A wife and a mom in her mid 30’s, Veronica Reyes had been working full time in the media technology industry for 15 years when she realized that something was missing in her life. She had a beautiful family and a prestigious career, but the passion in her work was missing. She loved to cook at home – in fact, food is what occupied the majority of her days, but how could she turn her passion into a career and make a living out of it? Here’s her story.
Did you always know that you wanted to pursue this field as a profession, or did it start as a home cook passion?
I am a die-hard foodie and a passionate home cook, but I did not think I had the chops to go professional with it. I love serving others and have always been interested in a career in the hospitality industry, where food plays a very important role.
How long did it take for you to actually make the career change, and what were the initial steps that you took to look into it?
I hesitated for many years before making the change. Honestly, it was a painful process. My previous career was very challenging, but it offered rewards including stability for my family, which was very important. I had already dedicated 15 years of hard work into my career, and it seemed extremely wasteful to leave it behind and try something new. However, the increasing stress and long hours behind the desk were taxing on my health. I finally realized that even though I truly gave it my all, my passion for that career was not strong enough to triumph all the stress.
Once I came to that realization, I felt amazing and very much liberated! I began researching different career paths at my leisure, but still remained clueless for another few years on what I really wanted to do.
One day it occurred to me how much time I spend thinking about food. It’s the first thing I think about in the morning, and the last thing I dream about at night. I decided that if I’m going to spend so much time thinking about food, perhaps I should pursue a career that incorporated food. Everything just fell into place after that.
How did you cover the pay gap issue – moving from one career to the next?
I did a lot of research on Google to try to set real financial expectations. I researched tuition costs for culinary school, starting salaries for careers in this field and other research that helped narrow down the most economical choices for my family. I still remain in my previous full time career that brings in a continuous income. With savings and my husband’s income, we were able to come up with a short term plan that will have me in school and be able to figure out what is next.
How did culinary school help with your career path?
I was fortunate to come across CulinaryLab in Tustin, CA., which offers an immersive learning platform that is truly unique. CulinaryLab’s small class sizes and “work right away” apprenticeship program immediately drew me in. The faculty is caring and knowledgeable, and they are very tight with the OC culinary community, making networking awesome.
Where are you doing your apprenticeship at, and what are the top 3 things you have learned there.
I am completing my apprenticeship at Studio at the Montage Resorts in Laguna Beach, CA. Besides learning how to cook top-notch food with fresh and exotic ingredients, I am learning how to work clean, how to communicate better as a team member, and how to strive for perfection always!
You recently went on a culinary adventure trip. Tell us about that.
I was halfway through my apprenticeship and wanted to travel and explore for a few weeks. I had a stage opportunity at the James Beard award-winning Chef Gavin Kaysen’s restaurants, Spoon and Stable and Bellecour. I also attended a food photography workshop in Minnesota, and even got to attend the Bocuse d’Or USA cooking competition hosted by legendary Chefs Thomas Keller and Daniel Boulud. Another highlight was dining at Alinea in Chicago, which has been on my bucket list for a long time. It was a fun-filled adventure, and I was absolutely broke after the trip. I would like to mention that I slept in hostels to compensate my food expenses!
If you had to choose one person, who would you say your role model is in this industry?
There are so many role models to choose from in our industry, but I would like to go with a person who I actually know, and that is my boss, Craig Strong, Executive Chef at Studio. I already respected him for his culinary talents before, but now that I’ve worked with him and have gotten to know him, I’m equally amazed at the person that Chef Craig is. He’s a family man, humble, kind, and treats his team with love and respect. The detailed attention he consistently provides to our guests is just incredible – I’ve learned a lot about hospitality through my boss.
What are your plans after completing your apprenticeship?
That is a hard question, because I am still figuring it out. Can I get back to you in a few months? 🙂
What advice would you give to someone who wants to change careers?
I had a lot of fears and hesitations before making my career change, but what helps me is to take some time every now and then, clear my mind and remove all the limitations I have in my life. This exercise has helped me identify my passion. If you feel stuck and unsure of what you really want to do in life, I highly recommend this exercise. I am grateful that I’ve been able to pursue this career change.