Cooking has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember, but it wasn’t until last year that it truly felt like a calling.
I was just 10 years old when I started working alongside my grandfather in the kitchen, helping him run a successful catering service. We’d spend hours preparing big batches of fried fish and fried chicken for festive occasions like weddings and family reunions.
I was comfortable in the kitchen and enjoyed the time spent with my grandpa, but I did not envision this could become my life’s work. In fact, it would be quite a few years — and overcoming quite a few obstacles — before I figured that out.
Last year, I was scrolling Facebook one day when I saw a photo of my best friend hard at work in a professional kitchen. I was impressed and intrigued. When I reached out to ask where he was working, he explained he was training at Common Table.
Catholic Charities of Louisville operates Common Table, an eight-week culinary arts program, during which students learn the basics of working in the food service industry and obtain their Louisville Metro Food Service Manager’s Certification. I signed up — and at that point, at the age of 42, my life changed for the better.
Over the years, I had worked a variety of unfulfilling jobs to make ends meet. But this felt different. Common Table prepared me for a culinary career and imparted skills that will help me in all aspects of life — like communication, time management and organization.
Not only do I now know how to run a professional kitchen and prepare delicious homemade food (like my favorite new dish, Moroccan fish stew), but I’ve also learned how to lead.
I’ve discovered the joy of teaching and am eager to share my knowledge, which is perhaps the most valuable lesson I learned in the program; it’s what inspired me to take on the full-time position of sous chef at Common Table.
As sous chef, I’m in charge of our popular soup and bread subscription program, which helps fund Common Table. I also have the privilege of helping our head chef teach new students who are just beginning their culinary journeys — students like my own 16-year-old son, who graduated from Common Table this past summer and whose future holds so much promise.
The future holds promise for me, too, and I’m thankful for the opportunities I’ve been given. The people at Common Table now feel like extended family. They have instilled confidence in me and given me space to grow as a person, as a professional, and as a father to my four children.
I’m determined to pay that forward. My No. 1 goal is to give back what I learned at Common Table with the hope of changing the lives of others, just as my life was changed.
Visit the Common Table website to learn more about the program, including how to enroll as a student, to sign up for the soup and bread subscription or to see their catering menu.