Kitchen of Purpose trainees working in the kitchen space.

Q&A with Brian MacNair, CEO of Kitchen of Purpose 

Leveraging the transformative power of food to reshape futures, Kitchen of Purpose stands as a beacon of hope. The organization intertwines culinary training, workforce development, essential food assistance and an immersive dive into the science of cooking. Impressively, 90% of its trainees find employment after completing the program, marking a significant milestone in their journey towards sustainable livelihoods.  

We had the pleasure of catching up with seasoned chef Brian MacNair, the new CEO of Arlington-based Kitchen of Purpose. Our discussion spanned the vast expanse of culinary arts and its pivotal role in fostering socioeconomic change within the Northern Virginia community.  

Kitchen of Purpose has grown drastically over the past several years. What are some of your new programs? 

We have a forward-facing café where people come in and eat from a great menu, but they don’t really know what goes on behind the kitchen door. That’s something I’m changing; I’m creating a marketplace out front so that people can see some of the small businesses coming out of here. We also have a small business incubator (SBI) program, for those folks who want to open their own businesses, they can enter and we help them by giving them free space in our kitchen and coaching them along the way. Our front-of-house training curriculum is new, and it happens right in our cafe. The newest thing we’re working on is the kitchen-to-market program. This is the program that really connects all the dots, from workforce development to the SBI, to the shared kitchen space, all the way to the marketplace, which is out front in our café that displays all the products we’re creating here. Everything comes full circle here, and the goal is to have all our products in the marketplace come from our SBI program. 

Brian MacNair, CEO of Kitchen of Purpose

What is the core mission of Kitchen of Purpose, and why is it important? 

Using the power of food to change lives. It’s that simple. The lives we change are through job training. We have five classes a year, two baking and three culinary classes, and we train around 70 people during these two-month intensive programs. The people we train are mostly underemployed immigrants, and we teach in both Spanish and English.  

Is there a program that you feel is the most impactful? 

I’m a former chef, so I will always lean toward the job training being the most important and the most impactful. This is because 90% of the folks who graduate with us will get a job. Those who don’t finish the class will know in two months whether they belong in the kitchen or not, it’s really that simple. Even if they don’t stay working in a kitchen down the road, they’ve still learned how to learn; they’ve come into a program where they learn a curriculum and how to stick with it. Part of this is also life skills, so after they’re done cooking for the day, they either take English classes or life and job development skills. Learning the importance of attitude in the workplace, showing up on time, building their resumes. They leave here ready for the workforce no matter what.  

What has been the most rewarding experience during your time so far? 

Being back in the kitchen. There’s nothing like walking in each day and everyone says, “Good morning, chef,” all the knives and cutting boards and the smells. There’s nothing like watching people cook, first, but then also seeing them change their lives. You can see these people’s personalities blossom and see who is passionate about the kitchen even in this small, two-month period. Watching people change their lives in the kitchen is the No. 1 thing for me.

What are the greatest needs for the organization right now? 

I’d say No. 1 is funding to get the kitchen-to-market program running. We also need more catering clients, the more money we can earn the better. Lastly, as we build the SBI program, a new building. A second location with more kitchens would help us greatly.  

How can people support Kitchen of Purpose? 

Follow us on social media and cheer us on. We have active social channels that we post to every week so you can see what we’re doing in the kitchen. You can also donate online.  

To learn more about Kitchen of Purpose, visit its website or follow the organization on Instagram, Facebook or TikTok. 

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