disorders like anxiety and depression.
The culinary academy has maintained a 98 percent job placement rate for the last four years straight and serves 90 different students in four sessions throughout the year.
“I started out as a part-time instructor and moved up to full-time where I’m at now,” said Pineda, who initially was asked to apply for a baking instructor position. “Now as program manager, I oversee the culinary academy itself and Kneaded Bakery, which is a social enterprise bakery.”
Kneaded Bakery is located in Gilroy and employs high-achieving students from the culinary academy. Students learn to mix, measure, bake and package products that are sold across the country.
“We have some wholesale clients and we also create catering menus for people interested in us catering their event,” Pineda said. “Catering is huge for us. We primarily focus on hor d’oeuvres and appetizers.”
The culinary academy is 100 percent grant funded and is currently in its second year of full funding due to fundraisers, grants and partnerships.
“We started Kneaded Bakery in 2012 with the goal to fund the program,” Pineda said. “I’d say about a third of the funding we get comes from Kneaded.”
Pineda was born and raised in Gilroy. He knew early on that he wanted to be a chef and attended the Professional Culinary Institute in Campbell.
The local chef has worked at numerous bakeries and restaurants in Los Angeles, the local region and on the Monterey Peninsula.
“I know both savory and sweet,” Pineda said. “I can take care of both sides of the world.”