How A Cordon Bleu-Trained Chef Taught Cape Verdean Women To Cook For A Living

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Written by Ann Brown

When Phaisit Kimakom moved to Cape Verde in 2014, he decided to use his experience training at the prestigious Cordon Bleu school of gastronomy in Paris to help Cabo Verdean women get gainful employment.

Originally from Bangkok, Thailand, Kimakom moved to the African island nation with his spouse, a U.S. diplomatic official.

Almost half the Cabo Verde households are headed by women, and female unemployment rates are higher than male. When women are able to work, it is often informal, low-paying and insecure work, according to UN Women. Nearly 33 percent of female-headed families in Cabo Verde are poor compared to 21 percent of male-headed families.

Kimakom felt perfectly positioned to mentor young women in cooking and catering skills.

He gathered 12 female trainees ages 20 to 31 years old from the different islands of Cabo Verde in Praia city. There he trained them in his residence, teaching them baking, cooking, kitchen safety, event decoration and budgeting. After getting the initial training started, Kimakom took on catering jobs for the business — Treats from Heaven.

He pays the women for each event.

Kimakom plans to leave Cabo Verde and the women will take over Treats from Heaven, including training new members. Kimakom plans to leave behind all the kitchen and catering equipment when his husband moves on to his next embassy post. He will be involved in the business long distance. The plan all along was to turn the business over to them once he left, he said.

Kimakom talked to AFKInsider about his vision for Treats from Heaven.

AFKInsider: Why did you want to start Treats from Heaven?

Phaisit Kimakom: I met a lot of women who needed employment and my passion has always been cooking so I figured one way to do good in Cabo Verde was to train women in the art of catering. Some of the women we employ come from really bad situations –single mothers from abusive households, some have not been (able) to get a good education. This project is a way for them not only to have their own business but to also help other women.

AFKInsider: Can you explain the training?

Phaisit Kimakom:  We have classes twice a week. The women are now taking control of the project, so they do all the shopping for the ingredients (paid for by the project), the budgeting for their catering events, and the preparation. I am hands-off after doing the demonstration. But the women now even come up with the recipes. I evaluate the dishes and afterward the trainees can take the cooked food home.

I have taught them how to make various dishes, food prep, how to work safely in the kitchen, and what to do in case of a kitchen emergency. We have studied hygiene, security, first aid, things like how to handle a knife, and what to do in case of a kitchen fire.

AFKInsider: One of the complaints in Cabo Verde is a lack of good service. How did you pass this concept on to the women in the project.

Phaisit Kimakom: I take them out to restaurants. It is my belief that you won’t know how to serve if you have never been served.

AFKInsider: What type of food do the women cook?

Phaisit Kimakom: There is a little of everything–pastries, cupcakes and cakes, cheese soufflé. After each woman has completed 10 classes, I test them.

AFKInsider: In addition to the training, how does the project work?

Phaisit Kimakom: After the training, which is free, Treats from Heaven is a catering service andwe have catered events for embassies and institutions. The women are paid for each event.

AFKInsider: What will happen to Treats from Heaven when you leave?

Phaisit Kimakom: I am leaving in June, but my goal always was to create a business the women could sustain themselves. Treats from Heaven will continue and hopefully grow bigger and employ more women. I will stay involved, just from a distance. We have a Facebook page where the women post all of their events, marketing themselves, and get new events. They already have a steady stream of clients who I hope will continue on and then the goal is to add even more clients. The women do everything from weddings to corporate events, to lunches and parties. We have even done charity work cooking for the less fortunate and kids.

I am just happy with the progress Treats from Heaven has made. I really wanted to do something for the community and I am happy to see the women happy.