By Heidi Buelow
Let me introduce you to Monique Assen, one of our kitchen apprentices at Food Shift! Monique is a wonderful woman full of cheerful energy who loves to cook. In addition to working in the kitchen, Monique has a second job as a security guard. She came to The Food Shift Kitchen in March 2017 after completing the Alameda Point Collaborative Farm program.
Monique moved to California from Cameroon, Africa six years ago to join family here. She now lives in Alameda. Her five kids are still in Africa living with other family members. Monique works hard to send them money for school books and clothes every month and she talks to them and texts them every day. Monique is looking forward to them finishing university here in the U.S..
Monique first worked at the Alameda Point Collaborative Farm where she helped cultivate and harvest many kinds of vegetables. Monique says working hard, meeting people, and building friendships are very important and a strong part of the work program. When Monique finished the APC Farm program, she had a graduation party and shared African style dishes with her friends and family and was surprised and happy how everyone ate the new foods she introduced to them. Her manager suggested she apply to the kitchen program and now she is learning to cook American style dishes and learn commercial kitchen work skills. She is already thinking about her next graduation party and cooking American style dishes for her friends and family.
Monique speaks English very well, although her native language is French. Chef Terrell brings French to the kitchen from his New Orleans background. Chef and Monique often exchange conversation in French, which adds another layer of fun and interest to the back and forth talk over the pots. In the kitchen, Monique likes to talk about food differences in Africa and America and the new ways of preparing food she is learning here. Right now, roasted vegetables are her passion and her quinoa with roasted squash is a surprise hit. She says the dishes that we make every day are easy and delicious!
Monique’s favorite thing about The Food Shift Kitchen program is that there are so many different things to do: cleaning and setting up; chopping and preparing the food; and especially cooking. She also believes strongly in the importance of being busy to reduce stress, and working with others instead of staying home alone. She says these things make the program valuable beyond the new skills in the kitchen and sees it as important and healthful for everyone. After her children move here, she would like to continue to work in a kitchen, where she will be able to pass on her new knowledge and work together with them.
Monique’s belief in hard work and sharing with the community contribute to her positive energy that she brings to our kitchen! She cooks her way through the day in the American and African styles with French and English all combined. Working together with the others in the kitchen is enjoyable and valuable, building friendships and cooking good food for everyone!