Our team of WITS Chefs is 72 strong this year, working in kitchens and classrooms, training and educating on recipes and nutrition. 60 WITS Chefs in our Chefs in the Schools culinary training program join 12 WITS Chefs from our Cook for Kids Flagship program. All are skilled and passionate individuals with backgrounds spanning work in New York City’s best restaurants to establishments of their own. All are working in or near the neighborhoods where they live, training kitchen staff and serving students who walk the same streets they do. But a few bring something even more special to the WITS workplace: the bond of a sister, a mother, and a daughter!
Meet two very special pairs of WITS Chefs: sisters Alexis and Patricia Rosa, and mother/daughter Rhonda Ferguson and Arisha Miller.
The bond among these pairs of chefs is inspirational both in and out of the school kitchens. For the Rosa sisters, it was Patricia who joined the Wellness in the Schools team first and she wouldn’t stop talking to her sister about her love for her work Alexis remarked, “I was hesitant at first, as I was on another path in my career. But, hearing about the mission, it was impossible for me to not sign up for this opportunity!”
Both have kickstarted incredibly memorable career paths at this organization. WITS Chef Patricia’s expertise in the public school kitchens of Staten Island is nothing short of stellar. She crafts strong relationships with the Cook-in-Charge at each school kitchen, teaches knife skills like a pro, and brings the salad bar to life. Her signature Arugula and Tomato Salad with Balsamic Vinaigrette is a student favorite. It is both decadently delicious and is a simple recipe that students can make at home, with their families.
Across a few bridges to the Bronx, WITS Chef Alexis Rosa knows a thing or two about making salad bars a sensation. Her interest in experimenting with different ingredients led her to work both in catering for weddings and then as a Chef at Facebook (along with her sister), where the menu rotated daily. Now a WITS Chef, one of her favorite moments in a school so far has been refreshing the salad bar experience and watching students line up to take salad in numbers. To their delight, these are numbers the staff had never seen before. Alexis laughs, sharing that the salad bar magic and other shenanigans come from the fact that she and Patricia “have worked together our entire career and we love it; we feed off each other so much. We help each other out with any challenges we come across in schools, and my sister gives me the encouragement I need to put myself out there more and interact with the students and kitchen staff with ease (I’m the more laid-back of us two). We also send each other photos daily of the work we do in these kitchens to inspire each other since we can’t actually be side by side.”
Though the sisters work in boroughs across the city from each other, that doesn’t stop them from making time to be together outside of work. From each “Good morning!” check-in to planning of what to do, eat, cook, and weekend plans, the two weave in and out of food and family chatter, nimble and nourishing. Birthdays and holidays are celebrated with Alexis and her two children and Patricia — who is more of a mother figure than an aunt to the kids — right alongside the bunch. Just as Alexis counts it “a blessing to be a part of this mission providing students with healthy, delicious food that will nourish them,” add sisterhood to that list!
WITS Chef Arisha Miller comes to Wellness in the Schools from the intersection of culinary, food, and nutrition. Growing up in Guyana, Arisha observed the work her mother, Rhonda Ferguson, put into the restaurant she owned: Rhonda’s Spicy Kitchen. The restaurant was always a whirl of spices and scratch-cooked recipes. Arisha’s love for food and skill of cooking stayed with her through high school. This love drove her to earn a degree in Culinary and Baking & Pastry Arts, learning the science behind food and what it can do for you. Arisha said, “It all clicked when I realized that our eating habits start as a child and things like illness and disease can be easily prevented and reversed in their early stage with good food.” And, it was daughter Arisha who showed her role model and mother the way this time. Rhonda joined Wellness in the Schools after Arisha shared her stories.
Rhonda and Arisha have built incredible relationships in and out of the kitchen, and now infuse their joy for food into schools across the Brooklyn borough. WITS Program Manager Laurielle Clark highlights Arisha as “a treat to have in the kitchen,” with endless recipe inspiration for the school cooks she works with. “With her persistence, hard work, patience, and a ‘get it done’ spirit, Arisha creates an atmosphere for the kitchens to thrive in.” Rhonda, too, utilizes her knowledge of running a restaurant as well as teaching culinary arts in after-school programs to implement side-by-side training with school cooks that is uplifting and engaging. Outside of work, the two always find time to bond and hang out either baking at home, cooking, watching a movie, or just hanging out. With the many wins and challenges that come with this work, Arisha and Rhonda add that this close bond “makes us able to discuss our goals and give each other valuable advice, making the school kitchen experience comfortable and fun!”