The eight graduates of Salvation Army’s Hope Harbor Culinary Arts program were busy Tuesday afternoon setting tables for friends and relatives who would be attending their graduation ceremony that evening.

They’re the 23rd graduating class who have completed the Salvation Army’s four-month culinary arts program. Their guests were to dine on a menu of tri-tip with caramelized mushrooms au jus, charred zucchini, candied onion and red potato, and a maple pecan cake with Swiss buttercream frosting for dessert.

Before enrolling in the class, prospective students must first graduate from the Salvation Army’s Adult Rehabilitation Center, according to the program’s teacher, Chef Barry Crall. Once they have completed that program, the students become eligible for the 16-week culinary arts training.

Pam Kludt, who volunteers with both fundraising and the program’s steering committee, said the program started in Lodi, and since its inception similar culinary arts classes have begun in Napa and Sacramento.

Walter Pogue is one of the eight graduates of the program.

“I have learned how to have knife skills, how to set up a salad and soup station, how to make the five mother sauces,” Pogue said. “It has taught me a lot about working in restaurants. Working in this kitchen here has taught us the skills of cooking meals — breakfast, lunch and dinner.”

He said working in the restaurant industry is something he has been wanting to do for years.

“It’s been in my heart so now it’s all come together. It’s a great opportunity,” he said.

Pogue said the program has really been a blessing to him.

“It’s amazing how people really want to see people succeed. I am getting ready to do what I really want to do, and it’s really exciting. The opportunities, the doors being opened, from where I used to be to where I am today. I was an untrustworthy person, and now I am a reliable, trustworthy person.”

Fellow graduate David Eddy echoed Pogue’s sentiments.

“The whole Salvation Army program, especially the culinary program, has been a very productive and wonderful experience for me,” he said.

He said he went straight into the ARC program after being released from county prison after serving several years. After completing that program, he applied to the culinary program.

“The whole thing has been a really good learning experience,” Eddy said. “If you can learn and prepare food, it’s a skill set you can take with you forever, and it’s going to pay dividends forever, whether you do it for a living or not. The idea here is to make a career out of it, but it’s going to be useful no matter what.”

Eddy plans to get a job in the culinary profession, probably starting with a prepping job. Pogue has already found a job at Wine & Roses as a banquet dish washer.

Pogue has advice for anyone wanting to enter the program.

“If anyone wants to change their life around, the best thing they can do is to get into (adult rehabilitation),” he said. “It will give you the structure to get your life back in control and then there are opportunities through the culinary art program. It’s a good, solid program.”

Eddy is grateful for the new chapter in his life.

“This is the second act in my life, I’ll go wherever the wind takes me. I have my whole life ahead of me,” he said. “This is the second act — the first part was like a ‘Rocky’ movie — you get knocked down — and he comes back, right? So this is the second act. This is the one that matters.”

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