Kevin Torres has cooked up a whole new life for himself and his family, and now he’s landed his dream job as a sauté cook at the Seasons 52 restaurant in Altamonte Springs, FL.
He deserves all the credit for leaving behind his troubled youth in New York City, but he’s grateful for the help he received after moving to Florida. “If it wasn’t for the Culinary Training Program at Second Harvest Food Bank of Central Florida, I wouldn’t be here,” Kevin said. He grew up in a rough neighborhood and got in with a bad crowd. “I was not seeing a good future. One day in 2008, I said, ‘I’m going to get out of here. I’m going to be somebody.’ I packed up everything and moved to Florida.”
Soon after, he met the woman who would become his wife. “Vanessa is the best thing that’s ever happened to me. I’m really proud of myself for making a 360-degree turn and changing my life, and my wife is proud of me, too.” The couple has three children. It was Vanessa who heard about the Culinary Training Program and told Kevin. “It sounded too good to be true,” he said, but he called to learn more. After taking math and reading tests, he interviewed and was accepted. The 14-week program, which is free to students, teaches the skills needed to obtain an entry-level position in a food service establishment. The 2,000-square-foot Darden Foundation Community Kitchen, which was built with Darden funds, serves as the classroom.
Kevin attended the program from January to April in 2015. “I loved it and actually didn’t want to leave. Chef Instructor Israel Santiago and the other teachers were strict and made sure we were learning. The program opened a lot of doors for me.” After graduation, Kevin worked at the Hilton Bonnet Creek near Walt Disney World and the employee café at Darden’s Restaurant Support Center in Orlando, FL. In Feb. 2018, he began his new position at Seasons 52. “Kevin has quickly become one of our stronger culinary team members, and we highly appreciate all of his hard work,” said Managing Partner Claudia Ortiz.
Kevin said he had worked in food service for years but wasn’t advancing in his career. The Culinary Training Program gave him the educational and emotional boost he needed. “I learned the necessary skills to be able to move forward in the culinary world like food safety and proper temperatures, how to handle tools and appliances, and the importance of a good attitude and showing respect to your team,” he said. “The teachers pushed me where I needed to go.”
He revels in the friendly atmosphere in his Seasons 52 restaurant. “We treat each other like brothers and sisters and help each other out,” he said. “I cook with love, and it comes out in the food. I make sure everything is consistently as perfect as I can make it and attractive on the plate.”
The Darden Foundation Community Kitchen serves as more than a culinary classroom. It’s also the production center for Catering for Good, a catering program that raises money for the Second Harvest Food Bank, and Plates of Plenty, which provides fresh meals for childcare centers, after-school programs, group homes and senior citizens. The kitchen was built with $750,000 in funds and in-kind contributions from the Darden Foundation and Darden Restaurants. In addition, Darden partnered with its vendors to support the project. They contributed upwards of $1 million worth of appliances and equipment for the kitchen. “Without the Darden Foundation Community Kitchen,” said Dave Krepcho, President of Second Harvest Food Bank, “we could not accomplish any of the things we are doing to help our community.”
We are proud partners with Feeding America, the nation’s leading hunger-relief organization, of which Second Harvest Food Bank of Central Florida is a member. This month, the Darden Foundation donated $2 million to Feeding America, which translates into 20 million meals for people in need. Last year, the foundation donated $1.7 million to Feeding America. In addition, every Darden restaurant across our eight brands donates its surplus, wholesome food to feed the hungry through our Harvest Food Donation Program. About 8 million pounds of food a year is donated through the program, begun in 2003, and is distributed with the help of community partner agencies.
Fighting hunger matters greatly to Kevin, too. “It’s important to help my community and the people who don’t have enough to eat, people who are struggling to improve their lives.”
The Second Harvest Culinary Training Program provides qualified, at-risk and economically disadvantaged adults with the culinary and life skills training needed to pursue a sustainable career in the food industry. To learn more about or apply for the program, visit feedhopenow.org/culinarytraining.