Culinary students at the St. Joseph Center in Venice are getting some hands-on experience from some of the region’s top chefs and leading restaurants.

St. Joseph culinary student Ardalur Atkins is the latest student to receive elbow-rubbing food preparation and serving tips from a well-known local restaurant.

Atkins helped serve up Border Grill delights at a recent Santa Monica Farmers Market.

Atkins was all smiles as he found himself between Border Grill chef Raquel Naranjo and Border Grill manager Christine Staggs, helping prepare and serve Border Grill outdoor “modern Mexican” delights at the outdoor Farmers Market.

“I love the people in the food industry,” Atkins said, “the managers, the chefs, the customers.

“There is such positive energy.

“And I believe that once you set your goal, you must follow your dream.”

Atkins’ dream is to start a soul food restaurant “that everyone can afford.”

Atkins’ experience with the Border Grill was not the first time the restaurant has shared its expertise with culinary students at the St. Joseph Center.

During the past three years, the Border Grill has opened its kitchen doors to two tours of its restaurant for the culinary training students.

Last year, the students got to attend a media lunch prepared by 20 top chefs in a program called “Share Our Strength.” The students met with community activists and got to taste the dishes featured in a Taste of the Nation fundraiser.

The “Share Our Strength” program is an anti-hunger, anti-poverty organization, and more than 10,000 community leaders in more than 65 cities across the country and Canada participate in the Taste of the Nation event.

Since 1988, these events have distributed more than $58 million, which has gone to more than 450 organizations working to end hunger and poverty in the U.S. and abroad.

St. Joseph Center officials are delighted that their culinary students get to participate in such programs.

“We are extremely grateful at St. Joseph Center for the support of Mary Sue Milliken and Susan Feniger — co-owners of Ciudad and Border Grill — and Share Our Strength,” said Leticia Garcia Greenman, St. Joseph Center director of family services.

“This is a wonderful example of business and community leaders coming together to break the cycle of poverty and to encourage self-sufficiency for homeless and low-income individuals and families.”

The St. Joseph Center culinary program provides ten weeks of training in food service and life skills and places 68 percent of its graduates in jobs within 90 days after graduation.

Established in 1991, the program has graduated hundreds of students who have gone on to gain careers in the food service industry.

Last year, the culinary training program was featured on “Aging in L.A.: Training for a New Career” on the City of Los Angeles Channel 35.

Information, St. Joseph Center, (310) 396-6468, ext. 328 or

Information on Share Our Strength, (213) 383-6228.