Students in shelter-based culinary program serve Mothers’ Day luncheon for homeless moms

Chef Greg garnishes a plate of shrimp scampi while telling his student to avoid looking like Salt Bae
Photo Emily Swanson

One of the borough’s most state-of-the-art culinary kitchens is not in a high-end restaurant but inside Allie’s Place, a shelter for homeless families in the Soundview neighborhood of the Bronx. 

At Allie’s Place Center for Culinary Education and Employment, shelter residents — and anyone else in the city — can learn everything they need to begin a restaurant career, all for free. 

On May 10, students in the program hosted a multi-course Mothers’ Day luncheon for some of the moms from Allie’s Place and other shelters run by Homes for the Homeless. While some students cooked shrimp scampi and chicken parmesan in the kitchen, others took the moms’ menu orders and served the food and drinks. As for the moms, they took a little time away from their kids to relax, eat and enjoy being catered to. 

“The food is good so far,” said one mom, who told the Bronx Times she has six children, although only her youngest, age 16, is still living with her. This mom said she loves to cook — so her compliments to the kitchen were from the heart. 

The Mothers’ Day program is a way to give deserving moms “the fine dining kind of treatment,” said Culinary Director Gabe Rodriguez. 

Photo Emily Swanson

This kind of experience is certainly not what most would envision at a shelter. Many people think shelters are ugly, unsafe and generally not something they want in their neighborhood, said Linda Bazerjian, managing director of communications for Homes for the Homeless. 

Before Allie’s Place opened in 2020, the site was just a dumping ground for trash — almost anything would have been an improvement. But Bazerjian said the shelter was built around the question, “What if we could add something to the neighborhood?”

Now, with the culinary program running successfully — and expanding soon — “Anyone in New York City who can get themselves here can participate in the program,” said Bazerjian.


Photo Emily Swanson

The kitchen at Allie’s Place is shiny and new, fully equipped with a grill, flat top, four-burner stove, high-end ovens, long prep tables and every kitchen utensil known to man. It even includes some less common equipment, such as a tilt skillet, which is essentially a giant braising pan.

The program consists of three courses: culinary essentials, pastry and barista. Over the next few months, front-of-house hospitality training will be folded into the barista course. The shelter also hosts monthly pop-up cafes for students to practice their espresso pulls and baking techniques. 

Lead instructor Gregoiro Pedroza, better known as Chef Greg, said that many people come to him as great home cooks. He helps them bring out their natural talent while learning the lingo and workflow of restaurants, as well as food safety and culinary techniques from around the world. 

Pedroza said he’s known for his “dad jokes” — and his sense of humor was evident as he instructed his students not to stand too stiffly while whisking. Soon, he had them gyrating as if they were using hula hoops, with everyone cracking up. 

An important part of his role is helping students relax and enjoy their time in the kitchen. “If they feel safe, they can learn,” Pedroza said. 

Photo Emily Swanson

When students finish the program, they receive a certificate and help with interviews and resumes tailored to the industry. More than half of students who go through the program land a restaurant job—but even if they decide to pursue something else, the skills gained through the program are valuable in any other field, Rodriguez said. 

At the luncheon, students did get a crash course in flexibility, positivity and time management. They were expecting up to 25 moms but ended up with nine. A few arrived late, and some needed part of their order to go. But this was no problem for the group, who showed confidence and professionalism and used the opportunity to make each dish extra perfect.  

The culinary team has extensive experience working in professional kitchens and teaching at prestigious culinary schools. But using those skills in the shelter is uniquely satisfying for them.  

“It’s in my wheelhouse to give back,” said Pedroza.

Classroom for barista training at Allie’s Place. Photo Emily Swanson

In addition to the professional pastry and culinary kitchens, Allie’s Place, which serves about 99 families, including 100 to 110 kids, features a playground with ample outdoor space and a large garden for growing kitchen ingredients. A daycare is coming soon, and the building houses 3K and 4K programs through the Department of Education. 

“It’s not your own home, but we’d like it to be as nice as possible,” said Bazerjian.

Reach Emily Swanson at or (646) 717-0015. For more coverage, follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram @bronxtimes