James was one of 17 students who graduated from the 39th Inspiration Kitchens class in June of 2007. There were a number of factors that contributed to James’ arrival at Inspiration Corporation. He spent a lifetime at a variety of jobs in the sciences, primarily teaching and consulting with textbook companies on the East coast. In his mid-50s, he decided to move back to the Chicago area to help take care of his aging parents. When they both passed away within a month of each other, James fell into a deep depression.
James was unable to work for more than a year. He burned through all of his savings and found himself homeless, eventually finding a small room at a shelter in Uptown. He came to Inspiration Corporation initially to get meals, and was also referred to another organization for psychological counseling for his depression. He also decided to pursue his passion for cooking by enrolling in the Inspiration Kitchens food service training program. It was an unusually large class working in the tight quarters of the kitchen at Inspiration Cafe, and featured an eclectic array of personalities.
“When we first started in the kitchen, with that many people, we all hated each other!” James says jokingly. But, once they got to know each other’s quirks and tendencies, and moved to the restaurant kitchen, the group became best of friends.
James fell in love with the class, and his chef trainers immediately gave him extra responsibilities, and allowed him to “think on his feet”. He was allowed to create dishes on his own with whatever he found in the kitchen. Handling customers’ complaints in the restaurant was a particularly valuable skill he picked up. For James, the hardest part of the job was getting over his tendency to be a perfectionist. His chef trainers in the program told him to, “Stop taking the work so seriously!”
The chef trainiers at Inspiration Kitchens were very impressed with his skills, however, and helped James enroll in a course at the French Pastry School downtown, training with some of the finest pastry chefs from around the country. He now has added skills in “everything chocolate” to his repertoire, after an intensive course with highly trained pastry chefs from all over Chicago.
After graduation, James left Inspiration Kitchens and went to the kitchen at Just Harvest, a non-profit community kitchen on the north side of Chicago. He earned a good wage, and helped put an elegant meal on the table every evening for more than 200 people, and volunteered there in his spare time as well. He also was tutoring in the sciences at Truman College. Unfortunately, some health problems over the past two years have kept James out of the kitchen, but he’s on the mend and hopes to return to work soon.
“I have one more hurdle to overcome with my health, and will be working again soon.”