Graduates of the Foodservice Training Program are spread all across the Chicago area utilizing their skills to not only advance their careers, but to also serve their communities. Inspiration Corporation wishes to highlight program alum accomplishments and share their stories. Tune in each month to see who is in the spotlight and learn about what inspires them.
Sara completed the Foodservice Training Program back in April 2019. Since then, she has earned multiple roles, all of which allowed her to continue growing as a professional cook. When stay-at-home expectations went into full swing in March 2020, and with the pandemic impacting the foodservice industry, Sara was laid off from her job and left wondering if her professional dreams are still possible. This is her story and inspiration.
interview with sara (12.3.20)
When did you first hear about Inspiration Kitchens, and what encouraged you to apply?
I heard about the Foodservice Training program through the Department of Human Services office in late 2018. They referred me to Inspiration Kitchens because I told them that I like to be in the kitchen and cook. When I heard the program was free, I just went for it and made the decision to attend an info session. The program was a right fit for me and I am proud to say that I graduated from the Foodservice Training program in April 2019.
What are the top skills or advice you gained from your training that you currently are utilizing at home or in your current job?
All the training that I received, I utilize it each time I step into a kitchen. This includes everything from sanitation, to time management, organization, and of course the preparation of various dishes.
In my current job, I share what I have learned with my co-workers because I recognized that some of them didn’t have the same level of training that I received. When there is an opportunity, I share the knowledge that I have retained to help others around me grow.
How has COVID-19 impacted you?
Basically, the pandemic has impacted me work-wise. I didn’t work for about 8 months.
I was on unemployment insurance like many people. I decided to wait it [the pandemic] out to see how the [foodservice] industry was going to change or adjust. Once I saw that the industry was not recovering the way I hoped, I decided to get back in the workforce and get a job. That is when I reached out to Inspiration Kitchens for employment assistance.
Can you explain where you are currently employed and what you do?
I currently work for Mariano’s in the meat and seafood department. I have been in my position since November 2020. I assist customers and provide them with various cuts of protein. I take pride in being an example for those around me by keeping work stations clean and organized. I love providing a great experience for all customers I get to meet. I am happy to to serve people and help them with what they need. It is part of why I wanted to be a foodservice professional.
I worked for Bon Appetit at the Art Institute of Chicago. I loved that job! Before I became permanently hired by Bon Appetit, I did some temp jobs for the company which allowed me to network and get to know the chefs. I ended up doing a number of events for Bon Appetit because the chefs kept requesting me to work with them. After a while they encourage me to apply for a position at Bon Appetit, and after the interview process, I got the job!
It felt like I found my work home. My job was in a great location downtown. I loved the atmosphere of the work environment. And, most importantly, the chefs of Bon Appetit were so supportive of me. I got to cook for different departments at the Art Institute. I was able to go between catering, the front line, or be a server/buffet attendant. I met different people and learned about so many different Chicago-based companies.
I was so hurt to lose that job when the pandemic came around. The job was full-time, offered benefits, and there was room for upward advancement. I hope that I can return to Bon Appetit when the economy recovers. But, for now, I am happy to have a job at Mariano’s.
How has Inspiration Kitchens continued to be a resource to you as a program alumnus?
Inspiration Kitchens has been a huge support system for me when it comes to employment assistance, mentorship, and mental health support. I did not have a big support system before Inspiration Kitchens. Once I became a program member, Inspiration Kitchens offered me so much. I have received help with mental health resources, food, housing, and more. There were times that I had no idea what direction to go and the team at Inspiration Kitchens provided me with support and a direction to be where I am now. I have my own home. I am employed. And I am inspired to help others.
Any final words you’d like to share?
At the end of the day, I am passionate about cooking and being in the kitchen. Once the pandemic started, I thought everything would be over (for the foodservice industry). During this pandemic I experienced a huge personal loss that greatly discouraged me. After taking some time to feel those emotions and grieve, my loss began to motivate me to try and regain my center and do what I love, which is to cook. The Inspiration Kitchens team has been there for me throughout, and with their support I have gained a job and access to needed resources. A good support system has kept me accountable and focused on what I need to be the best version of me. Every time I cook and produce something for someone else, it gives me gratification, which encourages me to keep going and progress in my career as a professional cook.