In 2005 after the pressures to join a local gang got too intense, Ruben’s mom helped him leave his home country of El Salvador and come to the U.S. He traveled alone at age 18, but met family members and childhood friends once he arrived in Washington, D.C.
Ruben had been working as a busboy for a couple years in the U.S. before he decided to go back to school to learn English. Although he had learned some work-related phrases, basic things like taking the bus or shopping for food and clothes were a struggle. He said, “Sometimes I just didn’t buy things because I didn’t know how to ask for them.”
In 2008 Ruben enrolled in basic English classes. He was taking classes each morning and then working full time into the night. On weekends he would work the brunch shift at one restaurant and the dinner shift at another.
As his English improved, so did his job prospects. One day when Ruben was washing dishes, a cook quit on the spot and he convinced the chef to let him take over the appetizers station. He soon moved on to more difficult stations in the kitchen and was put in charge of a small staff.
In 2015 armed now with years of restaurant experience, Ruben decided to return to the Carlos Rosario School to study culinary arts. He started in the advanced International Cuisines class and also took Baking and Pastry. While still in the program, he was promoted from cook to kitchen manager. In this new position, he started receiving benefits such as health insurance, daily parking, sick and vacation days.
Upon graduating from the culinary arts program, Ruben received a scholarship to attend the Culinary Institute of America Bootcamp in New York. For one week Ruben was in the kitchen learning from 7am to 7pm. Even though the classes generally run only 5 hours Ruben stayed on long after his classmates had left each day learning new tips and tricks from the chef instructors.
In January of 2016 Ruben was hired as the Banquet Chef at Tabard Inn, recently voted a top 100 brunch restaurant by Open Table. In this position Ruben is working with Executive Chef Joud Achkar to design the menu, which is getting consistent praise from diners. Also in this new role for the first time in 11 years Ruben is able to spend Sundays with his wife and nine-year-old daughter. “I’m trying to spend as many free minutes as I have with my family,” he said.
Ruben’s successes are having a positive impact on his family, but also extend further. Ruben has started hiring his culinary classmates providing them with on-the-job training. “I have the time to teach people. They remind me of me. I got help so I want to give it to someone else.”