Inmate Wins Certification in Culinary Arts


(Monday, April 7, 2008 2:44 PM EDT)

Nathaniel Surida's passion is cooking, and it doesn't seem like anything - not even jail time - can keep him from moving forward in the culinary arts.

For the past 14 months, Surida has been an inmate at the Arlington County Detention Facility for a parole violation (his original charge was assault and battery). In that time, he has worked in the jail's kitchen and recently obtained the ServSafe Food Protection Manager Certification.

ServSafe is the country's food-safety education and training program, recognized and accepted by most federal, state and local health jurisdictions.

Although ServSafe certification is offered in numerous detention facilities in the region, Surida was the first inmate at the Arlington County Detention Facility to go through the program and receive the certification.

From the proper way to wash hands to the right way to reheat food, Surida learned the ins and outs of kitchen policies and procedures, and is ready to handle any health inspector that comes his way, once he is released and has a job.

Surida, who has been in the food service industry for more than 20 years (he was the assistant chef at the Army Navy Country Club in Arlington), but he said he learned a lot from the program, and feels that it will benefit him greatly in the future.

“It opened my eyes,” he said. “I'm going to go in the kitchen and know how to do a lot more things.”

Cooking for about 620 inmates and 160 staff members each day, Surida had plenty of practice applying the skills he learned from the ServSafe program, which was offered through both the detention facility and Aramark, the on-site food service company.

He said he has taken pride in the skills he's gained, and has enjoyed sharing them with other inmates.

“I love cooking,” he said. “I feel joy when someone asks me how to make a hollandaise [or] when they shake my hand, thanking me for cooking Thanksgiving and Christmas dinner.”

With a number of job prospects lined up already, Surida said that being certified will help him “secure a better position” in a kitchen, once he leaves the detention facility.

“I think it's a wonderful accomplishment for him, and hopefully for a lot of other individuals who are training and working in the kitchen,” said Sheriff Beth Arthur. “Part of our philosophy is to help provide opportunity to help individuals return to the community as productive members of society.”

Now that Surida has forged a path, others are following his lead. Two of his fellow inmates soon will be taking the ServSafe certification test, and Aramark has bought Spanish ServSafe books for the Spanish-speaking inmates who are interested in the program.

“It basically gives the inmates some opportunity,” said the detention facility's assistant food service director, Marvin Brown. “Many come in and have nothing to shoot for. This makes sure they won't go home . . . and get in more trouble.”

Nathaniel Surida’s time at the Arlington County Detention Facility had a positive side: it gave him the opportunity to earn ServSafe Food Protection Manager Certification.
(Photo by Kristen Armstrong)

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