Catalyst Grantee Profile: Recipe for Change

Recipe for Change

Interview with Recipe for Change founder, Bruno Abate, on why he started the organization and what he’s thinking about.


Organization Vision: To become the national model for innovation in evidence-based jail and prison rehabilitation programming thereby reducing recidivism, building stronger families, and safer communities through individual change.

Organization Mission:  Recipe for Change brings culinary, fine arts, and life skills training to detainees of the Cook County jail with a unique emphasis on supporting individual growth, change from within, and restoration of personal dignity.

Population Served: Detainees of the Cook County Jail

Founding Year: 2014

Problem and Approach: The United State’s system of incarceration has too long focused on warehousing while overlooking the essence of the human beings in custody. Therefore, Recipe for Change seeks to bring change both to the system and to those enrolled in the program. Foundational to real change is the fostering of dignity and self-respect in an environment where participants are recognized for their individual worth while learning skills to support themselves, their families and their communities. Recipe for Change is fortunate to have the enthusiastic support of Sheriff Tom Dart in the work that we do.


Why did you start this program? Recipe for Change was initiated from the perspective that each day spent in incarceration is a day that can be used to learn something or to lose something. Seeking to interrupt often multi-generational patterns, our instructors have a long view on their work in terms of the impact and influence our students will have on subsequent generations. We seek to return contributing and confident citizens who have been reminded of their humanity –rather than stripped of it– to their families and communities. This, indeed, is a human right.

What kind of trends do you see in your area of work? We are pleased to see increasing attention to the rehabilitative side of the criminal justice system. Whether fueled by a greater awareness of the escalating costs of mass incarceration or the social impact and failed experience of incarceration in addressing recidivism and other societal ills, we are pleased that the issue is gaining greater attention in the political sphere and in social dialogue.

What do you think will change most about over the next 5 years? While five years may be a somewhat ambitious time frame, we do see increasing attention to the twin issues of mass incarceration and the need for effective approaches to returning contributing citizens to our communities. We see the trend line moving forward (slowly), yet it should pick up speed as these issues remain in the national spotlight and become increasingly urgent. Within ten years, we see a more consistent recognition of the need to direct resources to holistic rehabilitative programming (taking greater account of the societal forces giving rise to phenomena of mass incarceration) while the injustices of mass incarceration come into focus and are addressed by a more activist and receptive generation.

What are the three most important skills you focus on developing in the population you serve? Why? Self-respect, personal accountability/respect for others and maintaining a vision for the future.

  • We believe that by nurturing human dignity in our student population while teaching skills we create a sense of self-respect, competency and self-esteem that, when buried deep within, will create a source of resiliency to inevitable life challenges.
  • Likewise, in demonstrating the importance of accountability to self and others, our students practice self-discipline while maintaining an appreciation of their place in the world and importance to those relying on them—whether in the workplace, family, or community.
  • Maintaining a vision for the future depends on the other two skills and reminds our students of the potential that lies within in ways that may have been missing or inadequately nurtured before joining our program.

What are the three most important skills you focus on developing in your staff? Why? 

  • Our staff must work with our students without judgment. We recognize that the circumstances giving rise to pre-trial incarceration are complicated and are not the focus of our interaction.
  • Our staff recognizes and focuses on the potential within each human being in the present moment while helping to support a vision of a satisfactory life outside the jail.
  • Our staff must also cultivate patience within themselves as they work with a diverse group of individuals who are starting from many difference places in terms of self-discipline, attention span, and personal interactions.

How has technology influenced the way your organization works? This is an area where we have experienced only minor technological influence. Our program largely depends on interpersonal relations and traditional culinary classroom technique (other than by installation of a/v monitors to enlarge and enhance classroom learning). In developing state of the art metrics for our performance tracking we will use computer programming. Additionally, social media has facilitated post-release communication with our population offering additional opportunities for support and peer-to-peer communication.

Who are your key mentors? Pasticceria Giotto in Padua, Italy is a highly successful prison-based rehabilitation program that has been shown to dramatically reduce the recidivism of its participants. Chef Abate was influenced by this program when he first felt called to do his part in addressing what he saw as gross deficiencies in the U.S. penal system. Here is a link to their English language website.

What’s next for you in your work? What are you looking forward to? We are looking forward to the expansion of programming to include music and a program in the women’s division. We also hope to start a capital campaign for a post-release transition center and add more internal structure to our organization

What do you wish others knew about the organization? That our student interns make the best thin crust pizza in Chicago! (see, Trevor Noah on the Daily Show). And, we welcome others (and need them!) to be a part of the change!

On a technical note, we would like to see a greater understanding that jail is a pre-trial holding facility most often populated by people who cannot afford bail. We often hear that “criminals” don’t deserve our resources, attention, or compassion—when this population has not been convicted of the charges that brought them to Cook County Jail. We firmly believe that people are deserving of basic human rights and society benefits from a rehabilitative approach regardless of conviction status but we would like the general public to better understand the difference.


Jail culinary program preaches power of food (Chicago Tribune)

Cook(ing) County Jail – WTTW Chicago

Local chef teaches Cook County Jail inmates to cook healthy food– ABC7 Chicago

Creating Cooks at Cook County Jail – Wall Street Journal

‘The Daily Show’ says they found the best pizza in Chicago – in Cook County Jail – WGNChicago

Chef Teaches Inmates At Cook County Jail How To Cook, How To Live – Huffington Post

Chef Bruno and his Recipe for Change: “If we do a little bit every day, we can make the world better” WGN Radio


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