Hospitality training program turns the streets into a jumping off point for a real career
By Darren Atkins All photos courtesy of Streets International

Recently some of New York’s most celebrated chefs came together at The Astor Center to support Streets International (, a non-for-profit organization that provides opportunities for Vietnam’s street kids to escape from poverty and destitution, and transition to a life of hope and promising hospitality industry careers.

The third annual Streets event was a lively and delicious evening that brought some joy to the reality that there was a need for such an event. Vietnam, bordered by China to the north and Laos to the northwest, boasts a population of over 86 million people and is the 13th most populous country in the world. Gaining their independence from the Chinese in AD 938, and much later the French, Vietnam has had their fair share of hardships after suffering from prolonged military engagement. However, while the country managed to regain strength and its economic growth there are still casualties of this war torn country; many of them are children and young adults. An estimated 19,000 young people live on the streets of Hanoi alone, many of them suffering from health problems and the ravages of drug abuse and crime.

After witnessing so many young adults struggling with drug dependent and crime infested lives lived out on the streets of Vietnam, the charity’s founder, Neal Bermas PhD, was compelled to do something to effect positive change in their existence. Bermas explains, “This is an 18 month program; it’s quite ambitious. We house, feed and provide medical care for these young adults who come from the streets, orphanages and detention centers. During the course of the 18 months they start out mostly in classroom, with curriculums either in culinary or service front of house side, developed in conjunction with Institute of Culinary Education ( In addition to the culinary and hospitably aspects of the program, we have a extensive life skills program, [as you must] keep in mind these kids are not like us, they never had anyone around teaching them the basic things like trust, caring for themselves or that stealing is the wrong thing to do.”

The fundraising event was a who’s who of the culinary world and each chef’s station featured their versions of iconic street foods from various parts of the world including, Vietnam, India, Italy, Mexico, and the US.

Here’s what they served:

Chef Kenny Callaghan, Blue Smoke – House smoked pastrami cheese sliders with Blue Smoke mustard
Chef Seamus Mullen, Boqueria– Albondiga’s de Cordero ”Lamb Meatballs”
David Schuttenberg & Zak Pelaccio, Cabrito– Jalapeno Rellenos, Stuffed with a Picadillo of Fish, Raisin, Capers and Pepitas
Emilio Fujimoto, Cleaver Company Catering Turnip Cakes with Coconut Chutney
Tom Colicchio, Tom Colicchio and Sons Ricotta and pickled with truffle honey and squid salad with Chick peas and radicchio
Gabe Thompson, Del’Anima and L’Artusi Salad Bruschetta
Karen De Masco, Locanda Verde Budino
James Cawley, Rosa Mexicano and Guacamole and Pomegranate Margaritas
Floyd Cardoz, Tabla Puri “Bombay Street Salad of puffed rice, green mango, mint and tamarind chutneys

In addition to the selection of international delectables and open bar there was an auction featuring experiences like: “A Bartenders Dream”-assortment of world class spirits; “Big Apple Bonanza”-Two passes to the 2010 Big Apple Block Party featuring gift certificates from renowned ‘cue joints Blue Smoke, Dinosaur and Hill Country; and “Vietnamese dinner for four at home”-prepared by Institute of Culinary Education chef and South-East Asian cuisine expert, Erica Wides.

Chef Erica Wides also gave the guests a preview of what they’d win by giving a short demonstration of her cuisine as she prepared the delicately powerful flavor of “Caramel-Grilled Chicken over Rice Noodles, Asian greens and Herbs with Nuoc Cham. All this in addition to the Hoi An Spring Rolls she presented at the VIP reception.

During the demo Wides took a moment to explain why she chooses to support Streets. She says, “The idea of this global social initiative program is to take people like us, who have years of experience in hospitality and give back to the world. So we do what we do here; but it’s another thing to go there and see these kids, who have nothing very poor and living on the streets.” She adds, “Tourism is really burgeoning in Vietnam, it’s really a booming industry, and they really need training and they need people who know about service and who are better rounded.”

The Streets International Event was an evening of taste, culture and education that brought a slice of Vietnam to New York. Streets will soon be spreading their goodwill and knowledge to neighboring countries Laos and The Philippines through the expansion of their program in those countries.