10 Questions for Neal Bermas

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GL: How do you define success for the students?

NB: They can define it for themselves. I just want to do everything possible to give them the dignity and choices that they deserve in their lives. I believe having the opportunity for a successful and rewarding hospitality career can provide that.

GL: What are the greatest frustrations—and greatest joys—in your work?

NB: The greatest joy is easy: It’s the remarkable transition that these young people make from the most dire poverty and limited lives to the exciting hospitality careers that we now know are so possible for them as they evolve through our comprehensive program. The frustration is that we could do lots more, and we’ve had some great support to get as far as we have, but it is sometimes a challenge to get the economic support we need to expand our success.

GL: Who are some of the prominent U.S. chefs who have gotten involved with Streets, and what role do they play?

NB: The chefs have been great: Mike Anthony (Gramercy Tavern), Ty Bellingham (Kittichai), Kenny Callaghan (Blue Smoke and Jazz Standard), Anita Lo (Annisa), Masaharu Morimoto (Morimoto), David Waltuck (Ark Restaurants, formerly of Chanterelle), King Phojanakong (Umi Nom and Kuma Inn), and David Suarez (Rosa Mexicano), to name a few. They contribute with their talent and food at our annual NYC fund-raiser event. Several now also serve on our advisory board. They’re a valuable resource to us as we continue to develop our restaurant and program. We’re hoping to have several come to Vietnam to do some guest lecturing and cooking at the restaurant and perhaps participate in a Streets cookbook.

GL: Could you see this expanding internationally?

NB: Well, it already is an international effort. After all, I am an American—well, at least a New Yorker. The work we are doing is in Vietnam, and we are exploring other possibilities to expand in Laos, the Philippines, and other places where there are disenfranchised and very poor kids. From the start, I had the notion that we should build this program with an eye toward expansion. Can you imagine a Streets brand with cool, contemporary international and local cuisine anywhere in the world, not only serving international tourism but providing culinary and hospitality training to poor kids as part of its recognizable mission? I can.

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