Antonio grew up in the Austin area, a “tough neighborhood” as he describes it. He dropped out of high school as a freshman at 15 years old and never went back. He’s spent the majority of his life working the streets, dealing drugs, and doing just about anything to get by.

At age 24, he ended up in prison for a year and a half on a gun-related charge. His time in prison made him realize that he never wanted to go back. But, having never held a formal job, and without a high school degree, he found it nearly impossible to get work.

He was working on getting his GED at Malcolm X College, when he attended a holiday potluck. Antonio brought his famous smothered potatoes, something he learned to make as a kid. In fact, he learned to cook at a very early age, watching his grandma put meals together for the family. On holidays he’d stay up all night with her to just watch how she prepared every dish.

One of the teachers at the potluck tasted the potatoes, and realized Antonio had a talent that needed to be developed. She knew of the Foodservice Training program at Inspiration Corporation, and gave him the information.

He came to the Garfield Park location in January. He took a liking to the classes immediately, and found out quickly that he had a lot to learn, not just about cooking, but about life in general.

“I never had a real job, so working in the kitchen gave me a work ethic. It taught me a lot of things, but mostly about life.”

He enjoyed coming to class more than anything. It allowed him to leave everything on the streets behind, and focus on turning himself into a chef.

“If it wasn’t for this, I’d be locked up somewhere for sure.”

When his transitional work was over, a job as a line cook opened up and the chef trainers offered it to Antonio.  He immediately became comfortable in the kitchen, and has quickly made it his own.  He enjoys being around a group of people in the kitchen, and knowing that the dishes he helps prepare are making a small difference in people’s lives.

“I just like being around people, and changing their lives.”

He’s very much in tune with the powerful ability of a good dish to have an impact on someone, just like that dish of smothered potatoes he brought to the potluck at Malcolm X.

“I come in here, and the outside world is gone. I’ve never had anything like that, and Inspiration Kitchens changed my life. And I love you all for that.”