A Recipe for Success
St. Francis de Sales (SFDS) senior Daniel Reyes first began learning his way around the kitchen as a hobby: “I started cooking at home a few years ago to pass the time,” he explained. A friend took notice and encouraged Daniel to check out the culinary arts program run by the Chicago nonprofit organization After School Matters. “My friend told me about a program that paid students to learn to cook, and then let them eat the food they cooked,” said Daniel. “I thought that sounded pretty good!”
Daniel enrolled in After School Matters’ Culinary Arts program his freshman year. “As I cooked more and more, I started to fall in love with it, and started looking at it as a career,” he said. “I would put in extra work so that my instructor could see that I was really trying.” Daniel’s extra efforts and talent did not go unnoticed by Gloria Hafer, the program’s head chef and culinary instructor. By the end of his freshman year, Daniel had graduated to the Advanced Culinary Arts program, and was later selected to be a team leader.
Over this past summer, Daniel was further promoted to intern. In this role he has not only been responsible for mentoring his peers, but also for teaching and guiding other teens enrolled in the program. “Daniel has taken great strides in pursuing his passion in the culinary field,” said Hafer. “I am very proud of all he has accomplished to date, but look forward to the best yet to come!”
Now in his final year with After School Matters, Daniel meets three times a week with 30 other students from SFDS, Carver, and Washington high schools, and EPIC Academy. After receiving instruction on new dishes, he and his team must prepare, plate, present, and—last but not least—share them with each other, but their education does not end there. Later this month, Daniel and his class will bake and present a cake for hundreds of attendees of a culinary fundraiser downtown, one of several high-profile events he has had the opportunity to participate in through the program.
Looking ahead to next year, Daniel is planning to continue his culinary education, and is considering schools such as The Culinary Institute of America in New York, and Johnson and Wales in North Miami. As for the remainder of his senior year, outside of the classroom and kitchen, Daniel divides his remaining time between student council, newspaper club, and photography club. He has also served as a student ambassador with SFDS’s STARS program since his freshman year, traveling to schools with Associate Dean Stephen Sanchez to talk to 7th and 8th graders about SFDS. “The one most important thing I like to talk to them about is the family atmosphere here,” said Daniel. “You don’t get lost in the crowd.”
Daniel says that the teachers at SFDS are what he will miss the most after he graduates. “Over the past four years, they have become like family,” said Daniel. The feeling is surely mutual; fortunately for the teachers, the aspiring chef says that he will always be happy to return to the school to cook for them.