Editor’s note: This article first published in the Fall 2022 issue of Beyond the Meeting Room, ALHI’s printed magazine, a luxury lifestyle publication focused on sharing compelling, inspirational and educational stories from beyond the four walls of a meeting room.

Born in the Ivory Coast, raised in Benin, and educated in Ghana, Ablawa Ajavon came to Washington, D.C., in 2007 as a student in pursuit of a better life, only to become stranded after her mother died. In 2014, she obtained her green card after marrying a man she said was abusive and beat her. 

“I could not be in the house, which led me to DC Central Kitchen (DCCK), where I first volunteered and then enrolled in the Culinary Job Training (CJT) program,” she said. “It completely changed my life.”

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Graduating in 2017, Ajavon first worked at DCCK’s Nutrition Lab as a production cook. Then she joined DCCK’s pioneering Healthy Corners program, which increases access to affordable healthy food through stores in low-income Washington neighborhoods.

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Ablawa Ajavon, CJT Culinary Instructor

“I was hungry for success and wanted to keep growing,” said Ajavon, who said she “loved” doing cooking demonstrations and creating and sharing recipes as part of the program’s Nutritional Community Education team. 

In April 2020, she became a CJT Culinary Instructor. During the COVID-19 interruption, she spent eight months cooking three meals every day for up to 200 community members. Since then, she has flourished as a teacher and inspiration to her students.

“I give back what DCCK gave to me,” said Ajavon, known as “Chef Mimi” to her students. “I was one of them once. We give them a second chance through training in both culinary and life skills. We teach commitment to doing everything the right way or not at all. Our reputation means everything. As I tell my students, you can make the best pot pie, but you must have the best character as well.”

The D.C. hospitality community resounds with CJT success stories. Someko Hanson, who began her recovery walk at DCCK in 2018, now owns her own catering business, Fellowship Over Food. 

“CJT made me understand that I am accountable for my own actions,” said Hanson. “Today, I have integrity in all areas of my life.”