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Aug 23, 201811:14 AM
Haute Plates

Our weekly blog on the New Orleans fine dining scene

New Director at the LRA Education Foundation

The Louisiana Restaurant Association recently announced that Julie Talbot would be taking the position of executive director of its Education Foundation. I’ve known Julie for quite a while. Over the last ten or so year’s she’s been a constant presence at the school our children attend, and where she served as director of community outreach, special events coordinator and alumni director at various points.  

I like Julie and consider her and her husband Kirk friends. When I heard she’d taken the position with the LRAEF, I reached out immediately. As is my habit, I’m only now getting around to typing up the notes of my interview with Julie and Wendy Waren, the LRA’s vice president of communications.

Julie’s husband Kirk is an owner of Lucky Dogs, so the move to the LRA wasn’t exactly a leap of faith. She told me that one factor in her decision was the trouble the family business has had finding and retaining employees. That’s something I’ve heard from many restaurateurs in recent years. It’s certainly one down side to the explosive growth in restaurants over the last decade or so. But that problem meant that the LRAEF’s mission – to help young people acquire the skills necessary to succeed in the hospitality industry – lined up neatly with Julie’s personal interests.

Having worked in an educational setting for a decade or so, Julie should have a handle on promoting and expanding programs such as ProStart, which gives high school students nationwide both on-site experience and classroom training. She sounded equally enthusiastic about working with military veterans, pointing out that vets tend to come to the table with traits the restaurant industry value: reliability, trustworthiness and the ability to both follow directions and improvise when necessary.

Julie and Wendy told me the LRAEF’s immediate goals include increasing the funding of ProStart programs in schools across the State. That includes everything from providing textbooks to making sure schools labs have the kitchen equipment needed for students to get real hands-on experience.

Both Julie and Wendy told me that it’s one thing to learn a recipe from a book, but when the kids cook for their teachers and peers, you can see the pride they take in putting what they’ve learned into practice. I can confirm that from personal experience, because I’ve attended a couple of the program’s invitational cooking competitions, and I’ve seen how kids from high schools across Louisiana can perform under pressure.

Putting out a 3-course meal in an hour with only two butane burners is quite a feat under any circumstances, but these kids are also under constant scrutiny from teachers and coaches, and ultimately their work is judged by industry veterans. Though the judging is intended to provide constructive criticism, the kids still feel the pressure, so the quality of the food I’ve seen them produce is even more impressive. 

The restaurant industry is a difficult one, as anyone who has waited tables or cooked on the line can tell you. Giving young people a head-start into the industry – as well as making sure they know what they’re getting themselves into – is a noble goal. I’ve written about the LRAEF in the past, but with Julie Talbot at the helm, I suspect I’ll be writing about it again before too long.

 

 

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Haute Plates

Our weekly blog on the New Orleans fine dining scene

about

Robert D. Peyton was born at Ochsner Hospital and, apart from four years in Tennessee for college and three years in Baton Rouge for law school, has lived in New Orleans his entire life. He is a strong believer in the importance of food to our local culture and in the importance of our local food culture, generally. He has practiced law since 1994, and began writing about food on his website, www.appetites.us, in 1999. He mainly wrote about partying that year, obviously.

In 2006, New Orleans Magazine named Appetites the best food blog in New Orleans. The choice was made relatively easy due to the fact that Appetites was, at the time, the only food blog in New Orleans.

He began writing the Restaurant Insider column for New Orleans Magazine in 2007 and has been published in St. Charles Avenue, Louisiana Life and New Orleans Homes and Lifestyles magazines. He is the only person he knows personally who has been interviewed in GQ magazine, albeit for calling Alan Richman a nasty name. He is not proud of that, incidentally. (Yes, he is.)

Robert’s maternal grandmother is responsible for his love of good food, and he has never since had fried chicken or homemade biscuits as good as hers. He developed his curiosity about restaurant cooking in part from the venerable PBS cooking show "Great Chefs" and has an extensive collection of cookbooks, many of which do not require coloring, and some of which have not been defaced.

Robert lives in Mid-City with his wife Eve and their three children, and is fond of receiving comments and emails. Please humor him.

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