The Salvation Army's Napa Culinary Training Academy cooks up fresh futures for graduates

The Salvation Army’s Napa Culinary Training Academy cooks up fresh futures for graduates

Listen to this article

Ricardo couldn’t recognize himself anymore. He felt sick and knew he needed to change. After completing his stay at The Salvation Army Adult Rehabilitation Center he joined the Napa Culinary Training Academy to hone his cooking skills as a professional chef. See how his life has changed by watching the video.

Below is a transcript of the video, edited for readability.

Ricardo Alarcon: I woke up hiding in the bathroom, you know, of an apartment complex where I used to get my drugs at, not knowing what I was doing, and it just feels like a fog, you know? I don’t recall a lot of years of my life. For some reason, I’m my own worst enemy.

At a young age, I used to play soccer, baseball. I, like, love to cook. Everything that my mom knows how to make, I know how to make anything you could think of tamales, posole, menudo, gorditas, any traditional Mexican food that you could think of, I know how to make because my mom taught me. And ever since then, I guess that’s where my passion for cooking started.

My curiosity started going towards drugs. You know, I started smoking weed when I was in middle school, and then once that got started, everything else just got put on the back seat. You know, that was my main focus in life. I revolved my life around just being high.

First weed, drinking. Every friend that I had at that point started going their own way because I just started doing harder and harder drugs.

I started getting lost. I started not sleeping. I started acting a fool. I started doing things I wasn’t supposed to do. I became aware of everything I was doing. I didn’t like what I had become. And then at that point in life, I was like, I started getting sick of myself.

When I got to Salvation Army to the Adult Rehabilitation Center, if you would see my picture, when I first got to The Salvation Army, I got there still sick. Yeah, I didn’t look like myself. I could barely sleep. I don’t want to feel like that ever again. And little by little, I just started accepting my reality that this was going to be my new life, because everything I was doing wasn’t getting me nowhere.

I’m an addict. I accept it. I accept that I might have to live this way the rest of my life. How I’m still alive here compared to other people that aren’t? I did drugs harder than a lot of people. There’s a purpose for me being here.

I was there with Major Jerry Esqueda, and he gave me his hand, and he’s like, hey, you know what? You’re about to give your life to Jesus. He says, you don’t got to worry about anything else in life anymore. You know, just give it to him, and you’ll be all right. You know, that actually made my life better. Like, you know, it pointed me in the direction that I am now. It’s a life that I never thought I could have for myself.

I earned this coat by graduating the culinary training academy from the Salvation Army. The majority of my job experience is in kitchens, so once they found that out, they put me into the kitchen, and I became the kitchen lead.

Captain Timothy Danielson: The hospitality industry is hurting for good, sober individuals to work in their restaurants and in the hotels. And then on the flip side, there are people that need those skills to be able to get those jobs who don’t have the money to afford maybe junior college tuition for culinary, so people can’t afford that.

So they’re trying to meld those two things together. So we house people in the program and after the program, as they’re getting their lives put back together in recovery,

Ricardo Alarcon: They’re teaching us how to cook all the methods, all the dishes, and just they teach us cutting techniques. Everything basic that you’re going to need to know when you go into a kitchen.

Eric Magnani: My name is Eric Magnani. I’m the culinary instructor here for the Napa Valley Culinary Academy. I’ve been working as a chef continually for the last 35 years, and I’ve spent my years in catering luxury resorts, and now I do a lot of private chef work.

Captain Timothy Danielson: The chefs that we have work really hard at trying to, in twelve weeks, get across all the skills that are needed for somebody to enter this industry.

Eric Magnani: The majority of the students that come in are coming in through adult recovery centers, the ARCs, and then you come out with an incredible sense of confidence and a newly acquired skill set that you could walk right into almost any kitchen in Napa and get a job. I’ve really enjoyed showcasing a lot of the experiences that I’ve had throughout the years and throughout the industry.

Ricardo Alarcon: We do meals for the community and for shelters. The meals that we made, we hand them out to the homeless outside of the corps every day.

Captain Timothy Danielson: We want to try to make sure that they’re going to get the opportunity to use the skills that they learned here. Since we’ve been here, we’ve had 100% job placement.

Eric Magnani: I have some of my graduates working with me in my private chef business, and it’s a huge success.

Ricardo Alarcon: Nine months for me completing the program. I moved out, got my own place. I got myself a second job at a casino cooking as well.

Eric Magnani: Seeing somebody like Ricardo go to work there and move his way up. I believe he’s the lead line cook there now.

Ricardo Alarcon: Everything’s cooked to order. Everything is made from scratch. I go there to work, I go there to cook. Try to make everything better, try to perfect, like, let’s say my steak temperatures, my plating, because if it looks nice, people like it and people buy it. It actually makes people’s day you know like, it makes my day. I discovered that I don’t feel time. I could be there 10 hours, 11 hours, I could work six days, and I don’t feel time.

Eric Magnani: These students actually head up the challenges and take them on and continue to succeed. To me, it’s, there’s no better feeling. They’re out there and they’re doing what they were trained to do.

Ricardo Alarcon: I have 616 days of sobriety right now with no mind-altering substance in me.

Captain Timothy Danielson: There was love shown to Ricardo that changed his life. And because of that love and that help, that only came from Jesus Christ, because that was the motivation for doing it. But because of that, now Ricardo is doing the same thing for other people around him. And that’s Jesus.

He actually runs our NA and AA program over there at the mise en place that we have, which is the back-end housing of our program for two and a half years. He really is a great support to the other guys in the program, and that’s a huge thing for us.

Ricardo Alarcon: My hopes for the future is being the executive chef of some kitchen out there somewhere. I think I just show up and just keep doing what I’m doing, stay sober, continue a program, and I could do it. Jesus Christ saved my soul, Salvation Army saved my life.

Do Good: 

Pathway of Hope helps one family move from a car to a shelter to an apartment
Pathway of Hope helps one family move from a car to a shelter to an apartment

Pathway of Hope helps one family move from a car to a shelter to an apartment

The Salvation Army in Boise, Idaho, recently launched the Pathway of Hope

How The Salvation Army helped one man fulfill his quest to do good
How The Salvation Army helped one man fulfill his quest to do good

How The Salvation Army helped one man fulfill his quest to do good

Scott Blair found an unconventional way to do good at Christmastime

You May Also Like