culinary school sets the stage for food industry fairness | Latin voice | Chicago News

For chef Jaime Esparza, the culinary bug started early.

“I remember I was seven years old and I stayed up until midnight to watch ‘Iron Chef’. It was only outside Japan at the time, so I had to beg my parents to stay up.

But after years of working in restaurant kitchens — including the restaurant his family owned, where he ran the kitchen as a teenager — Esparza is now helping budding chefs learn that owning a restaurant isn’t the only recipe for success in the world of food. .

“I tell people, you don’t need a brick and mortar place, you don’t need this place to be successful. You can do food prep here in a kitchen that charges you $30 an hour to hire and all you need is a few licenses.

Esparza is one of the chef instructors at Food Hero, a culinary school that operates on a social enterprise model, offering free classes in food preparation and entrepreneurship. Founder Javier Haro says the idea for Food Hero came in part from his own experience as a former owner of a tapas restaurant in Pilsen.

“I closed it after three years and it was heartbreaking for me, for my family and for the community,” recalls Haro. “And I asked myself just one question, what could I have done differently? I realized that I didn’t understand the restaurant, the food industry as much as I should have.

That’s how Haro designed Food Hero – to help other would-be entrepreneurs in the food industry avoid the mistakes he made. Haro says Food Hero’s ultimate goal is to advance equity in the food industry by educating students on the wide variety of paths to entrepreneurship, including not only restaurant ownership, but also businesses. such as catering, packaged food and street vending.

“The difference I see in the industry is that there is no upward mobility. There are a lot of Latinos and a lot of individuals who have been in the same positions for five or ten years, no opportunity to become a manager or to have a sense of belonging in the company,” Haro said. “We want to develop individuals to pursue careers with good living wages and be able to advance in the industry and at the same time we are developing individuals for entrepreneurship.”

Executive Chef Instructor Austin Yancey says he strives to include all the ingredients necessary for food business success in his classes. That means everything from knife skills to recipe development to calculating menu costs.

“We care about education, training, mentoring – forever, entrepreneurship and innovation,” Yancey said. “These are the five pillars of our company’s success.”

On the day of our visit, Yancey was working with students as they prepared food for a private catered event.

“It’s a surprise birthday and the gentleman is from Turkey. So we asked the students to do research for their homework, to research Turkish cuisine, to contribute ideas. We help build a menu, we go through a menu exercise. And then we prepare everything here in our professional kitchen, take it to the customer, and then we execute it,” Yancey said. “Then the students learn how to host a private event at someone from start to finish and then to be there for the execution, the standing O, the tears and everything else.”

Haro says making this type of education widely available is what is needed to make diverse ownership possible in the food industry.

“Sometimes saying I want to own my own restaurant or start my own business seems so far-fetched, but the reality is in today’s market, with the technology and tools available and access to capital, I think starting a business is much easier now than it was a few years ago,” Haro said. “And so we want to demonstrate and show these people that this dream is possible and achievable.”

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