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Prisoners Learn to Make Pizza in Chicago

09 June, 2017

Chef Bruno Abate owns one of the best pizzerias in Chicago.

His restaurant makes thin pizzas, heated in an oven with a wood-burning fire. They come with toppings like mushrooms, onions, olives, tomatoes and Italian meats.

Each pizza sells for between $12 and $18 at Abate's restaurant, Tocco.

But did you know you can get a similar pizza for half the price at the Cook County Jail in Chicago?

Abate leads a cooking school at the jail. He shows prisoners how to make pizza, pasta, and Italian ice cream, called gelato.

The cooking school is called "Recipe for Change."

There, behind the jail's barbed wires and security barriers, a number of students, including Shaquille Slater, are making pizzas. "I like everything I do," he says.

Slater makes pizza dough, and then adds toppings to the dough. He makes sure the pizza and its toppings look just right before they come out of the oven.

Jonathan Scott says working with food makes him forget about being in jail.

"[It brings up] memories of when you was free and when you was having a good time," he says.

Workers at the cooking school make about 200 pizzas every week. The pizzas are sold to other prisoners in the jail for about $7 each.

Inmates at the Cook County Jail in Chicago make pizza under the watch of Bruno Abate.
Inmates at the Cook County Jail in Chicago make pizza under the watch of Bruno Abate.

Scott says the eyes of the prisoners "light up like it's Christmas" when their pizzas arrive. "They love it," he says. "They keep ordering every week."

Abate says he is teaching cooking skills to the prisoners, and how to use good, fresh ingredients. Many of the students did not know how to use basil or zucchini before taking the class.

When they finish the class, the students have skills they can use to find jobs when they are released from prison.

A website called Munchies published a long story about Abate and the program. It told the story of one former inmate, who now works in Tocco's kitchen.

Abate says his program teaches more than how to make food.

Shaquille Slater says Abate helps his students learn that they need to have a plan for their future so they do not return to prison once they are released.

"Through food, I try to teach, you know, how to change in life," Abate says.

I'm Dan Friedell.

Deborah Block wrote this story for VOANews. Dan Friedell adapted her report for Learning English. George Grow was the editor.

Would you try a pizza made by an inmate? We want to know. Write to us in the Comments Section or on 51VOA.COM.


Words in This Story

recipe – adj. a set of directions for making food

barbed – adj. having sharp points or edges

dough – n. a mixture of flour, water, and other ingredients that is used to make bread or other baked goods

ingredient – n. something that is used when making a food product