Story by Erica Soto

For Andrew Parkinson, the journey to the 2009 ING New York City Marathon began with a restaurant. Parkinson, 42, from Ellesmereport, England, ran with “Team Fifteen,” all staff of the restaurant Fifteen in London. The ten runners hoped to raise £50,000 to support the restaurant.

The non-profit restaurant and charity, founded by famous English Chef Jamie Oliver in 2002, trains 18 young adults aged 16-25, to become professional chefs. For most of the kids, or “apprentices,” the program is their second chance. Most have recovered from substance abuse, homelessness and prison. “One of them was in the national papers for being in trouble with the police,” said Parkinson, executive chef at Fifteen. Now the same young man is on his way to becoming a chef.

The 26.2-mile race, which began Sunday morning, started in Staten Island and spanned all five boroughs, ending at 65th street and Central Park West. It marked Parkinson’s second New York Marathon, and sixth marathons overall. The others include three races in London and one in Berlin.

The idea for the fundraiser came to him earlier this year, and the group began training in April. Parkinson, who has 23 years of cooking experience, said that it costs £30,000 per student per year to train the young chefs, who work alongside real chefs, making top-class Italian dishes.

Fellow teammate and Jamie Oliver’s website editor, Danny McCubbin said, “I think a lot of people are waiting to see if we actually complete it, and then they’ll start to donate.” So far, they have raised £17,581. The money raised will go for student training, which includes culinary school and time spent in the kitchen. Past students have taken trips to farms for mushroom and tomato picking, where they picked out the freshest and best produce and meat. He also said they took a trip to Italy to show the students where the best olive oil comes from.

At the end of a year, students graduate, often moving ahead with careers in the culinary industry. Parkinson said one of the students has a cooking show in the U.K., another released a cookbook, a third opened a restaurant with his sister, and another works at the Spotted Pig restaurant in London. While students gained necessary cooking skills, Parkinson said that the focus of the program was less about getting hired as a chef and more about making a difference in the kid’s lives. It was to show them that there was something more than the situations they came from.

Parkinson wouldn’t say running is a passion, but it’s a good way to raise money. So far, he said he raised between £40,00-50,000 running for the charity, which uses only their net profit and minor donations to fund the restaurant. Unlike similar programs, the charity doesn’t get any government assistant, he said. In addition to the London locations, they have restaurants in Melbourne, Cornwall and Amsterdam.

After the race, Parkinson and the running crew planned on going to Plataforma, a Brazilian barbeque restaurant near Times Square. Thinking about the race ahead, Parkinson said he would focus on his stride and how he was running to keep himself from drifting out. He said that like cooking, “there’s a goal, there’s something at the end of it.” Around mile 18 or 19, Parkinson said, with his apprentices in mind, he would be thinking “Hang on, there’s a reason for this.”

About the author: Erica Soto is a reporter for the New York City News Service (CUNY School of Journalism)

Update: Since this article was written the race has been run with all of the runners finishing the race. Close to £25,000 has been raised for Fifteen Foundation. The Foundation is still accepting donations.