Youth currently in programming and recent UTEC graduates are the true heart of Cafe UTEC. They prepare the delicious menu items, staff the counter, water the herbs and vegetables growing right outside the door, and so much more. They also learn the business side of restaurant management as they work with senior staff on inventory management, accounting, and menu development. Come by to say hello!
Aaron was introduced to the UTEC family through the AmeriCorps program in 2015. Originally from Maui, HI he moved to Stockton, CA in 2008 to pursue his interests in the health sciences. While there Aaron got his Bachelors in Science in Biology from the University of the Pacific. In 2012 he moved to Pittsburgh, PA to be closer to family and pursue prospective research assistant positions. Aaron began working in kitchens as a dishwasher after struggling to find employment as a researcher. From that point he began working his way up the kitchen line gaining increasing management experience. After becoming burnt out from the stress of being a head cook in a high volume kitchen, he decided to pursuit his interests as a youth worker. Intrigued by the Mattress Recycling social enterprise and UTEC’s values, Aaron moved to Massachusetts. After two years of volunteering in the Transformational Beginnings/Mattress Recycling program, Aaron took over the role of Program Manager at Café UTEC.
Aaron Uehara - Program Manager, Cafe UTEC
Sam Putnam - Culinary Innovator
Kodi Semon - Culinary Program Manager
Kodi grew up on a small island a short ferry ride from Seattle, Washington. From 2000-2004 she was hugely involved in a teen drop-in center similar to UTEC. Serving on the Teen Board for three years, two as President, she organized fundraisers, after school events, concerts and community outreach projects. Simultaneously, Kodi worked part time at a local retirement center, climbing the kitchen ladder from dishwasher to supervisor. In 2006 Kodi graduated at the top of her class from the Seattle Culinary Academy. She has spent seven years in fine dining hotel kitchens mastering production, event execution and culinary administration management. She is incredibly thankful to have this opportunity to combine both of her life's passions. "If you can find something you love to do and get paid for it, you'll never work a day in your life."
Café UTEC was conceived as another way to expand UTEC's Workforce Development Program. In 2006, UTEC changed its program model to incorporate workforce skills and education into the center. This action was taken as a response to UTEC youth wanting to gain more skills while still having the safe haven that they know and love. In 2013, UTEC hired Sam Putnam as our Culinary Innovator to expand our Food Service enterprise to reach additional customers and launch Café UTEC. Staff, community partners, of course all of the youth in the program are thrilled that our Café UTEC dream is now a reality!
Sam joined UTEC in December 2013 as Culinary Innovator, to develop and oversee food businesses. Sam grew up in Arlington, where he got his start in the restaurant business as a teenager, flipping burgers at Brigham’s. His last position before he joined UTEC was back in Arlington, as Executive Chef of flora restaurant. In between, after attending college in Vermont, he worked in popular restaurants in the Bay Area, including Ristorante Venezia, Café Cheneville, and The Corner; took a detour to the Midwest, where he was chef and managing partner at several Italian and American restaurants in the Columbus, Ohio area; and, in 2006, returned to Boston, where he helped open Dorchester’s Ashmont Grill, was the Founding Executive Chef of Foundry on Elm in Somerville’s Davis Square, and was Chef of Jamaica Plain’s beloved Bella Luna. Coming to UTEC is the culmination of Sam’s longstanding dream of working full-time at the intersection of culinary arts, education, and social justice. This dream began many years ago, when he was the Head Cook at the Farm & Wilderness summer camps, where he trained young people in the kitchen and reaped the bounty of the camps’ organic gardens. More recently, he taught cooking classes for low-income parents at Operation Front Line, mentored young people in the Future Chefs program, and served as Future Chefs’ part-time Director of Culinary Education. Sam lives in Arlington with his wife and two daughters.
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