Laurent Halasz, an accomplished restaurateur, greets each of his culinary students with a warm smile and genuine enthusiasm.
His students are at-risk youth from Boyle Heights, who were with Laurent at his West Hollywood restaurant for a cooking class.
On the surface, it's an unlikely pairing — but dig deeper, and it's a recipe for success.
"I think the fact he came and opened his arms to the Boyle Heights community, even though he didn't know us, I thought that was very generous and courageous of him," said Erick, a student.
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Laurent, who grew up in the South of France, is the founder of FIG & OLIVE restaurant, which has seven locations around the country, including West Hollywood. With his growing success, he had a desire to give back and start the Farm & Kitchen Foundation.
Sharing his passion for food allows him to connect with young people and to inspire them to pursue their own dreams.
"What I tell them is there is only one way: work, work, work and of course, continue their studies," Laurent said.
Laurent teams up with the LAPD's Hollenbeck division, which runs the largest Police Activities League, a program designed to steer kids in a positive direction.
"I think it really gives them a sense of, 'all I got to do is go get it,'" said Donald Levier of the LAPD. "And it's right at their fingertips."
Every year, 15 students are invited to participate in Laurent's program, where he and his staff expose them to the culinary industry.
"It's no secret our kids come from a tough neighborhood, so to get them out of that environment and get them out of their bubble, out of their shells, out of their comfort zone, it really opens their eyes," Levier said.
For some students, it can be intimidating if they've never ventured beyond their Boyle Heights neighborhood.
"They're a little taken aback, they're scared. We've had children on the first time say they don't belong in that restaurant," said Officer Glenda Brooks of the Hollenbeck Police Activities League.
Laurent quickly discovered food is a great equalizer.
"I think food opened the heart and the mind," he said.
The program is about much more than the cooking classes — over the next nine months, the students will also take seminars in job readiness, life skills and leadership.
Laurent says spending time with the students creates a sense of family, as does sitting down together and eating the meal they learned to prepare in class.
"Not a lot of people have this opportunity, and him opening the doors to teenagers from our community is pretty amazing," said Angie Avila, a student. "For that, I'm thankful."
Learn more about Farm & Kitchen Foundation here.