Even as a child, Tricia Dickerson was always entertaining her friends. She would plan tea parties fit for a princess, serving the neighborhood kids small soda bottles and chocolate-cake slices. Table settings and food presentation had to be tasteful — and perfect. She also catered her own high-school-graduation party.
“People who are really into cooking as a passion — I think it comes from within, and it’s always kind of been there,” Dickerson said.
But, for most of her life, Dickerson kept cooking on the back burner. At age 30, she landed a job with IBM, where she became known as the “Hatchet Woman” for the way she would clean house when restructuring the company. Dickerson invested 24 years, four months and 10 days into IBM, and had worked her way up from administration manager to executive marketing manager.
“IBM was a challenge,” Dickerson said. “I like challenges and love change. Being an IBM manager was extremely stressful, but it was rewarding because I received lots of awards for my reorganization.”
Despite Dickerson’s grunts and groans about the layoff, it helped fuel the fire for her culinary career. Upon her departure, she received $2,500 to use for culinary classes. Dickerson then attended a one-week pastry boot camp at the Culinary Institute of America, in Hyde Park, N.Y.
“This is the most prestigious culinary school,” Dickerson said. “I could probably put my chef clothes on and walk around the campus and feel good.”
Sarasota came into play when Dickerson signed up for a timeshare swap. One week of unwinding on Lido Beach was all it took. In 2005, she relocated and started a personal-chef-and- catering service called Tricia’s Home Plate LLC. In 2007, she was hired as the Kid’s Café resident chef at Girls Inc.
In addition to preparing daily snacks and light lunches for 150 girls, she manages a restaurant and catering business within the Girl’s Inc. Micro Society, teaching girls how to run the business, cook, serve, set up buffet tables and maintain a garden. They are also learning basic kitchen skills, nutrition, kitchen organization, menu preparation and how to add 15% gratuity to bills.
The girls have developed a fondness for Dickerson’s homemade macaroni and cheese and her chicken and rice. Using fresh produce from the on-site garden, the girls have learned how to make their own herb butter and herb omelets. They’ve also tried their hands at decorating cakes and making chocolate bark.
“These kids don’t eat a lot at school, and when they go home, you don’t know if they’ll eat again,” Dickerson said. “A snack could be fresh fruit and milk, shepherd’s pie or taco salad. They get a light lunch versus just a granola bar and glass of water.”
But because the Department of Health’s children’s program pays an allowance of just 74 cents per girl, per day, Dickerson constantly seeks free food options. On Wednesdays, she spends 30 minutes at All Faiths Food Bank shopping for produce, bakery items and anything else that’s available.
“On the way to the food bank, I pray that they have salad and vegetables and rolls, because then I don’t have to spend that at Sam’s,” she said. “I give the girls salad once a week, and I sneak fresh spinach in it.”
On the last day of each month, Dickerson puts her professional business skills to the test, figuring out different ways to stretch the small amount of money.
“Coming in here, you have to be positive because these girls are going through so much,” Dickerson said. “They’re my girls. I wish I could take them home someday.”
Contact Loren Mayo at firstname.lastname@example.org
BY THE NUMBERS
150 — girls who receive a snack/lunch
74 — cents Sarasota Department of Health provides per girl
35 — cents that each milk carton costs
22 — girls in Micro Society restaurant and catering business
5 — days per week Tricia Dickerson prepares snacks/lunches
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