A heaping side of hope in New Orleans

August 16, 2011 1:22:44 PM PDT
Cafe Reconcile a dining experience like you've never seen. "When a pupil is ready, the teacher will appear," says Café Reconcile Chef, Joe.

Inside the kitchen at Café Reconcile, the ingredients are a heaping side of hope and a dash of reality.

It is a dining experience like you've never seen.

"That's what a lot of people do, especially in positions to hire. They judge you by your appearance," he says.

"This is the kitchen of life. We not only train in techniques in the kitchen, but we train in techniques to live life."

Cafe Reconcile opened 11 years ago in central New Orleans helping teenagers on the brink and preparing them to enter the workforce.

Hundreds of these graduates now work in some of New Orleans' top restaurants, like inside the Loews Hotel.

Each class learns to run this kitchen first but before they get here, they learn life skills in a classroom.

At Café Reconcile, it's about building a foundation.

Every morning starts with a prayer, a chance to talk through frustration and on some mornings a time to talk about a friend that was murdered.

Sister Mary Lou consoles the young men and woman.

"A white, Catholic nun from Iowa comes in here, one of the toughest neighborhoods in New Orleans and connects with these kids," says Leonard Alvis.

It's become a hugely popular lunch spot. Before Leonard Alvis entered the program, he'd been in and out of jail five times for drug possession.

"I'd be somewhere in jail somewhere because I was really a wreck. I was a real wreck," he says.

Sister Mary Lou admits that sometimes the problems that still plague the cafe's students make her question whether the work is worth it.

And, the answer is always: yes it is.