NEW ORLEANS – Martha Wiggins is the new Executive Chef of Café Reconcile, 1631 Oretha Castle Haley Blvd., in New Orleans. As executive chef, Wiggins will create a dynamic kitchen learning lab and training environment for opportunity youth, ages 16-24, who turn to Reconcile for life skills and workforce development training each year. Moreover, Wiggins will craft and execute Café Reconcile’s new culinary philosophy and work to establish the café as one of New Orleans’ most recognized and celebrated eateries.
“Chef Wiggins has the experience and skill to train our Interns and Alumni for the rigors of a competitive hospitality industry as well as jobs outside the industry that require foundational skills like attention to detail, the ability to work in a team structure, and leadership and communication skills,” said Reconcile executive director, Gerald Duhon. “Martha’s impeccable culinary background and industry expertise will help us create the Café Reconcile experience we aspire to deliver. And most importantly, our young people have a mentor who can inspire, train, and help them understand the expectations that come with working in New Orleans’ premier hospitality jobs,” Duhon added.
Growing up in Washington, D.C., Wiggins started in the industry at local deli Pumpernickels at 15 years old where she found her passion for professional cooking. At age 20, she moved to New Bedford, Massachusetts and attended a culinary arts program while also advancing her culinary experience in several fine-dining establishments.
In 2010, Wiggins came to New Orleans and joined the staff of Sylvain as the sous chef to executive chef Alex Harrell. In October 2014, Wiggins took over as executive chef at Sylvain. As executive chef, her modern gastropub fare landed her on The Times-Picayune’s list of Chefs to Watch 2015, Gambit’s 2015 Emerging Chefs list, and her holiday cocktail snacks were featured on the cover of Food & Wine’s December 2015 issue. Her work at Sylvain garnered attention from the James Beard Foundation. In 2017, Wiggins was a semifinalist for the Rising Star Award; in 2018, she was among the semifinalists for Best Chef South.
In early 2018, Wiggins left Sylvain and joined the opening team at The Elysian Bar at the new Hotel Peter & Paul, ranked number five among Bon Appetit’s 10 Best New Restaurants in 2019.
As the executive chef of Café Reconcile, Wiggins can not only pursue her culinary passion but her desire to mentor and train young people.
In concert with Café Reconcile’s commitment to equity and inclusion, Wiggins is dedicated to initiatives that bring attention to and eliminate inequities in the restaurant industry. She aims to affect change and create more equitable work environments that respect and reward the talents and contributions of all workers within a creative, diverse, and dynamic hospitality industry.
“At Café Reconcile, we are not only creating a meal and memorable dining experience. We have the ability to change lives by supporting young people who are chasing their dreams,” said Wiggins. “I’m inspired to craft a workplace culture at Reconcile that empowers our Interns and Alumni to acquire the skills that will set them on the path to a career. But equally important is the opportunity for Café Reconcile to set an example and inspire a standard for a hospitality industry culture that values and respects all, no matter the position someone holds,” added Wiggins.
Wiggins’ role as executive chef is an important element of Reconcile’s strategic priorities that focus on a holistic approach to its programming and business operations.
Reconcile’s new strategic vision calls for an equity-aligned and outcomes-focused approach to create a quality, customized experience for program participants, and high-quality food, service, and learning experiences in the café. Reconcile is also poised to formalize its ongoing post-program support to ensure the continued growth and success of its Alumni.
In 2021, Reconcile Interns will benefit from a program experience that is tailored to individual needs and aspirations and meets them wherever they are along their journey. The new model is a phased approach, offering a more transformative learning experience that gives participants the time they require to develop the confidence and skills they need to be successful. And a new structured culinary curriculum will focus on teaching core skills that are necessary to master when striving to work in New Orleans’ best restaurants.
“Our young people thrive when we help remove barriers that make it difficult for them to commit to their goals and focus on achieving success,” adds Duhon. “Each Intern comes to Reconcile with a unique story, individual challenges, and varied needs and skills. Reconcile’s redesigned program approach will better serve our young people who are seeking a brighter future for themselves and their families.”
Interns learn essential life and occupational skills, are connected to support services such as mental health counseling, legal aid, health care navigation, and housing and childcare assistance, among other critical services. Throughout the program, they learn professional communication methods, resume’ and cover letter writing, front of house hospitality techniques, back of house culinary techniques, and transferrable skills that can be applied in any industry.
In addition to the free job training and support services, Interns receive transportation support, a proper industry credentials, uniform and footwear, daily meals, and a competitive stipend. Reconcile also helps connect Interns to externships that provide a firsthand look at positions within local industries and to prospective employers who share Reconcile’s commitment to equity.
Reconcile’s work continues beyond successful completion of the program. Graduates spanning the organization’s 20+ year history will have access to new post-program workshops and services focused on training, ongoing skill development, and professional growth opportunities.
“The pandemic has taught us that our Alumni are comfortable returning to Reconcile to seek services and guidance. They request help to address unanticipated needs or conquer new challenges. This ongoing support helps our Alumni pursue new growth opportunities,” said Duhon. “Our doors are always open, offering a safe space to turn whenever we are needed. Our goal is to assist Alumni along life’s journey and provide support beyond graduation.”
Reconcile’s new strategic vision and plan will continue to strengthen the organization’s work with the young people who are seeking quality, living-wage employment, an equitable work environment, and charting a course towards long-term career advancement and financial security.
“Bringing Chef Martha Wiggins to our team is a key component of our plan,” added Duhon. “We are excited for our Interns and Alumni to realize the benefit of Chef Martha’s creativity, talent, knowledge, and diverse experience.”