In 2012,  Melisa Nicola, Lisbeth Caiaffa, and Linda Newman Zechowy realized that when people have access to the most basic of necessities: food, water, education, and health, there is a positive transformation in ones outlook on life, and the possibility for change is achievable even in the most difficult of environments. With these thoughts in mind, C A K E, a program that would educate, engage and enrich the lives of youth who have been living in underserved communities in Los Angeles, was born.

Starting locally, in South Los Angeles; where youth are deprived of basic human needs, live in constant fear, and surrounded by dangerous criminal activity.  This causes them to become become disengaged. Their health suffers and they slip into the cycles of poverty and violence that so often characterize their communities.

C A K E ’s goals are to  work with youth, building their capacity to be catalysts of positive change in their community by providing infrastructure and increased knowledge and resources. Like a seed planted in fertile soil, with a little nourishment, an orchard will grow and thrive. We believe in the reciprocal relationship that exists between individuals and their environments, just as environments shape behavior, individuals too can shape their environments for the better. For the healthier.  

C A K E  is currently located at Santee Educational Complex (Santee), a Los Angeles Unified School in South Los Angeles. Santee is a member school of the LA Mayor’s Partnership for Los Angeles (PLAS) initiative to dramatically accelerate achievement for students in high poverty communities. In consultation with PLAS and Santee leadership, the C A K E program was conceived. 


2012 :

  • Three year enhanced culinary arts curriculum developed and launched on the campus of Santee in Fall with 150 student cohorts.   

  • American Heart Association gifts Santee Education Culinary Class 10 raised vegetable beds


  • Students created regionally inspired fresh healthy salads and served as lunch to peers.  C A K E  teamed with LAUSD Food Services to offer PILOT PROGRAM.

  • Summer of 2013, C A K E  partners with the American Heart Association and The California Endowment to launch a six-week summer intensive training for students called Harvest with Heart


  • Summer of 2014, C A  K E partners with Heart of Los Angeles Youth (HOLA) to offer a summer program to their high school students.

  • LA Times Invites students to present at The Taste held at Paramount Studios having 10,000 attendees


  • In March C A K E launches its after-school programming, After School with C A K E  and After Work With C A K E, a 12- week program that enriches the lives of both parents and children as they learn to cook and break bread together.

  • July launched 6 week Summer Programs – preparing students for workforce and life

  • Cookbook created by C A  K E students called "From Our Hood to Yours." Organic food grown by youth, developed into fresh health recipes. Young chefs also wrote personals narratives to accompany recipe.
  • Lifestyle and Cooking video's produced by teens for teens.  Inspired by cookbook "From our Hood To Yours" students produced their own videos. 



  • CAKE to partner up with corporations in Hospitality Industry preparing students specifically for the local hospitality workforce, through internships and mentoring opportunities.

  • CAKE to launch own line of healthy fresh regionally inspired salads developed by advanced students: " From our Hood To Yours" to be offered at local juice spots.

  • After School Program will be available 5 days a week 

  • Global Groweables: Large scale hydroponic unit (1,000lb. of food monthly) -retrofitted freight car, growing: herbs,veggies;  used for -school lunches, community farmers market, CAKE program and community partners.

  • Partnered with Apple Inc. and created a training workshop to create e-cookbooks with CAKE students recipes


  • CAKE curriculum is adapted by 5 local Pre K, Elementary and Jr. High Schools

  • Joined the Kids N Fitness© program at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles

  • Partnered with Wolfgang Puck to create a volunteer experience where advanced CAKE students participated in preparing meals for the 2018 Oscar's 


C A K E  enriches, engages, and educates students on life skills through practical knowledge and hands on experience in the culinary arts and the restaurant hospitality industry.

 Through C A K E 's programs, youth are empowered with the confidence and professional skills to pursue higher education and/or enter the workforce and to become ambassadors of health and wellness to their families and communities.

 Partnership for Los Angeles Reception at the Biltmore Hotel with Sergio Flores, Assistant Superintendent at Partnership LA, Principal Dr. Martin Gomez, C.A.K.E. founder Mel Nicola, and students 

Partnership for Los Angeles Reception at the Biltmore Hotel with Sergio Flores, Assistant Superintendent at Partnership LA, Principal Dr. Martin Gomez, C.A.K.E. founder Mel Nicola, and students 

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  • Joined C-Cap's professional development program and worked with US Foods


  • Build a market cafe in South Los Angeles that is operated as a co-op by the Santee Culinary Team and community
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