From FareStart Graduate to FareStart Chef Instructor
Chef Laura was showing a student how to get the grill prepared for the fish dish they were prepping and held up a finger to ask for a minute. She made sure he understood and then sat at the community table in the FareStart Restaurant.
“Thanks for waiting,” she said. She turned down the volume on her phone and looked up. “So, what do you want to talk about?”
Chef Laura has been working at FareStart for more than three and a half years. She had first started with the Youth Culinary team at Pacific Tower, but she had set her mind that she would be working on the line at the FareStart Restaurant from the very beginning, even when she was a FareStart student herself.
“Even though it was rough in the beginning, I loved being a student here,” she said. “At first the life skills and talking about our feelings was a little weird to me, but then one day I just woke up and realized that I hadn’t really done that before, talked about my feelings. I started really looking forward to going every day. And when the chefs started giving me harder tasks and letting my creativity out, I realized I found a new passion, a new love.”
Chef Laura graduated and started working at Loulay and was there for a year before she got the call to come to FareStart.
“When I was at Pac Tower, the act of making a sandwich or cutting a cabbage had a bigger picture,” she said. “Teaching students how to cut, this length, this technique, wasn’t the actual lesson. The actual lesson was to teach them discipline and how to follow directions. It was about helping them become a team player. But I knew that I wanted to get back to 700 Virginia and work with adults. So, I put it out there and soon after, I got a call from Chef Danny inviting me to work on the line with our adult culinary students at the FareStart Restaurant.”
“With a lot of the students that come through this program, with a lot of the ladies especially I’ve walked in their shoes,” she said. “I’ve walked from a group house to the bus and sat in the front and asked the bus driver to drop me off closer to FareStart because I didn’t feel safe walking those few extra blocks in the dark. The struggle they are going through in redefining themselves, finding themselves maybe for the first time in a long time is the same thing that I went through. Once they define to themselves what their truth is, good things can happen. But you have to make them happen.”
On the line, Chef Laura is a Chef Instructor to phase three students. These are students who are in the last phase of their training and working in the fast-paced, sometimes hectic line at a busy restaurant is one of the best training environments for them.
“We are asking these students to grill really expensive pieces of salmon and not to screw it up,” she said. “They are really excited, but they are also really scared as they have to learn things they’ve never done before when they can see the end of the line of their training. Every emotion is there filling them up and we have to guide them while we still expect that quality and speed for our customers. But when you see them succeed, when that light comes into their eyes, you realize that you had some part in that. When I see something deep inside them and tell them that there is something in them, sometimes that’s the first time they see it too.”
Chef Laura built from the conversation about the students to talk about her teammates in the kitchen and the community at FareStart.
“When we had ‘Chef Laura’s Teriyaki Chicken Sandwich’ on the menu I didn’t want my name on it,” she said. “It was a team effort, you know? I wanted to do something to show my Filipino heritage in a way that people could still enjoy, an easy way for them to get into it. So, after working with the team I came up with this sandwich. The teriyaki sauce is a family recipe. The marinade is one that my mom has made for as long as I could remember. One of the best things about working in a kitchen like FareStart’s is how much collaboration we use. We have a high level of camaraderie, even when it gets stressful.”
She talked about what inspires her.
“Hope still inspires me,” she said. “When I talk to my students and give them a little pep talk when things are short or hectic, they just nod say ‘yes, chef’ and we get it done. The little kindness and looking out for each other on the line keep the darkness out. We are paying it forward with our students and if they can do the same and pass it along, then maybe, just maybe more good will happen.”