Four new members were recently added to the CookWell Advisory Board.
CookWell is fortunate to welcome Jason Reaves. Currently a sous chef at Bucks County Playhouse, Jason comes to us with a wealth of experience, everything from kitchen management and menu preparation in fine dining establishments to banquets and catering in institutionalized settings. One of the impressive things about Jason is his willingness to absorb as much as he can about the food industry, always stretching himself in new directions.
“My mother was a good cook,” says the Trenton native, “and it was something I liked to do as a kid.” But owing to some youthful indiscretions, Jason’s path to culinary success wasn’t a straight one. He was incarcerated and in 2006 wound up at a rehab center, wondering about his prospects for the future. Fortunately for him, the residents had to pitch in and prepare meals. Jason picked up new knife skills and the specifics of kitchen hygiene. After release he found a job in the food service department at the Hamilton ShopRite. One day a local chef whose star was on the rise, Richard Berardi, dropped by and sampled a spread that Jason had prepared—pasta with bechamel sauce, stuffed mushrooms, chicken parmesan. Impressed, Richard invited Jason to apply for a job at his restaurant. “That was the hardest job application I ever filled out,” Jason laughs. “He had me cooking for several days straight to prove my chops.” Long story short, Jason was hired, the chef moved to one of New Jersey’s premiere restaurants, Rat’s, and Jason went along for the ride. He spent four years as a kitchen manager at Rat’s before the executive chef there, Shane Cash—a grand-nephew of singer Johnny Cash—encouraged him to spread his wings. “You can’t go any way but up,” Shane advised.
That’s when Jason embarked on a whirlwind apprenticeship, working as a kitchen manager in a wide variety of food establishments, everything from the College of New Jersey’s cafeteria to Jericho National Golf Club and Bear Creek nursing home. “I learned an abundance of skills at those places,” says Jason. He also learned that institutionalized food wasn’t his thing. Yearning to be more creative, he landed a job as a sous chef at Bucks County Playhouse.
Since the COVID outbreak, Jason has been sheltering at home with wife Jaquana Williams and their two children. When he is not encouraging JaNiyah, his 13-year-old, to keep up her studies, he’s back working part-time at Bucks County Playhouse, which recently re-opened for outside dining.
With his culinary expertise and rich life experience, Jason will have invaluable contributions to make to CookWell. “God put us here in the world to help people,” he says. “Being someone who was incarcerated and came through, I relate to the struggle of people trying to readjust to society. It’s hard to stay positive, having no money, depending on public transportation to get to work. I can help our CookWell trainees look at the big picture. I can tell them, hey, I’ve seen a dishwasher become a sous chef!” Having a steady job may not sound glamorous to everyone, but Jason wants to drive home the lesson that it pays off: “When you’re happy and stable, your family is happy and stable, and you gain your dignity back.”
Margie Gibson comes to us with a strong background in community service and other volunteer work, having sat on the boards of the YWCA, Trinity Counseling Service, Lawrenceville Presbyterian Preschool, and Dartmouth Alumni Club of Princeton. She teaches third grade at Princeton Day School and serves as the director of service learning for the entire school.
Service learning integrates community service with academic instruction to enrich education, teach civic responsibility, and strengthen communities. Margie’s experience in this area will be a rich contribution to CookWell’s mission. In her words, “For CookWell to succeed, there must be reciprocity. The mentor/mentee relationship can only flourish if both parties are willing to learn from one another.”
Margie is a loyal alumna of Dartmouth College. She and her husband, Peter Gibson, have “four twenty-something children and two four-legged furry canines.”
Luis is a navigator/case manager for All Kids Thrive, a program of Arm In Arm at Robbins Elementary School in Trenton. The goal of All Kids Thrive is to establish food security and housing stability for students and their families. Luis, who lives and works in the Robbins School neighborhood, has a close-up view of the struggles of food shortage and housing insecurity, the very issues CookWell trainees face.
Another thing Luis knows all about is re-entering society. Having spent close to twenty years of his life in juvenile detention centers and prison, he is himself a returning citizen. “It was a second chance that allowed me to be a successful single parent to my son, a part-time student, and a case manager for All Kids Thrive,” says Luis. “And now I’m on the board of a nonprofit that is all about second chances. CookWell offers returning citizens the opportunity to recreate their lives in a meaningful way and pay it forward. This is what I do now for a living, and it is what I hope for all our CookWell trainees.”
CookWell looks forward to the contributions Luis will make as we carry out our mission of helping returning citizens establish stable lives. With his enthusiasm and can-do attitude, he is a great addition to the board.
Jack Cohen is a civil trial attorney with the New York firm of Goldberg Segalla, specializing in general litigation defense and directors’ and officers’ liability, with a sub-specialty in employers’ professional liability. He has served as law secretary to the chief judge of the City of New York Commission on Human Rights, the agency charged with enforcement of laws against local housing and employment discrimination. Jack grew up in the South Bronx and attended Lehman College before graduating from the University of Miami Law School in 1979. He and his wife Kathie attend services at both the Presbyterian Church of Lawrenceville and Temple Micah, which shares the church facilities. Jack is treasurer of the board of Temple Micah and sits on the board of the Willows Cooperative Swim Club in Lawrenceville.
“I’m excited about the mission of CookWell and the changes it can bring about in society,” says Jack. And we are excited to have him on board. CookWell founder PCOL has hosted Temple Micah since 1969. The two congregations have only recently explored mission-related collaborations, marking Jack’s involvement with CookWell as a milestone.