When now 19-year-old Enrique Vega was about to graduate from high school in Spring 2022, he was carefully considering three potential career paths: forensic scientist, history teacher or bioengineer.

But there was a problem. Enrique realized he didn’t have a true passion for any of them. Enrique’s real longing was for a career in culinary arts.

That love of food and cooking began in his early years when mother, Esmeralda, started showing him the way around a kitchen.

But Enrique started to doubt his career choice when saw his friends preparing to go off to colleges and universities. He also didn’t want to disappoint his high school counselors, who were helping him decide his future.

Those were very difficult months for Enrique, who found himself experiencing self-doubt and uncertainty.

It had been several years since Enrique had been enrolled in KidWorks but he had fond memories of seventh and eighth grade, where he participated in summer and afterschool programs.

But KidWorks had not forgotten about Enrique.

His older brother, Cristian, volunteers at KidWorks, where the  staff regularly asked about Enrique. Gone but not forgotten was how his former teachers Rachel Cervantes (now our Volunteer Coordinator) and Jacky Hernandez (now our Program Administration Lead) looked at it.

“I learned from my brother that Rachel and Jacky still really cared about me,” Enrique said, “I member them both as warm teachers with a great sense of humor.”

It wasn’t long before Brenda Trujillo Sanchez, our College & Career Manager, heard about Enrique’s culinary arts career aspirations.

She began urging Enrique to apply at Bracken’s Kitchen, an Orange County non-profit focused on feeding the hungry, including prepping meals for KidWorks’ families during the COVID 19 pandemic; they also offer a culinary training program to the community.

Enrique resisted. Brenda persisted.

Finally, Enrique submitted his application to Bracken’s. It was accepted. He enrolled in their six-month program. He learned about a range of topics essential to understand to be part of the industry, including knife skills, food preparation, food safety and sanitation.

Brenda thanks Becky Trowbridge, a chef who has volunteered at Bracken’s Kitchen, for providing her with all the details about the culinary training program.

Becky and her husband, Brett Trowbridge, are valued supporters of our College & Career Success Initiative™ (C&CSI). The initiative prepares first generation college students for higher education beyond high school.

Brenda also expresses her gratitude to Bracken’s Kitchen’s Charlie Negrete, Chef and Chef Instructor, and Patti Casas, Dean of Students. “They made the Bracken’s Kitchen/KidWorks partnership a success,” she says. “We continue to have a great relationship with this organization.”

At the end of the six-month program, Enrique applied for a full-time position at Marche Moderne, an upscale French restaurant in Newport Beach. He was immediately accepted and now works on staff as a garde-manger, a team member who specializes in cold foods such as meat, fish and salads.

“I am grateful to Chef Florent Marneau and Chef Amelia Marneau, the married couple who founded the restaurant, and Chef Arturo for the amazing opportunity they have given me to learn,” Enrique says.

Eventually, Enrique hopes to become a private chef, inspired to explore his own creativity and cooking interests.

“Brenda, Rachel and Jacky, along with the KidWorks team, had my back,” Enrique said. “That was the case even when I wasn’t feeling so great about my career prospects and when I was starting to doubt whether I was making a good career choice.”

“I strongly believe that higher education should be accessible to everyone, however I also acknowledge that not every person wishes to pursue a four-year degree,” Brenda says. “KidWorks educates our high school seniors about all the different paths they can take, including college, military and trade/vocational training.”

She adds, “We’re proud and celebrate every single one of our students regardless of which path they decide to take.”

In 2017, KidWorks wrote about the Vega family’s perseverance during a time of economic hardship.

At the time, a then 13-year-old Enrique made a prophetic statement about his own future: “You never fail if you get right back up when you fall.”

Our KidWorks’ inspired chef truly adds an even deeper meaning to the phrase “the taste of success.”

You can see photos of some of Enrique’s culinary creations on Instagram: @riques_mise_en_place

By Glenn Leibowitz, volunteer writer