“You know how it goes:
go to school, get a job, have a savings account,
maybe get married… that wasn’t my story.”
Finding a passion for cooking
Terence Hill was 48 years old, in between jobs, living in a homeless shelter, and trying to secure a permanent job when he stumbled upon DC Central Kitchen (DCCK) back in 2013. This month, less than four years later, he won employee of the year at one of DC’s top luxury hotels, The Fairmont in Georgetown.
But Terence still remembers the first day he walked through DCCK’s doors.
“It was mixed feelings at first; located in the basement of a homeless shelter. I thought, ‘What can this place possibly give me?’”
Then, he met Marianne Ali, the Director of DC Central Kitchen’s Culinary Job Training program, saw the volunteers and staff preparing the meals for over 80 social service agencies, including the shelter he was currently living in, and said: “Wow!”
It was an inspirational first encounter for Terence. “And I didn’t even know I was going to end up getting employed there,” he adds.
Terence, having never thought of pursuing a culinary career, saw how vibrant and dynamic the kitchen was that day and discovered a new passion for food. “It was an awakening right then and there,” he says.
The Culinary Job Training program is not easy. It’s designed to make students work hard so they find the strength within themselves to lead lives of self-sufficiency in the future. Classes are held every day, and students are expected to study in the evenings to keep up with coursework.
“You haven’t studied in years and now you go home and study in the evening,” Terence remembers. “Chefs would give you [verbal] tests walking down the hall. If you didn’t study the night before, you wouldn’t be able to answer the question.”
But the studying paid off for Terence. “Look, now I’m working at The Fairmont!” he says with a smile.
A fresh start and then another one
Terence graduated from the Culinary Job Training program in October of 2013. Soon after, DC Central Kitchen hired him to work for for Fresh Start Catering, a social venture designed to employ CJT graduates while earning revenue to support DC Central Kitchen’s charitable programming. Terence’s life was changing. He had a job, he had his own place to live, and he had a passion.
While he was working for DC Central Kitchen, Terence came down with a chronic illness: one that was the result of his earlier life experiences. The past had caught up with him. He had to spend long durations in the hospital and eventually had to quit his job.
After battling long-term illness for over a year, Terence was ready to reignite his passion for cooking. He got himself back into ‘kitchen shape’ and attended a career fair with the hopes of getting back to work. He used the self-presentation skills and resume he had from his time at DCCK to impress Chef Mark Timms, Executive Chef of the Fairmont Hotel, Washington, DC. Chef Mark offered Terence a job interview, and Terence has been working with him at the Fairmont ever since.
It wasn’t just about cooking
Terence didn’t just learn culinary skills at DC Central Kitchen. He said the self-empowerment classes helped him see who he really was, taught him about building relationships, and changed his overall attitude towards life.
His positive outlook doesn’t go unnoticed in his current job. One of the chefs who interviewed him for this position, his direct manager, Senior Banquet Chef Jason Rowley says: “It is hard to find someone with his attitude, so willing to learn, so wanting to grow. In times of struggle, he pulls himself up, he doesn’t do the same mistake again.” Chef Rowley adds: “He’s all around a good guy. He kinda makes the world a better place.”
Executive Chef Jordi Gallardo agrees. “He’s a kind person, a good human being,” the chef says of Terence. “He tries to help others, and not just in the kitchen.”
One of Terence’s colleagues, Chef Mitch, laughs when asked to be brutally honest about his opinion of Terence. “Terence’s got a great attitude,” he says. “He’s always respectful to other people. He cares about doing the right thing for the job – even if takes a little more extra time – to make sure he cooks the best food he possibly can. And he’s a good dude, plain and simple.”
“Change in my attitude started in the kitchen,” explains Terence. “Four of us are cooking; each person doing something. Then we put it together and they say it tastes good. And we look at each other, and go ‘yeah, that’s what we can do.’ So you start getting this ‘we’ approach instead of the ‘I’ approach. And it makes you feel like you always wanted to be included.”
From unemployment to Fairmont’s Employee of the Year
Fairmont Hotels and Resorts have a worldwide reputation for excellence. The kitchen at the Georgetown location is a busy beehive, one that is planned to deliver perfection. The pressure and the expectations are high. When reminded of this Terence puts his big smile on and says, “I wouldn’t give it up for nothing.”
Terence was awarded Employee of the Year 2016 by Fairmont Washington, DC in February 2017. In only a few years, Terence moved from once filing bankruptcy to having financial stability and savings in the bank. His family is proud of him. His manager and colleagues appreciate him.
“It’s gratitude and it feels good”
Terence is one of nearly 1,400 graduates of DC Central Kitchen’s Culinary Job Training program. His life has transformed since that day he first walked into the Kitchen. Jails and institutions may be part of his story, but they are not part of his life anymore. Today, cooking at the Fairmont has become more than a job for Terence. It has become a path to a new way of life for him, one that is filled with success and gratitude. “God did the best by creating all this food, but it’s your job to bring and present it,” he says. “It’s accomplishing something. Learning how to do something; small dice, large dice, making a soup out of it, and making it better every time. It’s gratitude and it feels good.”