5-star meals cooked by inmates inside Flagler County jail

Inmate chefs are win-win for community, restaurant owner

The Flagler County Jail is collaborating with a restaurant owner and his chief chef to prep inmates for food service, and at the same time give them a reason to stay out of jail.

FLAGLER COUNTY, Fla. – It’s a partnership that will help local restaurant owners in Flagler county ease the hiring shortage and get qualified cooks into their kitchens.

The Flagler County Jail is collaborating with a restaurant owner and his chief chef to prep inmates for food service, and at the same time give them a reason to stay out of jail.

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Jamie Bourdeau, owner of Beach Front Grille in Flagler Beach, brings Chef Rami to the jail twice a week to make chefs out of inmates.

Using carefully-controlled cutlery, the inmates learn how to professionally slice seafood, meats and vegetables. They skewer and fry and broil. They serve the dishes with sauces and garnishment, and they learn to clean up.

5-star meals cooked by inmates inside the Flagler County jail (Copyright 2022 by WKMG ClickOrlando - All rights reserved)

Bourdeau and Jail Chief Daniel Engert said the idea is to make the inmates hirable as soon as they’re released, and for Bourdeau to hire them.

“Our whole industry, not just Beach Front Grille, we need people to help out and work so we found a common ground and we’re trying to help each other out,” Bourdeau said. “It helps all of us, it helps you and me as taxpayers, and it helps them [inmates] hopefully.”

In about 20 minutes, the inmates prepared a 5-star meal: seared tuna and blackened scallops.

At the Beach Front Grille, this dish would cost $38.

But Engert said the only thing the county pays for is the food, using jail profits.

“For many of them, this is the first time they’ve been successful at anything,” Engert said. “I’m afraid that the Sheriff’s ‘Green Roof Inn,’ his one-star rating is in jeopardy.”

Bourdeau has already arranged housing for the inmates when they graduate and are released.

“You never know how it’s going to work out when they go back outside, what their habits are, but you’re going to hope they feel like they’ve been trusted by us,” Bourdeau said. “And they’ll work a little harder and stay out of jail.”

Inmate David Connolly will be released in January. He’s never tasted a scallop before.

Thanks to the cooking class and Bordeau, Connolly said for the first time he’ll have somewhere to go and something to do.

“That’s absolutely the difference, though. Coming out, I’ve got options,” Connolly said. “Normally, when I get out, I don’t have money in my pocket. I have to come up with money or pay bills, and I end up going back to bad habits because I have nothing set up for me. This time is absolutely different.”

When the inmates graduate, they’ll get a certificate from Flagler Technical College showing 120 hours of course completion in the kitchen.

More importantly, they’ll also receive a Servsafe Food Service Manager’s certificate which is extremely valuable. State law requires at least one person with that certificate in any kitchen at all times.

The cooking course is eight weeks long and takes five inmates at a time because of space limitations.

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About the Author:

Erik von Ancken anchors and reports for WKMG-TV News 6 (CBS) in Orlando and is a two-time Emmy award-winning journalist in the prestigious and coveted "On-Camera Talent" categories for both anchoring and reporting. Erik joined the News 6 News Team in 2003 days after the tragic loss of space shuttle Columbia.