Today, Cora is a certified food safety manager in our nation’s capital, helping prepare hundreds of meals each day for local schools and nonprofits that reflect scratch-cooking techniques and rigorous dietary guidelines. That journey, however, began when she was fourteen years old, learning to cook at her father’s side. “He was a country cook,” she recalls. “He knew you did it this way, you did it that way, but not why you did it a certain way.”
Cora’s path to a culinary career reached a defining moment, years later, in the spring of 2016.
Those months left a lasting mark on her memory. When you ask her about it, she remembers the specific month and year of each of her cancer treatments. In March 2016, Cora was receiving chemotherapy while watching reruns of the late Anthony Bourdain’s CNN television show “No Reservations.” On one episode, originally aired in 2009, Anthony visits DC Central Kitchen and learns about the Culinary Job Training program through the eyes of a recent graduate, Bo. You might have read this story that mentioned Cora back when we learned of Anthony’s passing last summer. Cora still remembers watching that episode about DC Central Kitchen and making big, hopeful plans for her future.
After being inspired by that televised profile of DC Central Kitchen, Cora still had over a year of struggle and hard work ahead before she would make it here. She completed chemotherapy in August 2016 and began radiation in September, but by January, Cora was not well. The treatments were hard on her physically and financially, and the family she was staying with grew impatient of her inability to work while recovering from treatment.
With nowhere else to go, Cora eventually came to live at the House of Ruth, a highly regarded nonprofit that provides comprehensive services and housing for women and children. However, from the minute she arrived, Cora knew she wasn’t there to stay. She immediately went to her case manager to begin the process of enrolling at DC Central Kitchen.
DC Central Kitchen’s admission process is intense, and it asks a lot of applicants to ensure they have a foundation in place for success. Cora followed the instructions to the letter. Tony, a fellow DC Central Kitchen graduate who now works for us full-time recruiting and interviewing potential applicants, reviewed her carefully assembled materials. Recalls Cora, “He said he normally has to send people to go here and there to finish pieces, but I was ready,” Cora said.
Her preparation paid off, because, in her own words, “the rest is history.” Cora went on to enroll in the Culinary Job Training program in March of 2017. She graduated in June and started working full-time as a cook at DC Central Kitchen the following month.
In addition to her critical role in our meal preparation efforts, Cora has testified before the DC Council about her experiences and recently volunteered to serve as a staff recruiter for young adults interested in enrolling at DC Central Kitchen Cafe, our new training program in Ward 8 for young adults ages 18-24 who are neither in school nor working.
“I’m always telling people about the (Culinary Job Training) program” Cora laughs. “I tell them, I’ve been through this and that, but this was the best decision I ever made. It got me back on my feet, and also gave me a trade…But the choice is yours. This is your key. Use it.”
Since Cora’s first inspiration for cooking came from her father, it’s not surprising how she views her coworkers and colleagues. When asked to define what DC Central Kitchen means to her in as few words as possible, Cora doesn’t hesitate. “Family,” she says with a smile. “They’re family to me.”