Photo courtesy of Audrey Claire COOK

In addition to the outstanding restaurants and bars we work with each year, FEASTIVAL partners with a number of extraordinary institutions working day-in and day-out to create a better city for Philadelphians to live and work in.

Philadelphia Opportunities Industrialization Center (OIC), Inc was founded by the late Civil Rights leader Reverend Leon Sullivan, in response to the lack of employment opportunities and job-training programs in African American and low-income communities. Over fifty years later, Philadelphia OIC continues to open opportunities for all members of the Philadelphia community, helping people everywhere master the skills necessary to access good jobs and advance in their careers.

Lead by Chalie Schmidt, Philadelphia OIC’s chef instructor, the culinary training program is one of the organization’s hallmark offerings and has graduated more than 725 students over the last two decades. The graduates have gone on to work in prestigious Philadelphia restaurants past and present including the original Bookbinders, Osteria, Audrey Claire, and more. 

Schmidt sat down with FEASTIVAL to tell us about his experience with Philadelphia OIC and as a culinary industry vet.

FEASTIVAL: What is Philadelphia OIC to you?

Chalie Schmidt: Philadelphia OIC is many things to me.

At 24 years, it is my longest employment site. It’s where I’ve been able to build something almost from scratch. [Today it’s] a contributor to the now vibrant Philadelphia dining scene.

Most importantly, it’s almost a perfect paradigm of the Late Reverend Sullivan’s goal of “Helping People Help Themselves.” Through skill training, OIC gives people without the economic wherewithal the opportunity to pursue careers that help enrich their lives.

Tell us a bit about the culinary program at OIC Philadelphia?

The Culinary program here at OIC is basically a culinary art “boot camp.” At 4 months per cycle, my assistant instructor, Tracey Borden, and I need to accelerate both classroom and kitchen training. I am very demanding of my students and insist that they be “all in” on their education. Over the years, this has resulted in about 80% Retention Rate and a 90% job Placement Rate.

One of the cool aspects of my job is building relationships with chefs and restaurateurs to place my students for employment. Ironically, my first student placement was with FEASTIVAL’s founder Audrey Taichman, who is still a friend today.

When did you begin pursuing a career in the culinary industry and how did you become involved with Philadelphia OIC?

I didn’t go to the Restaurant School until I was 29 years old. My one professional regret is that I waited that long to get into the Food and Beverage Industry.

I started at the legendary Cherry Hill Inn in 1989, and after about 8 years working in Restaurants and Hotels, I wanted to find a spot where I had more normal hours. I saw an ad for the Chef Instructor at OIC that was placed by a young lady at OIC who I had coincidentally worked with at another Hotel. I applied, interviewed, taught a mock class demo on Bruschetta’s—very hot in the 90’s—and 2 months later I got the job.

That normal work schedule allowed me to pursue a whole lot of interesting things during my time at OIC. I was an adjunct professor at Temple for six years teaching Food and Beverage Management and the part-time Corporate Chef for Alouette Cheese.

What do you love most about cooking?

I love all things about working in kitchens. The sounds, smells, sharp things, hot things and mostly the organized chaos. I love competition and building teams. Regarding cooking itself I love the constant pursuit of perfection even though it’s rarely achieved.

What do you love about Philly?

I was born in Camden N.J but raised in Cherry Hill and still live there today. Whether my father was bringing me over to buy bread and Tomato pie from Sarcones, school clothes from Big Hearted Jim’s on South or just stroll the Italian Market the city was always a stone throw away and that how I treated it.

I love the fabulous markets, the ongoing neighborhood developments, and the world-class and eclectic restaurant scene.

Thank you to Chef Chalie Schmidt and Philadelphia OIC!